Having a 21 year old son as a mirror, reflecting certain aspects of my personality can be quite annoying. I am never sure whether to be proud or afraid that our personalities are so similar on several counts.
Physically we could not be any different: I am 5’ tall, maybe 100 pounds soaking wet and fair skinned (he has called me translucent). He is over 6’ tall, very athletics and maintains a perfect tan in the wintertime.
We have a unique communication style having many lively conversations that provide great entertainment to those around us. We are both straightforward, direct and appreciative, devoted students of effervescent witticism. We are a couple of smartalecs.
For all the grief I give my son, and I do so quite a bit in seminars and blogs, I will be the first to admit he has taught me more life lessons than any mentor or idol.
His points are poignant due to his delivery. It is normally a short, direct statement that cuts through any bull, fear or distractions.
I read an article the other day about work-life balance, which I believe is a bunch of bull-hooey. Balance implies equality. I have yet to meet the person that has perfect equality in both professional and personal worlds. The phrase implies some sort of perfectly balanced scales. I don’t own any scales.
This is not to say that you cannot have it all, in my opinion you most certainly can – just not all at one time.
My problem was not that I was trying to make those scales balance; I was on a different extreme. I used to devote myself to only certain areas of my life completely ignoring others.
A few years ago he put it into perspective for me. We were discussing my work and he simply looked at me and said, “When are you going to have a life?”
I backtracked and tried to provide proof that I did, in fact, have a life. Obviously he was mistaken.
He just shook his head and said, “No you don’t.”
He told me that when he was growing up, my life was focused on him; when his dad was diagnosed with cancer, my life was focused on both of them; and when he moved out my life focused on my business. He said he wasn’t talking about relationships, he was talking about me. He asked when I was going to focus on me.
He told me, “Mom, I think it is your turn.”
He was not mistaken.
That is the day that I began to realize balance is not equal and the each side of the equation are actually multi-part subsets. It is not a perfectly balanced scale; it is a teeter-totter with different size and shapes of aspects sitting on each end.
One the work end you have your peers, bosses, clients, prospective clients, vendors and every person you come into contact with during the working day.
On the life end you have all the things that mean most to you personally: your family, your community, your faith and your passions.
A teeter-totter is a basically a plant anchored on a fulcrum. According to the dictionary, a fulcrum is the point or support on which a lever pivots. What is the fulcrum in the work-life teeter-totter?
You can counter the feeling of being dropped on your bum when someone jumps off the other end of the teeter-totter by enlarging your fulcrum.
In work, realize that everything is not a means to a financial end. There are interactions, lessons and people there for you to get to know and enjoy.
Understand that everyone has their own path. Careers are rarely a straight line; more often than not they are winding, twisty, topsy-turvy crazy lines that takes you where you are and where you want to go.
On the life side things are sometimes messy. Other people’s actions create fears, insecurities and doubts about ourselves and our abilities as partners, parents or friends. We feel pulled into other people’s stuff.
It is a natural inclination to be all things to all people as a leader, worker, provider, business owner, parent, partner, sibling, family member, friend and volunteer. In doing so you forget the fulcrum holding it all together: you.
This was my son’s point. I had forgotten me. My teeter-totter had no balance point. That is when I hung up then burned my superwoman cape. Here is how I built a better teeter-totter.
I began scheduling, yes I had to schedule, me time. I started with an hour in the evening where I completely disconnected and did something just for me. Not filling this time with things to check off my list.
At first I felt guilty. I should be using this hour to clean the bathroom, give the dogs a bath, research an article, call a friend, do laundry – anything but mindless, time wasting activities.
If I do not take care of my mental, physical and spiritual health what good am I for all other components of the equation? I needed the time that I gave to others, without it I could still do all things for all people but I was a worn down, exhausted hot mess.
I began forgiving myself for taking me time, for saying no and for mistakes. I am human and I provide forgiveness for others yet rarely for myself. This led me to the next step.
Treating myself as I do others
We encourage, support, love and appreciate the people in our life, so what if we started putting ourselves in that mix? What if you started treating yourself as you do all others in your life?
What if you started giving yourself pats on the back for a job well done? What if you told yourself that it is okay that you did not get everything checked off your list today? What if you told yourself that you did the best you could do and that is all anyone can do? What if you told yourself that you are amazing? What if you started complimenting, genuinely complimenting yourself? What if you stopped holding yourself to a higher standard, an impossible standard, and gave yourself support, empathy, encouragement and love?
Appreciation vs. Gratitude
Now I was starting to really get a life, and one I liked. Now my dogs started getting into the act.
Then I stopped looking at the didn’t haves and lack ofs and started focusing on what was right there in front of me and around me. I started the practice of appreciation rather than gratitude.
Gratitude is being thankful with an element of something not having happened yet. I am grateful for the balance of my bank account although it is not where I want it to be right now.
Appreciation is being thankful for that exact moment without regard to future needs or wants. I am appreciative for what is in my bank account right now. Period.
My dogs helped me learn appreciation. Every morning I sit outside watching them. It is the same yard, same trees, same grass, same flowers and same smells; but not to them. Every morning they bound out the door to discover the backyard world with fervor of discovering it for the first time.
I started approaching every one of my mornings the same way. Sitting outside with them I started with the little things: appreciation for the beautiful flowers in my yard, the birds playing and the dogs’ curiosity.
I really took notice of where I was sitting and gave appreciation for the deck that my family built and for the house that is my home. I gave appreciation for my clients, for the work I do, the conversations we have and how they inspire me.
If any nagging thoughts come in about not checking things off my list yesterday, I give myself a mulligan. I go back to forgiveness and the natural tendency to beat myself up and state out loud “Today is a new day” What can I do today?
I try to incorporate play into my day, every day. This gives me my greatest release: laughter. I play with my dogs, I play games that challenge me mentally trying to beat my score, I play loud music and dance while I clean.
Throughout the day I completely disconnect. I turn off the sound on everything from my phone to my email notifications. Even if it is for 15 minutes I completely disconnect. This allows me to become acutely aware of my current state. If I have become tense, in stillness I can identify it and release it. Meditation, deep breathing or exercise – whatever it takes to release it.
I started saying no. I have the opportunity to fill my days to the brim with family, clients, networking, friends, new opportunities and more; however, I started being stingy with my time. I started putting me time on the priority list, as well as time for things that are important to me.
If this week is incredibly busy, then I schedule a couple hours devoted to my dogs. I take them each out on their own walk, I turn off the phone and I make sure I am absolutely present in that time. I schedule time to walk with the girls and make sure my time with them is all about them.
Implementing these things helped me build a better teeter-totter. I went from that stationary center point fulcrum into a fluid, growing, vibrant curve that extended to each side giving me control of a balance that works for me.