I’ve done it. I’ve read one too many articles on “maintaining work-life balance” and I’m about to explode. Why? Someone out there has been spreading untruths…fact is no sooner do we experience balance than it’s slipped away.
Envision a balancing act, a husband and wife team. They are balanced perfectly, head to head. So perfectly that it looks as though they’ve been in that position forever. You continue to focus on them, waiting for something to happen. Soon you realize they are literally stuck together. Boring.
Your attention shifts to the jugglers. Now here’s a flow of energy. The jugglers are engaged in passing the clubs, the balls, doing airborne splits or full turns as the hoop lands on an outstretched arm and is thrown again in a nanosecond.
If a camera were shooting this scene from above you would see continual movement and feel a sense of balance in each moment.
Our lives are never static. The fallacy I hear in the myth of work-life balance is that it’s a destination we should strive for. If that were so, all the factors that contribute to life would have to be the same ongoing. Phone calls, traffic jams, business meetings. No last minute shopping. No emergencies.
Nobody’s life looks like that.
We all face the possibility of infinite variables each day. That’s part of the exhilaration of being alive. Which brings us back to the metaphor of the jugglers. If we were to widen the lens and take generalized measurements over time, we’d get a clearer picture of where we truly spend our time. We might even notice that working late every night of the week to complete a project doesn’t translate to 12 hour days long-term.
The balancing act is not something you can expect to maintain. (If we expect perfection we can anticipate its partner, pressure.) Life balance is always in motion. You get to continually change up your roles, sometimes with blurs and imperfections and still it’s likely that from high above, the camera captures a frenzied joyride.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. It was summer, 1991. I was pulling up my khaki shorts, thinking about getting the kids to their afternoon activities when I noticed something about my thighs…they were touching. I looked down. What had happened to them? These could not belong to me.
I forced myself to step gingerly onto the scale. I refused to believe the number. And then I realized the truth: while I’d been busy taking care of everything else, someone had stolen my body.
In working with my coaching clients, I have noticed this initial surprise/denial response with regularity. It’s something similar to what we refer to as an actor’s “overnight success”. We know that in truth, most actors have been auditioning, taking classes, waiting tables for years before we see their image on the screen. Over Decades might be closer to the truth.
Alright. Thighs may not be your challenge. I’ll go out on a limb and say I suspect you won’t have to look too far to find your own
So now, here we are. Sitting with a change we highly disapprove of. On the one hand we experience varying degrees of sadness and regret while on the other we berate ourselves with the powerful voice of that inner critic screaming, “how can you cry about being overweight when women and children are dying of malnutrition”?
We can be terribly unkind to ourselves.
While we’re judging ourselves as superficial, in fact, taking care of these feelings is vital to our continued growth and well-being. What does losing that aspect of outer beauty mean to you?
Did you come to define yourself in part by that attribute, to attach some value to it related to your confidence or self-worth?
It’s time for some compassion, just as you would offer to a friend: a few moments of stillness. Being with your breath. And asking yourself if you are willing to grant permission to be human with patience, practice, kindness.
Recently I’ve been able to enjoy two long visits with my Mom, while helping her out with eye drops before and after cataract surgeries. We’re soon to hear the doctor’s evaluation and are hopeful that with the support of a minimal lens, Mom’s vision will be better than she’s ever experienced.
At the same time, I’ve been trying to adjust to a pair of trifocles – quite the challenge for someone who’d only used one frame, one glass before. I couldn’t get the hang of it, ending each day with eyestrain and a headache. When I returned to the optician he was not surprised in the least. The frame had insufficient space to successfully maneuver between the 3 lenses. The net result was I was continually without clear vision.
These two situations got me questioning what we can/cannot see, do/do not see, and whether the sort of lens we are using is the one that best serves us.
So I’ve been engaging in a lot of observation and have witnessed a wide spectrum of human behaviors. There was the man who noticed something slip from a woman’s bag and ran 1 ½ Philadelphia blocks (not to be confused with New York City blocks) catching the red light on the way, to return what seemed like a scrap of paper to a fast-paced young woman. And there were the numerous people who let doors slam in others’ faces, moments of road rage, and hands offered to assist a guy on crutches cross a particularly uneven street.
Our view of the world and our place in it isn’t limited to the eye/brain connection. It’s been formed over time, often during moments of confusion, often with judgment. We’ve each made decisions as the result of specific events and how they made us feel. All of these affect our “vision” by blocking other aspects of the view.
Are you noticing a behavior that once worked for you and now gets in your way? Have you considered new ways of seeing things to find old habits pulling you back? What about all the times you fought about who was right, knowing for sure there was only one acceptable answer? Have you been feeling lately there could be room for more?
