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How often do you try to do everything yet wind up doing nothing?

Today is November 6 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you try to do everything yet wind up doing nothing?” Today’s reflection involves the actor and singer Harry Belafonte and the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Belafonte was one of the most successful singers in history and also a long-time supporter of civil rights and King.


For example, Belafonte helped finance the freedom rides, he bailed King out of jail, and he maintained an apartment in New York City that King used. According to Belafonte "My apartment was a retreat for him. King had his own entrance, his own kitchen. The home became, for him, a place where he could think and reside, take his shoes off, have his collar open and be him."


Today’s reflection, however, involves one another aspect that unfolded between the two men. In 1956 Belafonte placed a call to Martin’s wife Coretta Scott King. With her husband arrested once again, Belafonte called Coretta to see if she needed anything. Unfortunately, the two could hardly hold a conversation because Coretta was pulled away from the phone several times to attend to her children, check on dinner, and answer the door.


At one point during the interrupted phone conversation, Belafonte politely asked Coretta why she did not have any help at home. A maid or a nanny would certainly help Coretta tend to the many tasks she had while her husband was in jail. According to the story as told by Ryan Holiday in a blog post, Coretta informed Belafonte that Martin would not allow any help at home since he was worried what others might think.


As one of the civil rights leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. did not want to appear self-important by hiring help and living the good life while millions of blacks suffered. She also added that hiring help was financially prohibitive on a minister’s salary.


Belafonte told her “That is absolutely ridiculous. He’s here in the middle of this movement doing all of these things, and he’s going to get caught up in what people are going to think if he has somebody helping you?” Belafonte then informed her that he would personally pay for staff to assist the Kings in their house and that Martin could not refuse such an offer.


As Holiday noted “This wasn’t just a nice gesture to an overworked family. It was also a strategic move. What Belafonte was buying Martin and Coretta was time. It was peace of mind. He understood that with this help, they would have more energy, more focus for the cause. The last thing he wanted Martin to be thinking about as he marched for peace and justice was whether his kids had a ride home from school. It takes discipline not to insist on doing everything yourself. Especially when you know how to do them well. Especially when you have high standards about how they should be done. Even if you enjoy doing them — whether that’s mowing your own lawn or answering your own phone.”


Dede Henley echoed similar sentiment in an October 24, 2018, article entitled “Stop Trying To Do It All,” when he discussed the need for entrepreneurs, leaders, and managers to realize that “No matter how hard you try, you cannot be all things to all people. More striving, more working, more late hours won’t get you there. Let’s face it, you can’t do it all. Henley fully recognizes a psychological state found in so many people and that is the apparent necessity to try to do everything all the time. Such a strategy is a difficult, if not impossible, way to navigate the chaos.


If you want to find answers to questions, identify solutions to problems, and create innovative ways to address issues, you will need to employ the strategy of prioritizing your most important tasks and then hand off the rest of work to others. If no one is readily available perhaps some work simply does not get done. At the end of the day, you only have 24 hours and not all of it is spent at work or performing your role of parent, caregiver, or whatever other role you may have in your current life situation.


Henley concluded “There’s only one way to reconcile with the cold hard fact that you can’t do it all: Release the unrealistic expectations you have of yourself. You aren’t perfect, you never will be. You are human. You can’t be good at everything. Instead, spend your time figuring out what really matters to you and what your highest and best use is—the things that you do extraordinarily well with very little effort—and then get really good at that.”

  • How often do you try to do everything yet wind up doing nothing?

  • Why do you think you are trying to do everything?

  • What would happen if you started to prioritize all that you did and then only focused on what you decided was most important?

  • How often do you tell yourself ‘how busy you are’ and how does that make you feel when you hear yourself say it?

  • Are you comfortable asking for help?

  • What can you do today to stop doing everything and focus on those two or three things you deem most important?

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