I was asked recently to share on my blog some comments I have made over the years to people seeking the extremely elusive “work-life balance”. When my kids were really young I would often get asked “How do you do it? How do you balance young kids, community work, and your job?” The first thing I should say is that I often found this question startling. My immediate thought would be “how can they possibly think I’m balancing everything?”. Many days back then I felt like I had long given up trying to keep my head above water, and was fighting to keep just one nostril exposed to let me breathe! Happily I did learn how to achieve that elusive feeling of balance, at least the balance that is right for me and, for what it may be worth, here is my advice.
1. Let go the Myth of Perfect Balance I have always felt that trying to find that perfect ‘balance’ is setting yourself up for failure. Chasing this myth immediately sets one side of your life facing off against the other. There you are desperately seeking that magical fulcrum that will make the pieces hang in perfect harmony. Not so! Think instead of your life as a rich tapestry, and you have to weave all the pieces together into the beautiful picture that is uniquely right for you. And the picture in your tapestry cannot be the same as anyone else’s, because it is built on choices that are uniquely your own. Will you marry? Will you have children? If so, how many? What community and volunteer organizations will you be part of? What friends will you spend time with? How will you invest in your own health and wellness? What career will you love and choose to pursue? The secret to ‘balancing’ all these choices is to think of them as selections that you are making to weave together in the one story that is uniquely your own, the one picture that is uniquely satisfying to you.
2. Keep your head where your feet are Be very mindful of which piece of the tapestry you are working on at a given time, and be very focused in that moment. When my children were really little I started to feel really unbalanced… I was spending all my time at work worrying about home and all my time at home worrying at work. I quickly realized that I needed to learn to be focused in the moment. The mantra I developed for myself was ‘keep your head where your feet are”. When you are at work – stay focused on work, and when you are at home – the same rule applies! There is always something else that you COULD be doing – the key is to focus on what you ARE doing. I don’t know any greater feeling of imbalance than having your head and feet in two different places. Training yourself to be fully present goes a long way to driving balance in your life.
3. Balance is a marathon Remember that balance is a marathon. You don’t need to have everything perfectly balanced every day! What is important is that overall – when you look back on the weeks, months and years – you feel balanced, even if there were many days that you didn’t! Moments of imbalance are normal. However, if you are feeling that you’ve been going too long with only that one nostril poking over the water and you’re about to go under – don’t panic. Instead climb to the nearest shore (may I suggest a spa day or personal retreat?), take a breath, reflect on the choices you are making, and see how you can adjust your personal story to make it more what you are seeking.
All this to say, this is what I found worked for me. The biggest message in the story of balance is that it is a truly personal journey. Give yourself permission to make the choices and take the actions that work for you. Don’t apologise…this is your life you’re living.