And then how does it all shift when we pay attention to the bigger picture, when the lens we’re using allows our stories to move a bit out of focus in favor of something more important, like an attitude we intentionally choose to have in the world. Kindness, for instance. Or a sense of us all being connected. You might want to try one on for a day, a week, and observe any changes to your vision.
I’d love to hear your experiences…
Have you ever noticed how you get in your own way? Not intentionally- most often it’s an unconscious process.
Recently I registered for an event, inspired by fresh information on a topic of interest, and the introduction to a new group of people. When the day came, I had work that needed immediate attention, I thought the content must be available on the internet, and felt certain the rain would keep many of this group at the office.
I went anyway.
I’d almost lost out on the experience of being in that room – the energy generated by the interactions among participants and speaker. My habitual desire to stay within my comfort zone dropped into the background.
When I get in my way, I sometimes experience a pull between the old mindchatter and the wisdom of the mind, body and spirit that together offer me the truth. The requisite step is the check-in. Without it, we are unlikely to make our best choices.
Where in your life have you blocked yourself, created your own shadow? Is there something specific you missed out on as a result?
Can you offer yourself compassion and ease up the voice of the harsh critic?
Forgiving ourselves makes a huge contribution to building our resilience.
So much has already been said about the dark side of life…the images that bombard us with each nightly news report, the loneliness, the fear of not belonging, losing connection, whatever the age… the vision of life as disappointing.
Research shows that as a culture, we have a tendency to protect ourselves against being vulnerable, being visible. When we’re no longer willing to show our true selves, we become numb, feeling no pain and experiencing no joy.
Why is our culture moving in this direction? Underneath it all lies a common theme of “not being enough”. Have you ever had the thought that what you’re bringing to the table is just not good enough? And if asked, you probably wouldn’t be able to say what good enough is – it’s simply that what you have doesn’t cut it.
At some point in life most everyone has that thought, whether on a conscious level or not.
According to Brene’ Brown, a brilliant researcher who investigates vulnerability in-depth, one person at a time, too many of us are stripping the meaning from the ordinary moments of our lives: sharing a smile with someone you love, witnessing the proverbial sunset, observing the power of the ocean, watching our troops return home, greeted by loving children leaping into their open arms.
It comes down to allowing ourselves to be available for those moments of love and natural beauty. Imagine having to defend yourself against life’s natural rhythms (adversity, challenge, hope, joy) to the point that the most basic beauty cannot touch you. Do you really call it a win when you protect against possible disappointment so well that you lose the capacity to feel?
And where’s the path back to aliveness in all its fullness? Brown reflects the voice of her 10,000 interviews: practice gratitude, enjoy all the moments, play.
Where are you in this process? It’s worth talking about. Please let me know what you’re thinking.
Imagine the feeling of opening the door to your 5 invited dinner guests and then realizing that another 10 slipped inside while you were saying hello. Oh my goodness, but I wasn’t expecting you. I mean, gee, do we even know each other? Oh you’re a friend of Judy, well that’s great. Still, you just barge in? No call first?
They just stand there smiling. Waiting. A car passes. Something shifts. Do I have enough food? Finally, you get the feeling they sort of belong, at least for the evening. OK. I guess we’ll order something in and share.
When you get something like a business started you usually don’t have it all tied up with a bow. New ideas keep finding their way to you. Some fall away with the first introduction while others stick. You give them some space and they hang around. After a while, you figure they have some merit. Yeah, they’ve earned their new spot.
Well something like that’s been happening here. As I’ve been reaching out to those who’ve survived a crisis and are ready to redesign their lives, I’ve noticed that most all of us are in that place at some point and that our lives grow as we move on. The point is that in the process of redesigning we want to be sure to gift ourselves with more of the good juicy stuff of life – our talents, courage, confidence. It’s all there, but we may not have looked inside for a while.
I’ve been observing that a quality we may not see in ourselves is resilience…that ability to come back from a challenge, perhaps as powerful as adversity, and seem bigger than who we were before. A coach can make this process simpler and faster but that’s only because the seeds are already planted within.
So now I’m thinking about building lives of strength, resilience, joy. Like Bamboo. Without barriers – unstoppable growth, in flow, deeply rooted, free to be so many things, strong enough to build a home, soft enough to weave a scarf.
Being Bamboo…what are you wanting more of in your life?
You enter a clothing store. The salesperson asks, “Can I help you?” Your response? “No thanks. I’m just looking”. You do not want to be sold.
Perhaps you maintain your anonymity by limiting your shopping to either department stores or sites online.
Do you find that salespeople in any capacity trigger a red flag: do not let him/her take advantage.
What we may forget is that in the end, we choose whether or not to take out the American Express card. Whether we walk out empty-handed or arms full is totally in our power.
So, what’s going on here?
I say it’s not the fear of the iconic salesperson. She’s just a decoy.
My hunch is it goes deeper.
