It’s 9:30 pm. You got home at a reasonable time and rustled up a decent dinner. You’ve got the kids fed, teeth brushed, homework discussed, and they are tucked into bed. You climb into bed with your partner (who has that special look in their eye that you meet with that, “Don’t even go there” look of your own), you are balancing a glass of wine on one knee, your laptop on the other (answering work email), and the TV is on Real Housewives of Wherever.
This is what you call “me” time.
You congratulate yourself for checking all the important boxes for the day. Took care of the boss. Check. Handled the needs of your direct reports. Check. Kids. Check. Your partner. Check minus. Looming deadlines, client’s never-ending requests for “just one more thing,” responding supportively to your BFF's 17 text messages to rant about her divorce. Check. Check. Check. You’re awesome. You’ve got this.
And, as you are multitasking your way through the finish line of your day, you know you need this last hour to decompress before you lay your head down to sleep and get up tomorrow to do it over again. You’re doing an impressive job of fitting it all in.
You are so there for everyone and everything that is important to you.
Does this sound familiar to you? Even a little bit? What's missing from this picture of your life?
You. OK, you're there, doing all this stuff. But is the REAL YOU showing up consistently?
Are you there for YOU?
With women, it seems like the default answer to the question “How are you?” is “Busy. I’m just so darned busy…” and then the next thing you might hear is, “I have to get better organized so I can manage it all. I need a better work/life balance.”
Here’s a quote I came across from the 7th-century scholar, Isidore of Seville:
“Catching a unicorn is impossible…unless you are a virgin woman. The unicorn is too strong to be caught by hunters, except by a trick: If a virgin girl is placed in front of a unicorn and she bares her breast to it, all of its fierceness will cease and it will lay its head on her bosom, and thus quieted is easily caught.”
When I read this, I thought, I’m screwed. I’m certainly no virgin! Then I started thinking more metaphorically about this. What is it about being a virgin that creates the conditions for capturing the unicorn? There’s something about purity in there…which I think leads us to the conclusion that, if we were just doing everything “right” we’d be able to balance it all perfectly – to accomplish more without a strand of hair out of place. Without losing it when the last straw lands on our backs. Well, for one thing, virgins might have less on their to do lists. No husband or children to care for.
Charlotte Lieberman wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review in April 2017:
“The idea of “work-life balance” is an invention of the mid-19th century. The notion of cultivating awareness of one’s work versus one’s pleasure emerged when the word “leisure” caught on in Europe in the Industrial Era. Work became separate from “life” and we’ve been struggling to juggle them ever since.”
We have an opportunity to let go of the thought that we should divide our time into neat categories like work responsibilities and life responsibilities and heal the “split” we have in our consciousness about it through embracing the whole as “life.” It seems that there is also something that is wanting to break open about the sheer volume of “stuff” that we’re dealing with and the pressure we put on ourselves to keep up with all our responsibilities.
When did we get this freaked out about all the stuff we have to do in a day? How many blogs and articles have you read, such as “7 Tips for Achieving Work/Life Balance”? While these are often helpful, they are usually focused on the outer level, like learning to delegate or get better organized, or use the latest calendar blocking system and to do list techniques.
I just attended yet another workshop by a successful busy woman that was an hour-long training in how to cram everyone and everything in your life. While these are helpful tips, it’s more like putting a band aid on a deep wound.
It’s when we have years and decades of living our lives like it’s a sprint that we start feeling a deep disconnect between how we are spending our days and the purpose of our lives. We become exhausted, not just physically, but at the spiritual level.
There is certainly work we can do to clarify our priorities and values and ask questions like, "Are the choices I'm making in alignment with what's really important to me?" The other issue to consider is, are you still trying to take care of everyone else at the expense of your own needs?
Here are some tips to consider when you find yourself caught up in the chase of the mythical unicorn of Work/Life Balance. They are intended to help you unplug from patterns of overcompensating and people-pleasing that leave you feeling drained, depleted, and demoralized.
JUST SAY NO
One major cause of burnout is being over-committed. Being asked to participate, to join, to lead, to commit to another new project, or help someone out of a jam can be an exhilarating feeling. It’s great to feel needed. However, if you find yourself saying “yes,” to a request while you are kicking yourself inside (because you just don’t want to do it) it’s time to learn a little assertiveness.
Remember this: Every time you say “yes” to someone or something, you are saying “no” to something else. What you are saying “no” to may be a higher priority for your success or your peace of mind – but your conditioning prevents you from speaking up for yourself.
“No” is a complete sentence. If you want to be gracious you can say something like, “I’d love to, but I’m going to have to say “No.” If you feel you just can’t do this in the moment, you can always use the stalling technique and say, “I’ll give that some thought and get back to you.” That way you’re not saying “yes” to do something because you feel put on the spot with no graceful retreat. You are the decision-maker about where you put your time and energy.
SLOW DOWN INSTEAD OF SPEEDING UP
One strategy we’ve probably all used when we are overcommitted is to rush around at warp speed to get it all done. This sets up an adrenaline rush, which can be thrilling in the moment, but exhausting when it becomes a way of life. We’ve been trained to do this. However, rushing through life is missing the point of living.
Instead, give yourself a moment to breathe, to slow down and be still. You’ll be amazed at the clarity that is on the other side of a few minutes of meditating, reflecting, and contemplating. A spiritual master once said that it’s good to meditate for an hour a day – unless you are too busy – then meditate for 2 hours. That’s not what I’m recommending, but you get the idea…
YOU’VE GOT TO LAND THE PLANE SOMETIME
Schedule downtime for yourself for routine maintenance and self-care. You simply can’t fly around all the time and if you try, you will crash.
ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED – AND LET SOMEONE GIVE IT TO YOU
How many times has someone offered to help you and you refuse to let them? I often hear people say it takes too long to explain the task, or they won’t do it right, or some other silly excuse. Actually, when you don’t let people contribute to you by lightening the load, it signals that you are having difficulty giving up control.
Or, you may feel that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help. If you’re struggling, just ask yourself what it is you are getting out of trying to do it all yourself. What’s the benefit? Then, ask yourself if it is worth it to pay what it costs to do it all by yourself.
FOCUS ON NOW
Multi-tasking is not your friend. It just means you are half paying attention to everything and stressing yourself out in the process. Focusing on one thing at a time and minimizing distractions while you do that will give far better results. And it provides more peace.
GO FOR EXCELLENCE, NOT PERFECTION
Perfection is a pattern that can never complete itself – you’ll never achieve it, no matter how hard you try. Have you ever had the experience of seeing the bar for your accomplishment and then, just when you’re about to reach it, it gets raised just out of reach? That’s frustrating and demoralizing, especially when you do it to yourself. Letting go of perfectionism and setting your sights on excellence gives you a fighting chance at winning.
SLEEP EIGHT HOURS A NIGHT
Being tired all the time is not a badge of honor. Make it a habit to carve out eight solid hours of continuous sleep each night. Commit to this, even if you think you can’t.
MAKE TIME FOR APPRECIATION AND GRATITUDE
Take a few moments at the end of the day to appreciate and acknowledge yourself, to reflect on what went well today, and to express gratitude for the many blessings in your life.
It's time that we gave up the idea that we can stalk, hunt, capture, and tame the mythical beast of Work/Life Balance. Let's take a stand for creating more harmony and balance in life - embracing all aspects as part of the whole.
Blessings of peace,