Mama Gena's School of Womanly Arts
Subscribe to Letters from Mama Gena
Get free tips on life, love and sisterhood from Regena Thomashauer

Overloaded with “shoulds”? This can help.

0629_Obligation_post

Just a few weeks ago, one of my students was asking me how the heck is a gal supposed to stay inside her beautiful, beguiling, creative, endlessly renewing feminine nature, while living in a rip-roaringly masculine, gotta-get-it-done patriarchal world that encourages us to set goals and hit them out of the park, and all while looking slim and fuckable?

Can you relate? She asked:

“Discipline and hard work were taught to us as a masculine tool, not as a feminine one. What does discipline mean to a woman whose life is lived through pleasure? How do I get stuff done without getting into deprivation, pushing through, overriding my emotions and thoughts, ignoring my needs spiritually and emotionally?”

As a woman with a ridiculously full plate, I’m always working at the intersection of pleasure and hustle.

Do we ever get off the hook of feeling like everything is just so much effort?

When are we allowed to be ‘there’ and not trying to get ‘there’?

And when can we just chill out and feel like we are worthy of a celebration?

Not to mention that every time I turn on the radio, Rihanna is saying to me I gotta “Work, work, work, work, work, work.”

So many of us have internalized the masculine drive to push, control ourselves with willpower, prioritize obligation above our own joy — to the point where we can hardly even feel our feminine anymore.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am a gal who loves to get shit done. Loves.

And yet I long to live inside the beautiful turned on power of my feminine nature. I know you are with me on this.

We want to be active contributors to this world and we want to live our very best lives, which sometimes involves “things to do” that don’t necessarily give us pleasure.

So the question becomes:

How can we find power, joy, and choice – inside the to do list? How can you turn on your obligations? How can you get shit done, without overriding your needs and desires?

1. Be responsible for less.

I’m only responsible to 3 things at a time (my book, my kid, my biz) and everything else goes by the wayside. Right now is not a good time for me to start French lessons. Or add on another course. Or throw a dinner party.

I know myself well, and I know myself enough to know that 3 things are all I can handle, if I want to do those 3 things well. And it turns me on to do things well, and turns me right off to do things poorly or insufficiently.

Turning down dinner parties, choosing to not stay out late or drink, choosing to decline potentially cool work opportunities is not easy. Sometimes I can throw a small tantrum of frustration. But all of that momentary madness passes way quicker than the price tag of wearing myself completely out.

Being a good guardian of your own time and energy is an important self-care tool.

2. Take pleasure in your desired outcome.

Take time to connect your obligation with your greater goal. Standing for your kid. Standing in your power. Standing for what’s right. Contributing to something you believe in.

A couple months ago, I was in the middle of the height of teaching season. Ten days after teaching an intensive in New York, I was headed to Paris to greet my advanced students for their final intensive there.

In between those huge events might not have seemed like the best time to fly to Los Angeles and take my daughter to look at colleges. But, she is my number one. And (I am so proud!) she got accepted in her top two choices of universities that happen to be on opposite coasts. So, no there was no decision there. We jumped on a plane and headed to Cali.

Was I exhausted? Yup. Overcommitted? Absolutely. Yet, I found my joy in pushing through because there is so much pleasure in showing up to mama my kid, and getting her set up for this huge next chapter of her life.

3. Make it fun, no matter what.

Once you’ve trimmed down your to-do list and connected your responsibilities to your true, deeper desires, then you get to be in the fun game of how to make your experience as pleasurable as possible. Find a way to make it fun.

When we are working too hard on a goal, the first thing to go can be our sense of humor. But It’s impossible to accomplish anything valuable without fun.

When Maggie and I showed up on the West Coast for one more college tour, smack in the height of my busiest teaching schedule, the only solution was to amp up the fun. We rented an Airbnb in Venice, visited friends, ate at great restaurants, sang along with Hamilton non-stop in the car.

When deadlines were piling up for my team and I, we ordered a karaoke machine and hosted theme days at the office.

By the way, the secret ingredient that turns obligation into enjoyment? Add in sisterhood.

The power of sisterhood is that we can see one another’s greatness, sometimes even more than we can see or recognize our own. Rooted inside of true sisterhood, anything is possible, and we are always on the ecstatic journey of our own ongoing creation and recreation.

