Let’s be honest. Most of us know we want to achieve a balance between our personal and professional lives, but we have no idea how to do it. Work-life balance is a huge buzz word in our over-stimulated, overachieving, highly distracted culture. You’ve probably seen dozens of books and blogs and news stories about this topic already.
But is work-life balance really possible?
Some would say no. There’s a group of self-help gurus out there who would tell you that instead of looking for balance, you should accept the imbalance of work and life. They advise you to embrace the fact that you’ll have periods of your life that are heavily focused on work and others that are invested in family, fun and relationships. I can see the logic of this argument, but I just can’t agree with it.
I believe a balanced life is completely achievable, if you understand what’s keeping you from finding it and how to make the necessary adjustments. It’s not enough to realize you’ve painted yourself into a corner. You’ve got to have the tools to get out of the corner and stop making the same mistakes.
What is Balance?
Balance is not something you achieve once and then put aside, saying, “Okay. That’s done.” You have to keep working to stay balanced. You’ve probably seen the motivational image of the elephant balancing on a small rubber ball. And just like that elephant, you will always be readjusting your life to keep you from straying too far one way or the other.
Realize that balance looks different for everyone. It’s very subjective. What looks like balance to me might feel chaotic to you. And vice versa. Too often we end up comparing our lives and accomplishments to what we see on TV, what our best friend is doing, and what the leaders of our industry are achieving. We try to copy them or compare ourselves to them instead of identifying our unique path.
The problem with this is that we can’t see all the pieces of someone else’s life the way we can our own. We don’t know what they struggle with, what they have help with, and what comes easily to them. Don’t waste your time trying to paste someone else’s way of life onto the frame of your reality. Instead, try to define what balance would look like to you.
I like to say that balance is the meeting of peace and pursuit. Balance is the place where we have enough peace to feel calm and centered, but enough momentum in our pursuit of fulfillment to keep moving forward. We are not stagnant or churning, but somewhere in between.
What does balance look like to you?
The Top 5 Wobblers That Are Keeping You Off-Balance
Let’s take a look at some of the worst “wobblers” – those things that pop up over and over to throw us off balance – and discover a few ways we can combat them.
1. Negative Nellies
One negative person can take entire organizations and teams down. They create pits in the road, extinguish enthusiasm, and stall momentum. Staying clear of toxic people will help you feel more capable and less stressed. Here are some of the most common Negative Nellies…can you think of any others in your life?
- Doubters: fearful albatrosses who constantly poke holes in your dreams, remind you of how awful things could turn out, and refuse to acknowledge your unique talents and abilities.
- Time Grabbers: irresponsible people who press you to help them out at every turn and manipulate others do their work for them.
- Needy Worriers: fretful hand-wringers who need constant reassurance and shoring up.
- Crabby Complainers: negative thinkers who never stop voicing their frustrations, ailments, woes and general put-uponness.
Be aware of your Negative Nellies and work to create appropriate boundaries with them. You don’t have to be extreme, cutting them completely out of your life, but you can limit how much you expose yourself to their way of thinking.
Perfectionism hurts your likelihood of success in any goal because it’s subjective. Your idea of perfect is only in your head. So when you insist on your vision of perfection, you end up chasing something that doesn’t actually exist. It’s a constantly moving target. Because you can’t ever achieve perfection, your confidence withers and you are unable to move to the next level of success. This causes you to work even harder and abandon any ideas of balance in your pursuit of perfection.
Perfectionism is also a problem because it begins to taint your view of other people. When this happens, we can’t delegate or trust others because we genuinely believe they won’t do as good a job as we would. We end up taking on more and more, until there is no space on our plate to add better projects that would fit with our natural abilities and skills. How can you ever achieve balance, if you feel you have to do all the work?
Even if perfectionists do manage to delegate some tasks, they often become hovering micro-managers, always nitpicking about how things are getting done. We can burn bridges with our support systems because they don’t feel good enough, appreciated, or capable. When we can delegate in a trusting way, we free up our minds, calendars, creativity and resources to give our best contribution to the world instead of spinning our wheels trying to stay in control of everything.
