“Even an ordinary secretary or a housewife or a teenager can turn on a small light in a dark room.”
These are the words of Miep Gies, a secretary who worked for the Frank family and then went on to hide eight Jews from the Nazis in the secret Annex. Recently, Gies’ story is the focal point of a Hulu series “A Small Light.” This show does a deep-dive into the figure many have come to call a hero, but there’s something absolutely stunning about the show’s portrayal of Miep: They show that she probably wasn’t the person you think she was.
Miep Gies is portrayed as a bit reckless, a bit lost, and a bit blunt. She takes the job with the Franks out of desperation and takes quite some time to prove herself. The series follows the ups and downs of her relationship and marriage, her friendships, and her own fears. In short, Gies isn’t portrayed as a saint or the most likely woman to be a hero. And that’s what I loved so much about this series.
It really highlights in a way that is emotional and easy to connect with the point that heroes aren’t perfect or made of a different stock. Just like us, they have doubts, fears, impulsivity, love, tears, and everything in between. Miep Gies wasn’t the most likely candidate to do the brave thing she did–but she made the choice to do it. And in a dark world, choosing to be a light is the biggest choice we can make.
This series underscored the risk and the daily struggle Miep went through. Everything from getting food in a society that was rationing to not being able to trust anyone were daily battles Miep faced. Through it all, she fought for two years to protect the Franks. We all know the story didn’t turn out in the way anyone would hope for. Still, Miep’s tale demonstrates her quote in a way we can’t deny–anyone, anyone, anyone can be a light in a dark world.
So often in modern times, we forget this. We think that to have purpose or meaning in our lives, we have to start a nonprofit or donate millions or give up our jobs to devote ourselves selflessly to charity work. Miep shows that everyone has the ability to make choices, although sometimes difficult ones, to use their daily lives to help others. She reminds us that there is always a way to make a difference, even when it feels impossible.
Her story has stuck with me long after the last episode and will stick with me I think forever–because in a world that is complex and fiercely dark sometimes, Miep Gies reminds us that we all have the chance to do the right thing.
You can do it all.
Variants of this inspirational quote adorn throw pillows, Instagram graphics, and T-shirts. At first glance, the sentiment is admirable and even motivational. As a big dreamer, I think it’s healthy to remove mental blocks and limitations. I hope everyone can find the courage to strive for their wildest dreams. Nonetheless, I also think if we do a deep dive, this sentiment can be dangerous to your overall dreams and fulfillment.
I do believe you can do it all…but you shouldn’t.
The problem with this quote is that without us realizing, it seeps into our daily lives and poisons our fulfillment. What’s meant to inspire us to dream big actually chains us down to a life of monotony and lists.
We think we should have a home worthy of a magazine AND be the best mother AND the kind of friend who does weekly brunches AND surprise our husbands with romantic date nights AND climb the social ladder AND master how to make perfect enchiladas everyone will love AND do glam makeup everyday AND have mastered silky, shiny hair AND have a hair free body every single day AND do an hour of pilates five times a week AND make sure all the appointments are made AND be spiritually enlighted.
AND AND AND.
We think we should do it all because we can.
The list is never-ending. We run through a rat race believing there is something wrong with us when we are crying in our imperfect bathroom that isn’t spa-like as we think about how tired we are–and how we are failing. We can do it all. It’s clearly us that’s the problem. We must be too stupid or too clumsy or too disorganized or too lazy. Our lives should look effortlessly perfect like we see on social media and from celebrities and from the moms at school pickup. We can do it all if we want to–and so we convince ourselves we want to. We tell ourselves we have to. We dig deep, wipe away the mascara staining our cheeks, and we throw ourselves at the merciless to-do lists once more.
The need to do it all is an inferno we cannot escape once we let it infiltrate our lives. On our relaxation days, we look around and see all the things that aren’t quite right, all the to-dos. Instead of soaking in the sunshine, we look at how the deck chairs need washed. When we’re spending quality time with the kids or the dog, we think about how we really should be taking those perfect photographs to get made into that scrapbook we’ll do someday. We shame ourselves for caving and eating fast food and running out of energy to do our insanely rigid workout schedule. We scorn as we look in the mirror because we didn’t use enough self-tanner and we missed a spot shaving and our eye shadow is lackluster. We are hard on ourselves and see every missed item on our list as a failure.
We critique. We critique some more. We try to do more because we think that’s the problem.