In the comments below, I’d love to hear from you:

  • Which of the strategies above are you going to focus on, and why?
  • Or, what are your own tips for staying plugged into your joy amidst a demanding to do list?

I can’t wait to hear from you.

Want more of Mama in your inbox?
Subscribe to our newsletter to get free updates.
38 Comments / Leave a Comment

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • deniseb July 9, 2016, 11:04 am

    Wow! My top three! I’ve never done that – and I’m 62!!!
    I realized that if I think about it, Number 1 has to be my health. I’ve never focused on that; it was always last and as Wayne Dyer said, “if you don’t take time out to be healthy, you’ll have to take time out to be sick”.
    Number 2 – may seem selfish, but it’s my home and environment. Years of scattered energy here hasn’t given the results I want.
    Number 3 – again, I struggle with the “selfish” word, but it’s learning. I want to be of service to others, but I can’t if I don’t keep learning.
    Does this touch a note with anyone else?

  • Velynthia Dowdell July 5, 2016, 3:15 pm

    SG Velvet from Fall Mastery 2007 grad here! I love this post and I am SO going for being responsible for less. “My To-Do List” is way outdated, unrealistic and I lost myself in my Sister Goddess light. NO MORE!!! xx

  • Lula July 4, 2016, 10:37 am

    I’m definitely working on #1 by hiring help for housework etc. I’ve been doing #3 too and want to amp that up.

    I was super stressed yesterday and took an awesome dance break, and I ordered my fitness pole yesterday so I can always hop on that when I’m feeling extra stressed. 🙂

    Thanks Mama!

    XOXO,
    Lula

    P.S. Definitely cried while reading this.

  • Lisa July 2, 2016, 9:40 am

    My hubby and I just started working out and we were having a great time. Until someone said something about him previously looking unhealthy. This put him in, “I must crush this man’s opinion” mode.

    The workouts became not fun. They became punishment for being fat and a way to “get back at him” and “prove him wrong”.

    I just told him, “this was supposed to be fun! I will not let this asshole take that away from me. I’m doing this because I enjoy it and look forward to it and to feel strong and proud of myself, not as punishment for my past”.

    I needed this reinforcement today, thank you! I will drag him back to the fun kicking and screaming if I have to!

  • Anna Rounseville July 1, 2016, 11:08 pm

    Brilliant, of course. The Fun is the secret sauce for me. Fun w/ my gal pals, even better. Congrats on Mama Gena’s baby getting accepted into two 1st choice Colleges. Wow! Good stuff. Will there be a book version of Giving it up for men, That’d Slay. As much as you could print, lol. ;D

  • Jill July 1, 2016, 1:18 pm

    Yes yes yesssss

  • Sg rivky July 1, 2016, 8:20 am

    Thanku mama Gena!!!
    After attending 2 masterys I can say this advice you just gave wraps it all up, especially during and after mastery I’ve experienced severe burnout which I’m in the middle of recovering from, and I can now clearly see its from overburdening myself, I’m a go getter and very creative and as , a mom ,wife ,and grandma!!! It’s ALOT sometimes!!! I’m really going to take your advice seriously and hopefully I will slowly get life back into me , because I was almost burned out to the ground spending more days in bed than out!!
    And congrats on your daughters success!!

  • Corneille June 30, 2016, 8:01 pm

    Focusing…and sticking to that decision when others in my family try to decide for me otherwise. Three things are plenty! And how!!

  • Shelly June 30, 2016, 2:50 pm

    I loved your insight on this topic! Here is my breakdown:
    1. “Be responsible for less” People try to schedule my time when they think I have some extra time; ie: my husband or others will try to assign me a task that is their responsibility if they think I have free time. A few months back I started telling them no if it was theirs to handle or solve. I stood up for myself and any free time that I’ve may have or not.
    2. “Take pleasure in your desired outcome” I’m learning to add pleasure into my daily life and goals. Dancing each day, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed with all of the ‘get it done’ conditioning helps to bring a smile to my face and lifts my energy which returns my power to me.
    3. “Make it fun, no matter what” This is my challenge. I am serious much too often and it bogs me down. I’ve cultivated a local circle of sisterhood that is helping me to lighten up. I could use some ideas about adding more fun to my daily life from this Sisterhood. What about it Sister Goddesses?

