I bought a pair of tap shoes ten years ago. My musical-theater-geek colors are showing, but one of my wildest dreams has always been to perform – and perform well – in a big song-and-dance number on Broadway. Ten years ago, my husband and I lived the poor-but-happy lifestyle that young college students with just one child are able to embrace, and taking tap lessons fit easily into my life…even if my Broadway dreams were temporarily out of reach.
But right before my lessons started, I found out that I was pregnant with #2. I fumbled my way through two classes, but as it turned out, trying to Shuffle Off to Buffalo during a 9 AM session is no fun when you’re suffering from morning sickness. I dropped the class, and the shoes went into storage…where they stayed for a decade.
We evolved from our freewheeling lifestyle into something more conventional and busy, and a lot of the things we filled our time with back in those days began to seem frivolous and out of reach. Still, every now and then I’d come across the tap shoes and consider getting rid of them, but I couldn’t bring myself to let them go. Of course, I also didn’t ever go so far as to actually USE them. “I wish I had time to take tap again,” I’d say to myself every once in a while, then pack the shoes away again.
But a while ago I had an experience that encouraged me to really examine whether or not that was true.
I was talking with another mom about a book I was reading and she responded along the lines of “Wow, I wish I had time to read!”
At first I was confused. How is it possible not to have time to read? I thought. To me, reading is as natural as breathing; I do it all the time. It never occurred to me that I could not have time to do it.
Then I felt a flash of irritation. “Is she suggesting that she must be spending more time with her kids or doing really important things than I am, because she doesn’t make the time to read?” I bristled.
But then it occurred to me that her comment had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with her. What this mom actually meant (whether she realized it or not) was that she’s got priorities that don’t necessarily include reading right now. Maybe she’d rather blog or Twitter or watch TV than read (or maybe she’s mindlessly blogging, Twittering or TV-watching without thinking of how it’s encroaching on her reading time). Maybe she spends hours a day cooking or cleaning or playing chaperone. Or maybe she knits or embroiders or scrapbooks or some other thing I never seem to have the time for.
Which made me take a much closer look at my statement about “not having time” to tap dance.
Sure, in ten years there were certainly times that fitting in tap classes would have been hard. But I really can’t argue that in an entire decade, I never had time to use those shoes. Maybe I didn’t make it a priority, or maybe I put it off because arranging child care was a pain. But the time? That, I had.
We all prioritize, and that’s perfectly okay…as long as we’re honest with ourselves about our priorities. If I truly WISH I had time to do something, then I need to MAKE time for it. If I don’t care whether or not I do something, it’s just silly for me to say I wish I had time for it, because it’s not really true. And if I do care but I can’t find the time, I can try to figure out a way to make it.
If you’re reading this, you have time to read. (WHAT you choose to read is up to you).
If you’re reading this, you have time to paint, or write, or sit thinking deep thoughts, or dance, or play an instrument, or run, or walk, or lift weights, or bake, or decorate cakes, or embroider or knit. Maybe not professionally (for now). Maybe not hours and hours each day (yet).
But yes, you have time. And if you’re reading this through the bleary sleep-deprived haze of new motherhood while nursing a baby with one arm, and if reading this is as much as you can manage right now…trust me, soon enough, that fog will lift. You will be a mom, maybe a very busy mom, but guess what…you’ll still have time, if you’re willing to take it and use it for the things that matter to you.
Inertia can be our own worst enemy. It’s easier to stay up late mindlessly surfing the Internet than to make yourself go to bed early so you can take an early-morning walk. It’s easier to watch reality TV marathons than read that wonderful but difficult (or even breezy and fun) novel. It’s easier to believe your family couldn’t possibly spare you for an hour and a half than it is to go to yoga or take guitar lessons. But having a hard time getting moving isn’t the same thing as not having the time.
Next time you hear yourself saying (or thinking) “I wish I had time for ____,” ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you really wish that?
Maybe the thing you can’t fit into your life just isn’t that important to you. It’s okay to admit that cooking, or reading, or writing, or whatever it is you feel like you should want to do just don’t rank high on your priority list right now.
2. If the answer is yes, then what obstacles are getting in your way?
Is it really that you DON’T HAVE the time? Or are you scared to try something new or afraid you’ll look selfish if you take time away from your family?
3. If you really don’t have time, how could you rearrange your life so that you do?
What can you let go of or delegate to another person? If child care is an issue, do you have a friend or family member you can swap with? Can you call the local high school or community college and ask for a list of babysitters you could hire?
4. What would happen if you just did it?
What if you called RIGHT NOW and registered for that class you want to take or made plans to go for a walk with a friend. Would the details fall into place with a little effort? Could you be using the perceived potential difficulty of working through the details as an excuse…even if in reality it wouldn’t be that big a deal?
5. If you truly don’t have the time and can’t imagine a way to rearrange your life so that you do, what steps can you take now so that you can start working this activity into your life later?
Look at it this way: six months is going to go by whether you start working on this or not. You may as well start trying to scale your life back now so that in six months your plate is less full. List your priorities, and see if the way you spend your day is really in line with your priorities right now.
I don’t mean to imply that any of this is easy. I still catch myself thinking “I wish I had time for that,” when I hear about some other mom’s cool project or adventure. Sometimes I just need to turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and do it, now, before I give myself any more self-sabotaging excuses. Sometimes it’s a matter of my circumstances getting in the way (finances, school schedule, number of kids, the fact that I have a nursing infant, whatever). But I find that when I re-frame it as “I’m choosing not to make X a priority right now” or “Right now my life feels too full to do Y, but I’m going to keep it on a back burner for now and find a way to work it into my life by next winter,” then I feel a lot better about it.
Nobody wants to feel like a victim of her circumstances, and the truth is that no matter where you are, no matter how many kids you have, no matter how broke you are, no matter how much you work, no matter how little or needy your kids are, you have choices. You can find or make time in your life for what’s really important to you…if you’re willing to let go of some of those things that aren’t.
So the last time I ran across my tap shoes, I went immediately to the website for a local studio that offers adult classes, and registered right then and there for a class. And the other night, for the first time in ten years, those tap shoes got a workout. It was a blast, and I can’t wait to get better and better. Maybe I’ll never make it to Broadway, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to do a mean grapevine.
It’s got me wondering—what other long-dormant dreams do I have time for right now?
image: Steve Snodgrass, via Flickr
Update: A few weeks after writing this post I finally learned the time-step, finished the beginner class series, and decided that was good enough for now. But I’m so glad I busted out those tap shoes and gave them a workout…and they’re still waiting for me, when I decide to make time for them again.