Shauna Niequist has penned three breathtakingly authentic books that tell tales of food and faith, love and loss (here's our favorite!). And yet, what we love most about Shauna is perhaps her spirit of lifelong learning, soon evident in the book she's currently penning: Present Over Perfect. Below, read her words on slowing down, loving much and being a more authentic version of herself:
As an in-demand author and speaker, what is your philosophy on work/life balance - puzzle-piecing the pursuit of your passions with the ever-present needs of your husband and two sons?
What makes it work for us: four amazing grandparents and some truly fantastic aunts and uncles. Also: a lot of communication between my husband and I, both about the logistics, but more than that, about what we’re building together, both in our vocations and our family life. It’s easier for me to do a little more kid stuff or home stuff when he helps me understand what it is that’s making him more busy than usual in a particular season, and the same is true for him. I’m finishing up a book right now, and the final editing process has taken more time than we anticipated. What that means is our whole rhythm has to shift a little bit. Because Aaron knows it’s just for a season, he can flex with it, knowing I’ll flex for him the next time he needs a little extra margin. The key to all that, though, is communication—This is why this project matters to me, or When is a good time for our family for me to add this project?
And the last thing: focused family non-work time. Every year, we get a little better at this, and the richness it brings to our family life is so apparent. Especially when your work is freelance—when you could ostensibly just keep adding and adding things, when there’s pressure to strike while the iron’s hot or take every opportunity that comes, it’s so easy for family to get the leftovers, because the work is so energizing! Because the opportunities are amazing! But I’m learning to trust that the opportunities that are right for me will still be there after our family trip, for example, or will come around again if I say no entirely. But these boys are going to grow up no matter what.
This season is going to fly by in an instant, and I don’t want to spend the best of my energy hustling to do projects at a pace that keeps me from being the mom and partner I want to be. There have been seasons when I erred too far on the side of work, and I carry some regret about those seasons. I’m shifting the math these days, and I’m shifting in in favor of my time with my family, trusting that the opportunities I let go will be right for someone else, and that the ones that are right for me will work in the context of this new pace and way of living and connecting.
You're currently working on your new book, Present Over Perfect. What are you learning about yourself through the process of this project?
Part of why I love my job is because I learn so much along the way. I always choose topics that I want to learn about, not ones that I feel like I’ve already nailed. The writing process, then, is all about discovery, traveling an unknown path, gathering up experiences and ideas along the way. That might be the hard way to do it—certainly writing about things you already understand is simpler. But the books that have moved me the most are the ones that give you the sense that the author is walking just ahead of you on the path, holding out a hand, inviting you along. I live that feeling when I read, and I want to create in when I write.
I need to understand some new ways living and thinking about busy-ness, rest, grace, presence. I need to face whatever it is that pushes me to over schedule, over commit, over function. And I’m so thankful to have the kind of job that allows me to do that inner work as a part of my actual work.
If you could speak to the struggle of today's modern women - from where you sit - and offer a few words of encouragement, what would you say?
The women I walk with feel so much pressure to be everything, all at the same time. I feel it, too. What I mean is we feel like we need to be capable and beautiful, well-read and well-worked-out, with perfectly designed homes and meaningful spiritual practices. We have to be social and creative, ever present with our kids and intimately connected with our husbands, active in our communities and articulate about world events.
But to do all that would take ten women. And we’re not all made that way. Some of us are made to be dreamers, and what that means is that we forget the details sometimes. Some of us are made to create beautiful homes, but it means we don’t read every big new book that comes out. Some of us love to run, but can’t cook to save our lives. And that’s how it is to be a person—human and wonderful and limited, frankly.
I think one of the biggest gifts we can give one another is permission to be our very own selves, with the gifts and limitations that come with that. I think so many of us, myself certainly included, are exhausted from decades of trying to be about fifteen more things than we were made to be. It takes courage to declare what we’re not, what we can’t do, what we were never made to do. And there’s so much power when we share that courage and permission with one another.
What are three standby items you rely on to orchestrate your everyday?
Red Le Creuset Dutch Oven - Cooking for people I love is one of the most restorative life-giving things I do, and my number one most-loved, most well-used kitchen item is my dutch oven—I use it for everything from scrambled eggs to curry to soup to boeuf bourguignon, and just dragging it from the cabinet to the stovetop signals to me that something good is about to happen.
Ipad - Reading is my other great love, and I used to be one of those people who always had to pay extra because my bags were too heavy—because I packed so many books. Sometimes I even shipped a box of books to a vacation spot, so I knew I wouldn’t run out. The fact that now that I can have dozens of books just waiting for me on my iPad is basically the greatest thing I can think of.
Giving Key - It might sound silly to say that a piece of jewelry helps orchestrate my day, but I’m a word person, and words affect me and guide me and ground me. I’m such a fan of the Giving Keys, and what Caitlin Crosby and Brit Moore are building, and I wear a key that says GRATEFUL. Because I am. And because when you remember all the things you’re grateful for, the things that feel scary and unknown and hard get a little less power and space in your life. When I feel afraid, especially if I’m about to speak, I hold my key for a second and remind myself that my life is full of so many rich and wonderful things, and that this stage or this review or this whatever doesn’t define me. I could be terrible or fantastic and nothing changes—I still get to go back to my boys and our life, and that makes me feel so deeply grateful.
p.s. Meet an author for the little ones, Donna Mae!