  • Roxanne Andrew June 30, 2016, 1:54 pm

    WOW Mama G! Boy did I need to see this this week! Excellent advice that I am taking to heart! Thank you!

  • Amy Pachowicz June 30, 2016, 10:42 am

    I am just about to start designing the retail shop at my yoga studio. I want to make it the way I want it; the way I envision it. Thanks for the encouragement to ENJOY this project. It could be so fun to do! If only I could relax and not worry about everything else I have to do as well. The sisterhood key will help. In fact I could think about the shop as a venue to show the truly amazing skills of these ladies. Cool! I never thought about it like that before. Thank you! xo Amy

  • Rena DeBerry June 30, 2016, 10:41 am

    The secret ingredient that turns obligation into enjoyment is sisterhood. I am just now fully realizing the impact of this statement. My goal is to be a better sister and appreciate the ones I have fully.

  • Fatimah June 30, 2016, 10:07 am

    This article is terrific! I can relate,
    deeply, as this was my formula too. I never
    wanted to be superwoman, and
    I wished to do things well, so I
    But off only what I could chew.
    Another thing is, I realized along time
    ago that women were sold a bag
    of goods, and were set up to replace
    men, and many of us, especially
    Black women believed they could.
    I stayed grounded in my philosophy
    Of seeking support when I could,
    while I focused in my children’s needs;
    which included them taking responsibility
    too, for age-appropriate tasks, etc. I definitely
    know how to say ‘no’ and to limit
    My activities to what I really wish to do.

  • Trina Tilson June 30, 2016, 9:04 am

    I am going to implement these three suggestions; focus on three areas of my life at a time to devote my time and energy, take pleasure in the desired outcomes and make it fun so it gets done. The information presented here is valuable to me because most of the time and energy management resources that I have come across do not emphasize conservation of my most valuable resource (me) and prescribe methods for increasing productivity. I find I am restless when I am doing lots of things at once but not the things I am passionate about.

  • Elizabeth Young-Collins June 30, 2016, 12:36 am

    Singing to myself and others really soothes my soul and lifts spirits. Maintaining my sense of humor. Writing a gratitude list and calling my girlfriends to vent when I need to…accepting that my husband will probably never be able to let me vent/complain without trying to fix it 🙂 So keep my girlfriends close either in person or by phone since I just moved out of MA to Indiana! Oh and I went swimming outside today, lovely!!

  • Prue Addy June 30, 2016, 12:29 am

    Loved reading this. Thank you. I am almost 60 and doing a lot to move from masculine trained “work” to feminine flow. It is so different. I got depressed doing it a man’s way, yet there was nothing like what you are speaking about to validate how hard it was not to flow like myself, so I thought something is wrong with me. Today I feel like I am coming out of decades of public school, ringing a bell, stopping me from things I loved and moving me to things I “had to do”. Today I get hot flashes extensively when I go to PUSH THROUGH, MAKE IT HAPPEN and I have no joy, desire or flow to do so. It is ingrained and now with the agony of the trepidation before the hot flash, I am learning to listen to this and calm and give myself space for my flow, my feminine amazing flow which does “get ‘er done” yet with a timing that works with my spacious womb that Lord knows, can hold SO MUCH and I’ve got to give it back to others and hold my own wisdom closer, more personal and let others go to let me go to be here more. I’ve just got to keep asking me………”Love, what works best for you?”…….The silence is no longer deafening 🙂
    Much Love,
    Prue

  • WANDA June 29, 2016, 10:55 pm

    This was so refreshing and helpful I truly loved it, thank you for sharing it with us. I will definitely put into practice the “be responsible for less” and congrats to your Maggie!

  • Christine June 29, 2016, 9:08 pm

    After ten years of being my Mom’s main caregiver (she had )Alzheimer’s), she passed away in March and a huge amount of my responsibilities went with her. I’m still grieving but the time I used to spend with my Mom I now devote to taking care of myself. So I am going to focus on fun for a while. The last few years were particularly difficult and even when I was trying to have fun, part of me was always worrying about her so I was never completely THERE with my partner/friends, etc. So my focus now is taking care of me with extreme self-care and spending time with the people I love, enjoying life and doing things just for the fun of it. Thank you for showing me that it’s ok to do this and to make everything I do as much fun as I can, even at work. It’s gonna be a GREAT summer!!!!!