The real question is, do you trust yourself to choose wisely? Are you shopping because life’s been hard and you deserve something outrageous, even if it’s way out of line with your budget? Are you selecting clothes that work well for your body or for someone else’s?
Wise choices come from a place of acceptance. You may have a goal of losing ten pounds. And when you engage in that process, taking small steps over time, acknowledging yourself for each small win along the “kaizen” way, you will. But if you’ll be attending a wedding on Sunday, you’ll need something that looks terrific on you now.
When’s the last time you took an honest look at who you are and where you’re going? Are you handling your money well? Are you taking excellent care of yourself and finding healthy ways to get your needs met? Do you live a life that’s true to yourself?
These are the things that contribute to trusting yourself, your instinct, your core.
You might say when your trust runs that deep, it clearly reflects the truth of nature, of Source, and of the Universe.
For years now it’s been nearly impossible to get through a women’s magazine without coming across yet another article about balance.
On one hand, it seems we’re still learning about the verb, “to balance” as with income and expenses, and on the other, the noun “balance” continues to have us jumping through hoops. What is it about this concept that has our minds, let alone plates, spinning?
Granted we all have the same number of hours in our day. However, there is no set number of roles we all play, hours we all sleep, or google searches we all must do. As humans, we have some say in the matter: I choose door A over curtain B.
It’s distressing to feel stuck in a particular place, doing a particular task when what we really want is to be somewhere entirely different. The truth is, we haven’t yet found a way to be two places at once. And still we figuratively beat our heads against a wall as though we could. So much for reality.
We struggle over that word “balance” as though it were really something to be achieved. It reminds me of a law I seem to recall from physics – at any given time we can only establish possible locations of an atom because it is always in motion. In our various roles in professional and private life, we can never truly balance out which part requires more of us and get it exactly right. That can only be determined through hindsight and then, what good would it do to reprimand ourselves for being a bit off-base? We make the best call in the moment and do what we can after the fact to make things right.
If you could take a step back and look at life over – let’s say – six months, most probably things would all work out. Looking for perfection? That’s another illusion.
When you think of your “work”, is there a particular feeling attached and if so, does it tend to be more positive than negative? How would you evaluate your level of commitment to being your best and contributing joy in the workplace?
Are you fortunate enough to have thoughts like, “I’m blessed to work in an environment where I can match my skills, energies, and creativity to the job at hand and see something of value accomplished”? Are they closer to, “I can contribute joy and aliveness here and see it ripple through the office.”
Or perhaps you started your current position with great spirit. Over time, the lack of acknowledgment diminished your expectations so that now your job is just what you do to pay the rent.
For still others, work may be something you pursue each day with courage and tenacity.
Living just beneath the “public you” that keeps to the beat of your daily life, is a place of stillness and a quiet mind – where you connect with your core, where your joy resides. Carving out time to access this part of you adds to health and an overall sense of well-being. Nurturing mind and spirit and expanding joy are basic sources of life-satisfaction.
Another is relationship. In its simplest form, business itself is the exchange of energy between 2 or more people, or what we call relationship.
The concept of positive change may at times appear overwhelming. When we’re able to break it down, it becomes more “doable” – all it takes is one small step at a time.
Wherever you are in your relationship with work, can you envision a step to enhance the process? Whether you work at/in the home, in an office, or you have taken on finding a job as your work for this moment, what can you do to add just 5% more joy to your day?
Sometimes it’s a huge effort to pick up one foot, and the next, to take one simple step.
You may be standing still because you have no idea which direction to move in and no idea where to look for guidance, so why bother? You may believe it wouldn’t make a difference anyway, so why bother? You may think the world is going to hell in a hand basket so you’ll just keep doing what you’re doing and not be involved.
Makes sense to me. This planet of ours can be a tough place to call home. But beyond thinking, do you sometimes feel that itch, like there’s something “under your skin” you’re so wanting to soothe?
It’s that voice again. That part of you that feels uneasy, unhappy, unfulfilled. It’s telling you to pay attention. Who around you would benefit from a moment’s kindness? What if you were to take one small step and offer it without expectation or resentment. My guess is the itch will vanish. You may even discover a glow.
With a strong sense of purpose to support you, the trimmings of “success” may be rich indeed. But in “Real Life”, tons of money alone doesn’t tip the scale of joy. Once we move beyond being able to provide, the extra material wealth isn’t the place to look to for the experience of thriving.
Researchers at University of California, Berkeley tell us that while the number of millionaires in China has recently taken off, so has the prevalence of deep unhappiness.
For all of us who hold the belief that money creates happiness, here’s evidence to bust through that connection. Same goes for wealth and generosity. Aside from our philanthropists, the truth about charitable giving is that it is supported more by those of us who have something above “enough” rather than by those who have true wealth.
We’re all capable of giving kindness to a fellow human being. If you’re seeking increased life satisfaction, choose this direction the next time you find yourself thinking why bother.