As my husband likes to say, “You can tell me what to do or how to do it, but not both.”
How much better would it be if we empowered someone else by allowing them to make mistakes and learn from them. Where would you be if you didn’t have the freedom to fail?
3. Failing to Prioritize (Saying “Yes” Too Often)
As women, we’re used to wearing a lot of hats. We’re wives and mothers, employees and chefs, housekeepers, friends, daughters, homework helpers, amateur therapists, crafters, volunteers and chauffeurs. No wonder we’re exhausted. It can be hard to say no to a new “job” when we feel needed, but have you ever wondered how effective you really are when you’re constantly overcommitted?
Instead of saying yes every time you’re asked (no matter how awkward it might feel), try asking yourself if this new request is one of the vital few things that really matter to you or if you’re just saying yes because you think “have to.” Which roles in life are most important to you? Do you know? Make a list of your top five roles in life. When you’re in these roles, fully focus on the moment. You can still do your other “jobs” but you can’t give all your attention to all things at all times. You have to choose some that matter more. Rather than spreading yourself thinly over all things, start cutting back and give focused energy to a few. This doesn’t necessarily require more time devoted to those roles (though it may), but more intentional time when you’re in them.
4. Sacrificing All of Today’s Joy for Tomorrow’s Goals
When you’re working towards a goal, whether in your personal life (like a dream vacation) or in your career (like a promotion or new business launch), it’s tempting to throw all your resources into making that dream come true. But if you do that you’ll face burnout or end up killing the other things you love in the process.
Let’s say you and your spouse want to spend two weeks in Hawaii. It’s number one on your marriage bucket list. You know if you don’t do something, you’ll never get there. So you start throwing all your savings into a vacation fund. You stop going on dates. You never eat out. Everything goes into the vacation fund. ANd that’s great. But in the meantime, you might be killing your relationship by sacrificing all the joy of today for tomorrow’s dream. By the time you get to the beaches of Hawaii, your marriage might be a shadow of the thriving relationship it used to be.
Try this instead. Include things on your bucket list that you can do right now as well as things you want to work towards. Life is what’s happening when you’re busy making plans. Tomorrow is never promised to us. Give yourself permission to taste the dream you’re pursuing, so that you can enjoy your life NOW and still chase after your big goals.
5. Brainwashing (Negative Self-Talk)
Should have, would have, and could have are anxiety-producing phrases. They highlight our failures over our successes. It’s human nature to focus on our failings, but if you can replace one limiting or negative thought about yourself, you’ll start seeing your life in a whole new light.
Just remember to be patient with the process. If it took you thirty or forty years to establish those patterns, it will take time to replace them.
Start by shining a spotlight on your inner thoughts. Do you know what you say to yourself on a daily basis? The first step to changing your thought patterns is simply to start listening. But be warned. You may be shocked by how negatively you speak to yourself. What do you say to yourself about how you look? About how good you are as a mom? A wife? A daughter? A friend? A business woman? You may want to take a day to write all these thoughts down.
When you realize it, don’t wallow in the darkness. Don’t add “negative self talk” to your list of failures. Instead, begin replacing those negative thoughts with more positive ones. Maybe start by just saying, “Hmm…I don’t think I’ll do that again” instead of “Ugh! I’m such a screw up! I can’t believe I did that/let that happen/forgot to do that.” Let it go and move on. Know that you can develop new paths in your brain – new ways of thinking – though it may take time.
So there you have it. The ever-elusive dream of work-life balance is possible, but it starts with setting appropriate boundaries and taking an honest look at our thought processes. Do you recognize one or two of those “wobblers” in your life? Or if you’re like me, maybe all of them? Eek. The good news is, once you identify your wobblers, you can start making small changes to eliminate them. Try out a few of these tips this week, and you’re sure to feel more balance in your own life!