I don’t know about you but I’m like a kid in a candy store when it comes to life. I want everything – I want the light chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate, chocolate covered almonds, espresso chocolate, hazelnut chocolate. All the chocolates. I love chocolate and I don’t want to have to choose. This is how most people I know are about life.
It’s a stark realization when you think about all the things you want in life and realize that it’s just not physically, mentally and emotionally possible to have everything at the same time. You can have anything you want if you work for it but you can’t have everything.
We want a promotion at work, to be more present with family and friends, to have more time to exercise and build better relationships – does this sound like you? This is a lot to ask for and for me, an impossible task. I’m learning this the hard way. As a new mother, an entrepreneur of a growing business and a dreamer of wanting the perfect harmony of life and work, I’ve driven myself crazy to find my harmony. When I’m at work, I’m driven with guilt thinking about my daughter and what I might be missing out on. When I’m at home, I’m thinking about the clients I want to check in with. And when I’m with my husband, I’m thinking about how I need to go work out. When I’m with friends, I’m thinking about how I should spend more time with my parents.
It’s emotionally and mentally exhausting.
Imagine a seesaw. There are two sides: life & work. With pressure from both sides, it’s difficult to maintain a steady balance. Typically, one side is going to be weighed down compared to the other. And when that happens, we find ourselves being pulled to achieve our balance again.
Let’s say work has been crazy for you and you’ve been slammed with meeting deadlines. The work side of your seesaw is low to the ground. You recognize that and double down on the life side so that you can get to some balance. What’ll end up happening is now the life side will be low to the ground and you realize you need to shift your focus on work. Our seesaw shifts again, and it’s a cycle causing us to be frustrated that we haven’t found a balance.
I was recently watching Final Table, a show on Netflix that selects up and coming chefs across the world and makes them compete with one another with the goal of being seated with the best chefs in the world. I learned a lot about chefs and the food business and the incredible amount of sacrifices chefs make to build a brand and establish themselves in their industry. More importantly, I learned a very important life lesson. I learned that no matter what profession or vocation you have – whether you’re a stay at home parent, working in corporate, an entrepreneur – you have to sacrifice something when you’re building yourself up.
You sacrifice to first learn the craft. You then sacrifice to maintain your status quo and for the go-getters, you sacrifice to climb the ladder or to perfect your craft. All of which require time, energy and money. The sacrifices aren’t small. You miss out on vacations, holidays, quality time with friends and family. You do it because at that moment, that’s what is important to you. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
You made a choice based on the information available to you and you made a conscious decision on what matters at that moment. For example, currently, my seesaw is towards work. It’s a critical time in the business and I want to give it my all to make sure we’re growing and building on the momentum we have. This is a conscious decision. Do I feel a pull towards wanting to dedicate more time towards life? Absolutely. I’ve realized that as long as there is no one extreme, then it’s okay. Everything is okay in moderation. And I’m done feeling guilty about finding a balance. I’m in control of my seesaw.
If you’re staying true to yourself and acknowledge the sacrifices you will make in order to achieve your goal, then perhaps you should take it easy on yourself when you make that choice. Recognize that this is a temporary time in your life and temporary is a subjective term. Temporary could be a day or weeks or years. During the growth stages of our lives, we won’t always achieve perfect harmony. We won’t have a work/life balance. But we made that choice because that is what was important to us at that time.
What does this mean for the new parent or the newly married couple or the consultant who wants to enjoy life and make money? It means that there will be moments when you’ll have one of a lot. For the new parent, this could mean a lot of baby time and not enough time for yourself or your partner. The newly married couple, it could mean a lot of quality time together and not enough time for your existing friends. And for the single consultant, this could be a lot of hours away from home and not much time for a healthy lifestyle.
What do you do when you’re guilty about your one-sided seesaw?
Know that we live in a state of equilibrium
When we aren’t finding the balance in life, we somehow find a way to get back to equilibrium. We either define it as a new normal or we pivot to bring back a sense of peace. It doesn’t happen simultaneously or when you want it to happen without proactive action. Recognize you’re too far on one side and get back to moderation. And equilibrium doesn’t mean perfect balance. It means having just enough from the other side so that you don’t feel that void.
You often hear that it’s important to prioritize what matters to you or your company, but that’s on a macro level. I’m talking about the micro level. What’s on your priority list for the next hour? For the day? Tomorrow? The week? Keep adjusting your priorities and there can only be one top priority. Keep your focus on that and know that in order to achieve this priority for you, your seesaw may need to be on one side for a while.
Listen to your gut
You will know when you’re feeling a sense of loss, constant frustration, or withdrawal. When you do, ask yourself – is this a temporary feeling and moment? Is this something I absolutely want for myself and my life knowing that this is how I feel and will continue to feel until I accomplish this task? If you decide this isn’t something you want, move on and find your peace.
Be kind to yourself
You’re doing everything you can to the best of your abilities. You’re burning yourself out when you push for everything. And everything is impossible. Thank yourself for all that you’ve accomplished and are doing and remind yourself that tomorrow is another day.
What you have is enough and there is no such thing as a perfect harmony (at least to me). It’s the idea of wanting perfect that drive us to do more, to be better. But when we try to be perfect, we hinder ourselves, and we diminish our confidence. We hurt ourselves and we burn out. When you’re doing is enough because that’s what matters to you right now.
Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back for finding the balance. You’re doing a great job doing what needs to be done. Don’t beat yourself up about something idealized. Stay calm and allow your seesaw to favor a side when it needs to.