And eventually, all of that “do anything” attitude becomes a life of monotony, a life missing passion, excitement, and happiness. We wake up in our lives that still don’t have everything mastered and feel inadequate, unfulfilled, and like failures, yet we keep trudging along on the hamster wheel that is quickly spinning of its axis.
Thus, the thing I think we need to talk about is this: yes, you might be strong, powerful, and smart enough to do it all. Still, that doesn’t mean you should.
Doing it all leaves you depleted. You have finite energy, and if you try to master everything at once, you just do a little bit of everything half-assed.
More importantly, trying to do it all is a fool’s errand. No one, no one, no one does it all alone and well.
No one has perfect, spotless baseboards and clean sinks while trying to work full-time.
No one has a perfect body while running the kids to seventeen activities, managing a stressful work schedule, and cooking dinner every night.
No one has magazine-worthy hair, makeup, and outfits while being a hands-on mother and making sure the appointments are all made.
No one has celebrity-worthy interior design, meals, bodies, makeup, outfits, bank accounts, careers, vacations, and lives like social media wants you to believe.
In the real world, most of us are hanging by a thread. We have dirt on the baseboards, we fed our families ham sandwiches while forgetting the dentist appointment and trying to get to work on time.
We are cleaning up cat barf while trying to put on a swipe of mascara and blot away some of the grease in our hair as we wolf down a yogurt we hope is healthy.
We are trying to iron the pants for the school play while ignoring the layer of dust on all of the surfaces in the house and hoping the squats we did while brushing our teeth count as a workout.
We are hoping no one knocks on our door as a surprise visitor because it’s Thursday and we barely made it through the work week let alone picked up a single item strewn about the house.
We’re all hanging by a thread. We’re all trying to do everything–and realizing we’re not doing it well.
I think the problem is this, though. I think the problem is we all are keeping up the ruse that it’s possible to do it all. We’re all clinging to that “can do” attitude and smiling through as if we’re not all exhausted. We’re swiping the dust away and hiding the remnants of our life in shambles. We’re getting it together just enough to convince everyone around us that we’re doing it all effortlessly. We’re convincing ourselves and our friends that yes, of course we wash the sheets every few days and manicure the lawn and make sure the kids are eating only organic food. We pretend we’re not all dying inside trying to wear fifty hats instead of just the ones we want.
We convince ourselves that the world is going to fall apart if we prioritize and let some things go. We tell ourselves we’re being lazy when we want to relax instead of tackling the window washing or the tax spreadsheet or the list of phone calls.
We keep up the facade that we’re happy doing all the things because that’s what we’ve been taught. Still, the “can do” attitude is a thief of happiness if you let it be.
So I propose that this week, we all take a deep breath and ignore the gunk from the dog on our kitchen wall or the crayon mark on the table. I propose we resist the urge to wear a full cut-crease eye look every day or iron the slightly wrinkly shirt. I propose we don’t feel guilty if we feed our families bags of chips and peanut butter for dinner or if our hair has been in a bun for a week straight. I propose we all take a breath, take a moment, and ask ourselves:
What really matters most?
Even though I can do all the things, what do I want to do?
What will make me feel successful?
Certainly, we all have to do things we don’t want to do. But that doesn’t mean we have to strive for impossible standards in all areas of our life. There are seasons for everything. Seasons to work on our killer body, and seasons to cut back to maintenance mode where a walk or chores counts. Seasons for killing it at work and letting the spring cleaning slide. Seasons where we serve all homemade meals, and seasons where cereal is a food group.
We have to learn to be okay with not doing it all and instead, doing all the things that feed our soul, that make us feel alive, and that remind us of who we are. We also have to accept that life ebbs and flows, and that it’s okay if our vision of perfect in one area morphs in the next season of our lives.
Furthermore, we need to remember that we can do it all–but we shouldn’t have to do it alone. We need to ask for help when we need it and find support systems. We need to be honest with our friends and co-workers and stop pretending this adult thing is easy. We need to stop showing up in the world as these extreme multi-taskers who are wearing a cracked smile over their dead–inside visage.
We need to be brave enough as a society to say yes, we are kickass, powerful warriors who can do it all–but are smart enough not to. Who are intelligent enough to know that it isn’t sustainable to do all the things, isn’t fulfilling, and isn’t what this life is about.
Thus, we need to change the quote in our minds to: we can do all the things that really matter most–and all the rest can wait.
*As an Amazon Affiliate, I get a small fee for any books purchased through the links below.