The first person to respond to my query about how to handle the work/life balance was my brother, who emphatically said, “Two words, I don’t.” When asked to elaborate, he said, “one word: Separate. When I leave work, I do exactly that…I leave everything behind…leave any issues behind…And I just try to enjoy my family time.” Seems smart and simple to me. Of course, things do not always work out that way. Sometimes work bleeds into our home-lives and home bleeds into our work-lives in ways we do not anticipate. Sometimes we are forced to do our work at home, particularly when deadlines are looming or if one happens to be a teacher. Other times, we end up bringing our home All of us have at least thought about, if not struggled with, how to balance the responsibilities of home and work. Many of my family members and friends were generous enough to share their insights and experiences on my Facebook page. I am glad to be able to share my insights based on what everyone said. I hope we will all realize that we are in this together and that there are various ways and means of finding balance.
One of my friends explained the problem of the work/life balance with an example. She wrote, “Got up, started work at 8am today, got home from work at 8pm, made dinner, time for bed. Same as yesterday, same as day before. Balance? Um, no. Not so much.” No, not so much. In fact, the most common sentiment expressed in the responses was that the balance was nearly impossible to achieve: “I constantly struggle with the feeling that I am not doing any of my roles any justice.” “I have come to understand that I cannot achieve balance–at least not consistently.” “Ha! I use humor to mask the poo-show that is my work-life balance, ‘Hi, we are team slow, and we live in a circus!'” A lot of us know that the answer is to slow down, but we do not know how to do it when there is so much work to be done. We do our work and forget ourselves. We take time out and get behind at work. We want to spend time with our family and friends, but we have to set priorities and somebody ends up feeling left out. We feel guilty and cranky and tired. We are left wondering: How do we eke out another hour out of the day? When will my life slow down enough for me to catch up? What can I let go of right now that will make my days a little bit easier?
Many of us have given the work/life balance problem a lot of thought. In the midst of many of the responses I received, there were great nuggets of wisdom on how to bridge what sometimes feels like an enormous gap. My cousin said, “Lately, I have stopped demanding perfection and just do my best ‘at that moment’ and KNOW and ACCEPT that sometimes life will come before work and sometimes work will come before life (but not as often 😉).” I love that response. So many of us are unrelenting perfectionists. The other day, with much work hanging in the balance, and feeling like my house was out of whack, I spent the entire morning organizing. I am not sure if it was fair to make my students wait an extra few days to get their papers back, and this little stunt will probably come back to bite me in the ass on my evaluations, but sometimes you have to put your stuff in order. Or, at least sometimes I have to put my stuff in order because my shit gets out of control.
I appreciated all of the responses to my questions, but I especially appreciated the answers that reminded us all of the importance of “self care.” Several years ago now, I came to the realization that I needed to prioritize my health. I had not worked out in a long time, which was something I had done since junior high school, and I was feeling stressed and lethargic. So, I got a YMCA membership and started running and lifting again. It was a really great feeling, and I have been able to maintain a routine schedule of working out at the gym or running outside for many years. A couple of other people who responded also noted the importance of exercise and mindfulness. As one friend put it, “Exercise truly helps me feel balanced overall!” Me too! Other friends mentioned the importance of “organization” and “planning,” “meditation and mindset,” “therapy and yoga,” and “setting positive intentions for the day.” Also, coffee. As my cousin put it, “Coffee is my go to de-stressor.” This is good stuff. Great advice. This is what keeps us moving forward. And, as my mother once (or ten times) told me, “A body in motion stays in motion.” Was that my mother who said that?
During a recent conversation with my doctor, I explained that I had been feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. She brought the problem back to the work/life balance and basically described the image that is featured in this post. She explained that we are all on a kind of teeter-totter that goes perpetually up and down. That is, we do not spend our time firmly straddling the middle. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, there is only so much time in the day. So, we have to let some things go. We have to simplify, organize, prioritize, get exercise, and check in with ourselves.
One friend, who was kind enough to respond to my work/life balance question, summed up how I have often approached this troublesome conundrum. She said, “I love my job, and I think I do it well, but I won’t sacrifice time with family to be the best. I know many disagree with that, but I’ve just made a really conscious decision to put family first.” Some do “disagree” with this stance; if they do not disagree, they have simply chosen to live life differently. I am not here to make judgements about how people live. I am interested in learning strategies from others and sharing my own ways of finding balance. In a particularly telling moment, one of my friends explained that she did not think her and her wife had been able to strike a very good work/life balance and that they were wondering how they would ever be able to find the time to “make the leap” into parenting. I guess we all find our ways and means. We sacrifice some things. We get behind sometimes. We wander around aimlessly a little bit. Things fall apart, and we put them back together. We are all doing pretty damn good, from what I can tell. And, we will keep doing.