  • Jodie June 29, 2016, 8:10 pm

    MG!
    Well what a freakin eye opener!!!
    I’ve always used humor and or even fantasy and make believe to get through the tough spots in life. I’ve never given this credit, in fact I’ve often poohooed my tactic, berating myself for not having the smarts to skillfuly maneuver my way through life. Well what do you know I’ve had the smarts all along. THANK YOU! ♡

  • Gwendolyn Washington June 29, 2016, 6:26 pm

    I myself will also scale back my to do list. Being a retired ‘workaholic’. I started to do this but I find that I must also get better organized in general to achieve this goal. I love your stuff but cannot share it with many of my much needed friends because of some of t language like the “F” word. I know we are all grown women but I believe that as feminine women this adds no pleasure to me. It seems like another masuline trait picked up and used. Just Saying!!!

  • Jennifer jenkins June 29, 2016, 4:04 pm

    I love the idea of having more sisterly friends. And spending time with them doing fun rhings , or just having housework be more fun cause she came down to visit while your getting your stuff done.
    And having only three major things going at a time is great. Like taking care of my son and cooking more for us.
    Self care is the hardest for me but I’m working on getting better at it. Cause it makes your life more pleasurable and fun..
    Thank you for this challenge its been wonderful.
    Oh and trying to avoid the negative talk that my mom puts on me all the time. And telling me that she doesn’t like my g.f. and when will I realize I need to stay away from that and settle down with a nice man. Or that I need to be more like my sister. I’m realizing I’m my own person and I can’t please her if I want to take care of and please and make myself happy

  • Gena ILL June 29, 2016, 3:17 pm

    Thanks for words of clarification or enlightenment. I need to work on #1 and focus on a few key items in my life. It feels better to think I don’t have to do everything. Plus, the reminder in #3 to have fun while working hard or putting in that effort to make sure things get done. Thank you for your sharing with us MamaGena!!

  • BSG Jaz June 29, 2016, 2:49 pm

    Keeping it fun is my ultimate tool. I used to believe that work didn’t have to be fun to be sustainable, a pay check was fun to receive…wasn’t that good enough? I was so wrong. I’ve had well paying jobs that were no fun that I quit and I’ve had jobs that didn’t pay but were so much fun I still do them. I’ve found there’s no “later” or “destination” of fun that you MUST have fun along the journey or it’s not worth it.

  • SG Nubian Goddess June 29, 2016, 2:37 pm

    I love the idea of paring down! Focusing on just a few areas really sounds workable. Having 2 kids and aging parents makes me want to expand my list to 5 items, but I LOVE having this boundary.

  • SG "Reverend P" La Tonia June 29, 2016, 2:24 pm

    Oh my Mama G this spoke to my “Sister Goddess” Heart!

    Your three are very concise and I know it wasn’t easy getting there with the 3 Major Roles you’ve chosen to play.

    I’m learning, as I grow. What helped me recently is Leaning into Sisterhood to remind me, because when I’m Over-whelmed I scatter. I forget my tools and my mission driven-get shit done can turn into balls to the wall. My core circle of Turned-On Goddesses from all walks of life remind me that I have OVARIES! If necessary they speak to me from theirs and that nurtures me to remember desire, pleasure and purpose.

    It’s a Tight-Rope sometimes over the bridge to “manifestation” and balance is an illusion, says one Millionaire. Yet, when I define balance for myself, like you did, I find Synchronicity, Surrender and Sacred Success. Thanks for sharing your Sister Goddess Humanity and Leadership with us, in that order. XOXO!

  • Michelle June 29, 2016, 2:05 pm

    LOVE IT ALL! Been reading your books for years.

    Congrats on your daughter’s pick of colleges! I would love your advice on parenting……..for the utterly tired with little little ones.

  • Nancy June 29, 2016, 1:14 pm

    For me, it always has to go back to pleasure ( and a sense of humor is often the door I need to open to get there). Asking How can I make this fun? puts me in the present moment.

