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Why I am not trying to 'balance' work and life anymore

Busy much? When I moved to Southern California from Canada twenty years ago, the first thing that struck me (after Christmas lights on palm trees) was the TIME people spent at work. Now admittedly, my previous role was OBM Project Director which was not a 9-5 and afforded me a degree of flexibility that likely ruined me as an employee. But it was so strange to me how so many people would wear their hours like a badge of honor. I felt like a guilty slacker leaving after ‘only’ eight hours, even if I didn’t have anything else to do. Fast forward a transition from consultant to director and I no longer had to pretend to have a full plate. In only ten years, I had drunk enough workaholism-flavored Kool-Aid to actually believe that I preferred working in small doses on vacation (and maternity leave, for that matter) because it gave me peace of mind that I wasn’t too far out of the loop.


And hopefully if you’re reading this, you’re calling BS on me, as I should have on myself, because this mentality is rooted in fear, fear, fear. Part of it is fear of being discovered to be replaceable, and part is that pernicious FOMO (fear of missing out) which, not-so-incidentally, is a critical component of our social media addiction. 


I’m reminded of the spokes on the traditional coaching Wheel of Life – family/friends, romance, physical health, spiritual life, career, personal growth, money (or some combination thereof). My experience in most workplaces today is that to be considered ‘worthy’ of promotion and further opportunities, one has to deny all the other spokes, or at least ensure your employer that they won’t become a ‘distraction’. We’ve bought into a culture where complete subservience to the work-spoke feels like the only way to ‘succeed’ – except the definition of success is to have enough money to be able to buy all the other spokes and you don’t find out it doesn’t work that way until it’s far too late.


For most of us, change happens when enough pain is reached and when I eventually found myself on the outside of the crooked wheel looking in, the journey from complete financial terror to overwhelming relief was surprisingly short. The freedom to build a wheel that fits my life has been sweet indeed. Of course, it’s not without drawbacks, as I am now faced with what I can only think of as Buffet Plate Syndrome in which so many things look delicious that I’ve taken a bit of everything and now have an even fuller plate than before, only with things I’ve chosen.


In working with one of my mentors, one day we were talking about 'balance', and this myth that we think was can balance work with everything else. Like, we have to devote equal quantities of time to each thing to achieve balance. I was so glad to be challenged in that perspective because it's impossible and draining. The reality is that Wheel of Life isn't meant to measure TIME but satisfaction. It's more important to have the appropriate amount of balance than to have everything perfectly equal. Some seasons my family gets the lion share of my time and that's okay. Other seasons (short ones), my husband pitches in more with the kids because I've got some pressing work things. What's important is that the balance is appropriate and aligned with our values. 


It's also a myth that our to-do list is ever 'done'. So putting off relationships, fun, spiritual investment, and health for that imaginary time when our tasks are completed is the fastest path to burnout. I don’t know about you, but I am WAY more in favor of change that I instigate, and plates that are full of things I choose. I’ve also learned to be a fan of putting some things back so I can enjoy the most important ones. Isn’t it weird how sometimes it can be harder to say no than just drown in over-commitments (and the shame that accompanies doing everything halfway)?  


So today, I'm compelled to challenge you (and myself) to look at your wheel, and your plate, and all your other metaphors and do a check in. Are you ‘appropriately’ balanced ? Are you content with your prioritization, and have you bought into any beliefs that don’t serve you? The last can be the scariest but also the one that sets you free.


So to close, if you feel like you can’t fit it all in, join the billion-member club. But if the things that are taking your time and energy don’t feed your soul and are sucking life from other areas that are important, this might be the day to start looking at that and asking…can it be different?

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