Posted in News
August 4, 2016

How To Do It All: A Dangerous Proposition

Woman armsby Madeline Iva

Can you do it all? Should you even try? Linda Formichelli thinks you *can* do it all, and she’s written a book that shows you how.

I asked her for a copy of HOW TO DO IT ALL and dived in.  Like many of my friends–like many of you out there –I am a creative and curious person.  Put those two traits together and you have a recipe for trouble.

I’ve always been excited by the idea of having a flourishing career.  I’d dreamed of a gorgeous garden, a beautiful artsy home, with wonderful friends as well.  And I’ve wanted to travel to amazing places. The general angst I carry around with me is Why can’t my life be more like a Woody Allen movie? You know: intellectual, cultured, and gloriously bohemian.  Formichelli seems to share that angst, and with kids in tow, she wants it to be educational and fun, too.

And yet…and yet…

Do it allIn the past I’ve embraced a ‘Do It All’ ethos.  I’ve plunged into gardening and home, and done community arts volunteer work.  I experienced a joyous connection to the community at the time, and was full of contentment.  However, looking back these moments have tended to occur when, for whatever reason, I’ve felt most timid about my career and perhaps I was compensating by diving into a thousand and one interests instead of facing my own angsty professional demons.

When we made the big decision that I would stop teaching and write full time a few years ago–a risky financial venture for us–it put the onus on me to be more work minded.  So in fact, I’ve been deliberately trying NOT to do it all for several years. Formichelli’s book dangled before me like forbidden fruit.

I started reading her book the afternoon that I got it, and because it felt so wrong to tempt myself,  I read it out loud to my husband on the way to Lowe’s.  We’ve been trying to rehabilitate our bathroom full of peeling moldy paint (Ugh!).  During this time (June) I was trying to finish edits on a book of my own, and we were discussing whether or not I should accompany my husband on an upcoming three week vacation. Could I finish up my book before he was due to leave?

Finish the book, finish the bathroom, go on the vacation. Maybe I don’t want to do it all, but I certainly want to have it all–or at least have elves come and do it for me while I sleep.  Alas, I remain as elf deprived as the next woman.

The one thing we didn’t want was a repeat of last year.  Last year I had to go to the doctor because I had revisions due on my book, I hadn’t finished them yet, and we were supposed to leave in four days for a two week vacation, but I was waking up every morning at about 4am with really bad heart palpitations.

One the Friday before we left, the heart palpitations started up at 4am and wouldn’t stop.  Three days of wearing a heart monitor ensued.  When I got back from my vacation, I found out that I was just fine.  However, my nurse practitioner recommended pulling back on the stress just a wee bit.

Formichelli is for a bit of stress.  A bit of stress can be good for you! The subtitle of her book is:

The Revolutionary Plan to Create a Full, Meaningful Life – While Only Occasionally Wanting to Poke Your Eyes Out With a Sharpie

I’m not against it, in theory.  Neither do I want to wind up with a heart condition because of the cortisol continuously flooding into my bloodstream.

Last year it’s not like I was chugging cigarettes or coffee.  I was trying to jog daily, eat a healthy diet, got enough sleep–but the revisions had to get done and given our family dynamics, I was pretty sure that while we traveled they would sit and fester.  I was right.  Not only did all book progress halt, but five weeks after I got back, I still hadn’t finished those pesky revisions.

FormichelliLinda Formichelli wants to help you create a full, enjoyable life. She’s got a philosophy, a plan, and worksheets included at the back of the book.  She talks about THE 12 DESIRES — and my eyeballs went right to #2 — Travel.  As life is creeping by, I don’t feel that I’ve gotten in enough travel.  It just never seems to fit, both because travel is costly and time consuming.  Not only that, but for me at least, it disrupts my work routine even after I’m back.

Apparently, last year Formichelli had an epiphany.  She listed all the stuff that she’d done that year and it was a crazy amazing amount.  How had she pulled this off? It seems that money and other barriers had not prevented her from making her and her family’s life packed full of travel, fun, and adventure, along with some great back-patting successes. Her immediate reaction was to share with you all how this is possible.

