I struggled to find work-life balance, both as a single person and a married mum with young kids. I worked hard, didn't look after myself particularly well, got too few hours sleep, didn't spend enough time with my family and spent a lot of money on things I didn't need. Oh and I also happened to eat 3-4 tubs of Haagen-Dazs every week.
I became vaguely aware over the years, of a slight nagging in the back of mind. I was becoming more reactive to stressful and challenging situations. There were warning signs. I remember having a meeting with a client, and friend, who said to me, "Kate, you can't do it all. You have to let go of something or you're headed for troubled waters". Another time, I remember going to see my boss. I had reached my limit and I was a wreck. I had too many things on my plate. My boss plainly told me that I needed to offload something, because I wouldn't be any good to anybody sick.
That was 3 months before I was diagnosed with cancer.
After my diagnosis and training in mindfulness stress reduction, a BIG light bulb switched on. It illuminated everything. I was wasting an enormous amount of energy striving to find a 'balance' that is impossible to achieve. The word 'balance' is completely the wrong metaphor. It implies equal weighting. Have you ever tried to measure two things on a set of scales and managed to balance them perfectly? If you did, you'd learn how time consuming it can be. We spend a similar amount of energy trying to equalize all the different parts of our life, only to learn it's not attainable. A simple but to-the-point example: many people work a five-day week and have two days off.
Here are three ideas to help you reinvent your quest for work-life balance.
1. Put yourself first.
To be our best at home and work, requires that we put ourselves first. Caring for ourselves is the greatest gift we can give to others. When we tend to our mental and physical well being, we are more resilient, less likely to get sick and more likely to be responsive versus reactive in challenging situations. Next time life becomes overwhelming, make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first or you'll be no good to anyone else.
2. Slow down.
People are running faster than ever but achieving diminishing returns. Why? Because we live in a hectic fast-paced world where busyness is perceived as a good thing, but in fact sometimes it can be exactly the opposite. Today, more than ever, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed by our busy lives. When this happens, we default to “coping modes” and “autopilot” behaviours to get through our day which can lead to reactivity and poor decision making. Slow down, hit the pause button and take a breath for at least five minutes every day.
3. Don't work for someone's approval. Work for your personal growth.
Sometimes we can be so focused on getting affirmation, praise and acceptance that we forget to work on our personal growth. We become so dependent on needing approval, that we stop being ourselves and make our work-life far less pleasurable. Yes, everybody likes to receive praise, but don't let that overtake your journey of self development and learning. Do one thing every day that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, try one activity every month that you've never before attempted. If you're not making any mistakes, you're not learning.
When I started applying these things to my life, I didn't do them all at once and I didn't start with unrealistic expectations or make any big changes in my day. I started with one small step. Literally. Each day, I took another step. Then another. Then something happened. I was no longer doing these things out of PURE NEED, I was doing them because they were making me a better mum, a better wife, a better employee, and a better daughter.
I was becoming a better me.