Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
by Brigid Schulte, 2014
This book stressed me out. Just sitting on the sofa reading Brigid Schulte’s descriptions of how thoroughly Americans are tying themselves in knots, trying to do it all, made my body respond with the same rush of adrenaline it usually sends me for things like hosting Doodlebug’s birthday party. No one wants to live like that. So how can we fix it?
Schulte, a journalist at the Washington Post, explores solutions to the condition she calls “the overwhelm” – that feeling of complete imbalance we manage to achieve while trying to be the perfect employee/spouse/parent/person. She looks at factors that drive the stereotypes of the Ideal Worker and the Ideal Mother and shows how our society has placed them at odds.
Since women have entered the workforce, we’ve been struggling unsuccessfully to meet both of these standards. And as Schulte points out, men are also being pulled in opposing directions as they become more involved parents. So what loses out? Among other things, taking time for oneself. By now your introvert alert system should be flashing DANGER DANGER DANGER.
And there’s more! Multitasking, time fragmentation, overscheduling our kids, parental leave policies, gender roles. This book points out so many problems with the way we live, but in the end there are so many potential solutions. And the good news is, many of the strategies Schulte explores will seem familiar to introverts. We have something of a head start in (and maybe a biological imperative for) seeking balance. But I still found a lot that was useful, enlightening, and just plain fascinating.
There are three main sections to the book: work, love, and play. Each one deserves its own post, but I’ll try to pull out the parts that spoke to me the most.
One of the most important points in Overwhelmed was that flexible work schedules help everyone, not just parents, and I hope things will change as more people realize that. Maybe you need to leave early because your kid is performing in the kindergarten play, or maybe you have no kids and it’s just a nice afternoon for a bike ride. Or maybe you DO have kids and you just want to go for a ride before they get home from school. Any of these reasons should be okay, as long as you’re getting your work done.
Schulte talks a lot about the culture of face time and ways to break away from it – sometimes you have to be in the same room with your co-workers, other times it doesn’t matter. iDad and I are both very lucky to work from home, and I know that’s key to maintaining our family’s balance. Things were much more chaotic when he left every day for “the office” and had to travel several times a year. I don’t miss it one bit.
Schulte is honest about her marriage and the unsatisfactory division of labor she and her husband drifted into after they had kids. So it’s important to set clear expectations with your partner and reevaluate as you go. It seems way too easy to shift into traditional gender roles as new parents. I know this happened with iDad and me, mostly because I was home full-time. And it was a surprise, because up until then we’d had a pretty good division of labor. I think that, for introverts especially, it’s key to be part of a strong team with your spouse and talk about this. A lot.
Take time for play, without the dose of guilt for focusing on something besides your kids, your spouse, or your job. Introverts know this one, but personally I still struggle with it, and Schulte has a lot of interesting evidence that women have never really had much of a “leisure culture.” But she makes such a good case for the importance of play that I almost felt tempted to try one of the crazy moms’ playgroups she writes about. Or maybe I should just find a book club instead. Introvert fun is still fun!
So is this book worth the blood pressure spike? I say yes — if we can get this balance right, or at least take steps to improve, that will be really good news for our kids, both now and when they have to navigate this crazy landscape themselves.
Schulte’s web site at the Washington Post has links to articles she’s written, many about aspects of work/life balance. She also has a personal website with a blog and more info about the book.