And as I read on, I started giving my husband the side-eye.  Cause he kinda reminds me of Formichelli.  Not what you’d call a frenetic guy, nevertheless, man, he gets a lot done. He teaches, does research, publishes, travels to conferences in foreign lands, teaches bread baking classes at a cooking school, stays very fit, plays flamenco guitar, is the president of his professional association, mows the lawn, and we split all the housework — cooking, cleaning, etc 50-50.  On top of it all, he’s pretty mellow.  Right now he’s also re-plastering, scraping, and painting our bathroom–including installing a fan/vent so it won’t get to icky with mold in the future.

We don’t have kids–so there’s that.  But I think Formichelli would look at him and say: See? That’s what I’m talking about!

On the ride home from Lowe’s, we discussed Formichelli’s philosophy vis-a-vis his life.  He says that when he did triathalon training (he did an iron man 7 years ago and won a few medals) there was little time for anything but teaching and doing that–and it was hard work.  When he quit triathalon training, it opened up all kinds of room for other stuff.  Formichelli talks about the joys of quitting in one of her chapters.  I would like to note that this is also about the time when we stopped watching a lot of TV.  Formichelli’s main tip for carving out more time in your life is to forsake TV and social media. (At this point, I try to limit myself to an hour a day.)

When my husband got a running injury and couldn’t run 90 miles a week as he trained for the 24 hour ultra-marathon he was signed up for (I know, I know. He still went, walked 33 miles mostly to support a friend–who won the race!), that opened up even more room.  So he picked up guitar playing again–something he’d dropped for many years.  The point is, his activities and interests are not necessarily constant.  There’s a flow, a dynamic movement –just as Formichelli talks about.

My husband is very balanced.  He loves the Aristotle saying, “All things in moderation–except love.”

Me? I’ve always been more of an extremely lopsided person.  Well, on the trip home from the store, I decided I wasn’t going on that vacation.  Not only did I not finish my book before the vacation, my hubs went and come back already before I finally finished the book earlier this week. (Key words: I FINISHED–YAY!)  muppet

I’m SO GLAD I didn’t go! No heart palpitations for me this time.  I also found scraping paint is a really therapeutic task when you’re stuck and need to take a writing break.

I’m definitely at a ‘leaning in’ point of my career, and so other than trying to jog, and water what garden there is that hasn’t shriveled up and died, there’s very little I do outside of writing and career related stuff.  HOW TO DO IT ALL might not be for me.

On the other hand…it’s not like I sit alone in a room all day.  I love my career.  I meet with other writer buddies at cafes and we sit around writing, lifting up our heads to chat occasionally. There’s this blog and the lovely ladies who form the body of it–I love our connection.  I meet with other writers monthly — once in the day, and once at night.  My publisher has a great online community and I love my social media buddies in the wider romance world.  I feel like I’m thriving, though technically, 99% of what I do can be called ‘work’, and I’m not having dinner parties, not painting the rest of the house that deliberately needs it, etc.

In the end, my husband and I share a fundamental mindset with Linda.  We don’t want to look back on our lives and say “I watched a lot of TV.” (Though to be honest, sometimes TV binges happens.)

A recent article in the BBC said that time seems to fly as we grow older–why? Because new experiences tend to stick with us more, and as we age there are less of those.  Important experiences stay with us too–adventures, triumphs, failures–but we have less of those as we get older.  Not me!  And not Formichelli. We’re effectively slowing down time on this earth, though for me right now ‘Doing it all’ means doing my career.  Once this book comes out, I’ll plan some travel.  And I’ll make sure I don’t have a book due right before I go. ; >Do it all


  • Post authorCarlene Love

    Hi Madeline, I just wanted to pop in and say thank you for this blog post. I really appreciate you sharing your perspective and experiences on this topic. Needed to read this. Sending you calm hugs for the heart and an ecstatic high five for the finishing of your book. My best to you and yours. Xox

    Reply to Carlene Love
  • Post authormadeline iva

    Oh, thank you Carlene!!!! My husband pointed out that though I’d forgotten, it was because he had to get his dissertation done that he gave up the guitar.