  • Katya June 29, 2016, 12:18 pm

    I will focus on SISTERHOOD! It really is the secret ingredient. One woman is a powerhouse, and when women create together, WOW. Thanks Mama Gena.

  • Lise June 29, 2016, 11:06 am

    Exactly what I needed to hear today! I have been waking up to how much I try to do, how much I do do, and how little I feel like I do. I realized last week very clearly that this all has to shift. Realistically–I can’t do what I try to do, I don’t notice or celebrate what I do do and therefore, I always feel like I have done NOTHING. So I have been experimenting with doing less and noticing and celebrating more. I think in the end I will probably accomplish just as much because I won’t crash and burn, or crash and burn relationships. In fact, I have been nurturing relationships through being more of a caretaker for myself. A big experiment in what for me feels like the real meaning of pleasure research!

  • Debra June 29, 2016, 10:56 am

    LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS!!!
    3 things at a time
    AND Maggie ALWAYS on the top of the list!
    Love having a kid in LA. So much easier to let her go live her own life. AND having my daughter off is how and why I found YOU!!!
    So very grateful

  • Suzy Carroll June 29, 2016, 10:35 am

    I so love this and live this and it all started when my lovely friend Athena Burke shared this with me: “Anytime you hear the world ‘should’ it’s God saying you shouldn’t”.
    I’ll never forget that day, it was at Barbara Stanny’s pre-wedding party and I have paid attention to my inner dialog of should’s, I have to’s and I need to’s ever since. This was the turning point in un-doing my over-doing and as you so brilliantly say “being responsible for less”. Right on!

    • Suzy Carroll June 29, 2016, 10:37 am

      Word…LOL, not world – however…world kind of works 😉

  • Allison Gustavson June 29, 2016, 10:15 am

    This one really, really hit home. “Be responsible for less” could be my new mantra, if only I could really narrow down the list of things for which I feel responsible, which includes everything from the most obvious (children/work/the tapestry of daily life) to the most vaguely accomplishable (my role in terms of climate change, gun reform, and re-imagining an ethical and sustainable society for future generations).

    Since I am not entirely clear about my limits, I struggle with putting limits on that list; my absolute recognition that this is an ineffective management style is a leak in the boat that contributes nothing except for a draining self-condemnation. So! Even though my toolbox is a bit rusty, I think that my commitment will be a baby-step towards reducing the list of responsibilities: before saying ‘yes’ to something (i.e. the dinner gathering tonight that neither my husband nor myself is particularly up for, but to which I said an emphatic ‘yes!’ in a moment of enthusiasm and not-checking-in-more-deeply), I will place a large, pillowy space in between and say “I’ll let you know as soon as I can!”. That way, from a slight distance, I can evaluate whether or not it is a true and authentic “yes”. And, moreover, I need to put myself a little more concretely back on the map of responsibilities instead of fitting myself into the cracks of life and convincing myself that this is sufficient. I do fit myself into the cracks, and that is good, but I can do better and everyone will benefit when I do. 🙂 I love and miss and deeply appreciate you, Regena, and the SWA has been so much on my mind and in my heart. 🙂

  • Carol June 29, 2016, 10:11 am

    This is perfect. I am recovering from the downfall of overextending myself. I am ready to hear this message, because not having these boundaries in my life got me to where I am and now I can see that and put some new tools to use.

    I will be responsible for less and seek joy once more!

    Thank you!

  • maggie June 29, 2016, 10:04 am

    so pleased to see this , 24 hrs of health insurance crazy, Thank Goddess for spring cleaning.

    Having challenges getting from A-B & turning on re health context.

  • Eva June 29, 2016, 10:00 am

    I loved the part about being responsible for less! Being able to identify your priorities, and say no to other things is the way to limit “shoulding” on yourself. Thanks for much for the inspiration.

  • connie June 29, 2016, 9:56 am

    I am working in #1. I have a short attention span so i need lots to do but feel overwhelmed at the same time. Once i stop i sleep for days from exhaustion. I have really only had myself to through tough times do that meant 2 jobs, school, chores etc. With no sleep.

  • Stephanie Clark June 29, 2016, 9:47 am

    I too know I do much better when I focus on only 3 things at once. That little rule in my life has saved my sanity more than once! I know longer let myself get overwhelmed by the little things in life.