In English novelist Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, there is a particular discussion on the attributes of an “accomplished woman”. These are “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages”, as well as polished manners and an appetite for reading. Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, dismisses the entire notion as impossible to achieve.
Even back then, Austen knew that the idea of an ideal woman was unrealistic. You would think that such an idea would have disappeared with the times. However, though the idea has evolved, it still exists today. Today, women are pressured to be, among other things:
- A successful career woman
- A loving wife and patient mother
- A great cook and homemaker with an eye for design
- A fitness and health enthusiast
- A passionate advocate for social causes
- A committed church member serving in at least one ministry
- A trendy Instagram-worthy fashionista
Deep down, we know that this idea of a “superwoman” is unrealistic, yet we are still taken up with it. At least I am. Thinking that I can do it all, I have often found myself overcommitted with projects, from event planning to serving in church to exercise to studies. I would stretch myself thin, only to collapse in despair and exhaustion, brought down by either my failure or the sense that there’s always more to be done.
This struggle to be a quintessential multitasker was evident recently, when I had to care for my four-year-old brother. I honestly enjoyed the good sibling time we had together, but I felt listless at the end of the day. While my peers were out sealing deals, submitting press releases and finalizing consultancy reports, I had spent the day playing with my brother and making sure he finished his meals. I felt unaccomplished.
I often feel this way—as if I have not yet done enough. But along the way I’ve learned a few lessons on how I can choose to respond to that perception.
1) Choose humility
I have to acknowledge that I’m no superhero. There are only 24 hours in a day, and I can’t be a cook and a seamstress and an administrator all at once. I’ve often had to swallow my pride and admit my limits. I have to admit that I’m just not God.
2) Choose grace
There was one time when I was in tears because I was behind on household chores, and my husband had to gently reassure me that his love for me was not determined by how brightly the floor gleamed. In that moment, I saw a little bit more of how God loves us too. We are not defined by our accomplishments, nor is our worth measured by our strengths and weaknesses. Rather, everything we have is by grace, and all we are able to do is because God enables us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
3) Choose faithfulness
The chief lesson I’ve learned is that our lives are defined not by one big moment, but rather by the sum of many small ones. Hence, what is actually required of us is faithfulness―faithfulness to God and faithfulness in loving others. And this faithfulness is played out in our day-by-day lives.
Proverbs 31 describes a noble woman who seems to be the superwoman. I used to be both awed and terrified by her. But in reading the chapter again, I noticed that the verses actually talk about everyday, mundane tasks―cooking, farming, crafting. The Proverbs 31 woman did not claim superwoman-hood. All she did was to be faithful with whatever was given to her daily. That commitment was what her husband and children praised her for—”Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29).
It’s not just about nailing that important presentation. It’s also about whether I treat my fellow teammates with respect and care while we work together. It’s not just about having a grand wedding. It’s also about whether I continue to love and serve my husband every day after. Do I choose God every morning, and not only on Sundays?
Understanding faithfulness has given me new insight into what it means to be an accomplished woman in God’s eyes. And it is much more achievable than the demands we impose on ourselves. I do still aspire to be a good wife, daughter, homemaker, volunteer, and worker. But now I choose to admit my limitations, humbly receive the grace of the Lord, and commit to be faithful with whatever I have and can give in the 24 hours given―even if it means that the only thing I accomplish today is to care for my brother.