    He said of course for some big career moment everything must give, but it doesn’t mean those things have to go away for forever. I agree, wholeheartedly. At the same time, I desperately hope I can grow more efficient at writing shorter books, and not slack during ‘work hours’ so much, because that’s time lost for doing other rich and valuable things. Gah!

    Reply to madeline iva
  • Post authorElizabeth Shore

    I, too, suffer the dreaded vicious cycle of wanting to have it all and do it all but then not being able to and subsequently falling into a state of despair because of my alleged shortcomings. The only thing more self-destructive would be doing nothing but watching TV while eating pint after pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Thank goodness that hasn’t happened. Still, accepting that there are certain things I simply cannot do all at once has been immensely helpful as I tackle my way to Wonder Womanhood. 😉

    Reply to Elizabeth Shore
    • Post authormadeline iva

      Yeah — from the book I would say that Linda doesn’t find a balance so much as she does a dance, trading off from one thing to the next. I’m going to keep looking at her recommended techniques and see if it will help.

      Reply to madeline iva
      • Post authorLinda Formichelli

        I like the way you call it a “dance” — that makes it sounds more graceful than it probably is. 🙂 But really, I do like to try new things and have new experiences, and if something doesn’t resonate with me once I try it…I drop it!

        Reply to Linda Formichelli
  • Post authorElizabeth SaFleur

    You have no idea how this post came at the right time! My face is dotted with sharpie marks from the frustration of life. My fav part of this post? Quitting. Yes, I sometimes forget you can abandon projects, plans, heck even people who are not supportive to the life you wish to lead. I don’t want to do it all, but I want to do all I want to do, if that makes sense. Aaaaand…. congratulations on finishing your edits (this time without heart palpitations).

    Reply to Elizabeth SaFleur
    • Post authormadeline iva

      Oh I KNOW — Elizabeth! I had to learn to quit. I used to be like a bull dog and just hang on to bad jobs, toxic friendships–whatever!

      Certainly if your work is rewarding it feels less like work and less like you’re depriving yourself of everything else – but I’ve spent most of today going “Oh! I haven’t talked to this or that friend in forever! Going to email them right now!”

      I want to keep reading this book to find out how to maintain friendship time even when I’m busy. Cause if I’m too droopy from not seeing friends then I really get unproductive.

      Reply to madeline iva
  • Post authorLinda Formichelli

    Madeline, thank you for the lovely review of my book! I love how you and your husband talked about it and what the “Do It All” lifestyle means in your lives.

    I also agree that sometimes, something has to give…and that’s normal. In one part of the book I talk about “recalibrating” — taking frequent breaks or doing frequent self-care so your ups and downs of stress are fairly small, instead of running hard until you crash. I think that’s what you did by turning down that trip: You knew it would be the final straw that would cause you to burn out, so you stayed home, stayed sane, and got your writing done.

    Also interested in the report from the BBC on why time seems to go faster as you get older. I’ll have to remember that, because it’s another argument for trying to create memorable experiences, even if they sometimes cause (acute, “good”) stress!

    Thanks again!

    Reply to Linda Formichelli
  • Post authorRachel Kramer Bussel

    This was such a useful blog post for me, as someone who’s gotten sick this year from stress and trying to do too much but still wants to succeed in business and writing, have a relationship, strengthen my family ties, be a good friend, etc. Sometimes I want to quit most of my “jobs” because they seem overwhelming but I also know I’m the worst at time management, so I’m going to check out her book. And I’m so glad you are stating and acting on your priorities (and no heart palpitations, of course!).

    Reply to Rachel Kramer Bussel
    • Post authorLinda Formichelli

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve been ill from stress!

      In the book, I talk about the difference between chronic stress — the bad stuff that can make you sick — and the acute stress that happens whenever you’re reaching for a big goal or trying something new — the kind you experience before a job interview, a competition, an exam, a big event, etc. We’re going for the second kind here, and I also provide advice for keeping this kinds of stress from becoming chronic and overwhelming.

      Hope you’re feeling better!

      Reply to Linda Formichelli

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