Make It Look Hard
You’re doing a lot—and you’re good at it. Stop trying to make it look easy.
Last weekend, I hosted a birthday party for my nephew. At one point, I was shuttling between the stove inside and the grill outside to finish the taco filling for the kids and grilled chicken for the grownups. When my sister asked how she could help, my first instinct was to say that I didn’t need any. Then I realized I was being ridiculous and asked her to grate cheese and chop lettuce. We chatted while we prepped.
What almost stopped me from accepting her offer? The desire to make things look easy.
This tendency sits at the junction of acting okay when we’re not and the way work gets divided up in the home — two topics that I’ve thought about a lot in the past. I was acting the part of what I call Quintessential Host, someone who seems to have anticipated every guest’s need and desire—and this is key—without breaking a sweat or having to try too hard. The role is a trap. It’s about martyrdom and the idea that you only get to enjoy yourself once everyone else has been taken care of. But it’s also a tad controlling. People often truly want to help! Doing everything yourself and refusing to accept generosity, care, and company from others is a way of holding yourself apart and conforming to an idea of how a person should behave rather than actually living.
The foil of Quintessential Host is someone I think of as BBQ Dad. And there’s something to learn from him. BBQ Dad works hard at the grill. He’s got a special recipe and a particular execution of it that must be carefully observed. As much as he would like to delegate, he really can’t trust you to understand his whole vision for this plate of burgers. He’d love to answer the door or find the other package of cups, but he’s at a critical point in the glazing of these zesty chicken breasts. The defining feature of BBQ Dad is that he’s showing his work. His efforts will never go unappreciated.
Of course, these are broad generalizations and any person can play either role, but they often divide down predictably gendered lines. And to be clear, an actual BBQ Dad can be very annoying, especially if he is co-hosting with someone who would very much like him to shred some lettuce or load the dishwasher. But his methods can be used for good. Channeling BBQ Dad into a strategy for getting what you need is one way to set solid boundaries about what is your responsibility, and what isn’t. It’s not about shirking your responsibilities to your partner or colleagues, it’s a matter of cheerfully holding firm against adding additional work to your plate if it is already full. It’s a guide to doing less for people who do too much, not a masterclass in loafing. Follow his lead and your work is more likely to be seen and appreciated.
Let’s walk through how he does it.
BBQ Dad has amazing boundaries. He likes his job at the grill and doesn’t want to share it. He would love to do more, but then the excellent work he’s already doing would be diminished. Do you really want the ribs to be subpar because he had to step away to refill the ice cube trays? No. No you don’t.
The key here is to play up what you’re already doing. You’re doing a lot! And you’re good at it. There is no shame in pointing that out. When someone asks you to take on a task, pause for a moment and really consider how adding it to your to-do list will change your day or week or month. If you don’t like the way that feels, identify what you’re already working on and think about what makes it challenging and why it’s important. Say, “I’d love to BUT this other commitment needs my full attention right now.”
BBQ Dad is aggressively pleasant. Observe BBQ Dad. He’s not saying yes and then feeling resentful about it. He’s not saying no angrily — if he did he’d morph into a deeply disturbed Will Ferrell character. He’s just calling attention to what an excellent job he’s already doing, with a smile, and probably with a bevy of dad jokes.
When saying no, keep it light. Keep it friendly. Thank the person asking for asking you. Be enthusiastic and specific about your other obligations. Think of this part as giving the person the secret behind your special sauce. They don’t probably want to hear all the details, but boy, are you pumped to share them.
BBQ Dad shows his work. Coming through with a hot plate of kebabs! Come and get some!. BBQ Dad serves with a flourish. He can’t join you, just yet, he’s gotta crack a fresh beer and put the next batch on the grill. I know you’re hungry!
Tell the people around you about what you’re doing. Announce accomplishments with fanfare. Share your challenges, too. Even BBQ Dad has to cope with an occasional grill flare-up — luckily, you’re both great at keeping your cool in tough situations, and letting everyone know how you managed to save the pesto-marinated haloumi.
BBQ Dad would love to offer you a cold beer. There’s always a cooler of beers that BBQ Dad keeps close at hand. This is a next-level strategy to reserve for situations in which you just cannot join the committee that meets at that restaurant you hate once a month for about 15 minutes of work and two hours of painful socializing. Or the manager who can’t handle the actual BBQ Dad on your team and always comes to you with extra work.
This interaction is going to be your most difficult, so have a little something to offer the asker. A coffee date. A smaller task that you knew you’d end up picking up anyway. The name of someone else you’re sure would be willing to help (starts with BBQ, ends with Dad). A cold beer. Sometimes there’s no shame in buying yourself a little freedom.