There are hundreds of articles out there offering solutions as to how to achieve a balanced life. Most of these address the obvious work-life ratio: how to be successful at work, a rock star mom, maintain healthy relationships, and fit in some personal R&R.
Here’s the thing: life will never be balanced. Ever. At least not for me.
I’ve learned that the perfect equilibrium I have tried so hard to achieve is just not attainable. And I’m okay with that. There are times when I feel the walls surround me, when I’m so overwhelmed that I want to bury under the covers, when I feel almost paralyzed by the number of things to DO. If I give it my all at work, I often feel guilty about not being home with my children. And, when I am home with them, my mind wanders to the other things I am neglecting: friendships, housework, exercise, the projects I still need to start. Rather than beat myself up about these feelings, I’ve started to just acknowledge them as they arise. This act alone has been tremendously helpful.
I’ve also started to incorporate a few steps that have allowed me to feel like I have a better handle on things:
- Saying “No” more often. I have the tendency to over-commit to things: extra projects or favors, get-togethers, or volunteer work. I’d love to do all of these things, but there’s just not enough time. And, when I overextend myself, I end up feeling run down and resentful. It’s so easy to say “yes,” isn’t it? It’s difficult to admit when you just can’t take anything else on. But, your friends, colleagues, or whomever, will understand and they’ll get over it. They may even respect you for it in the end.
- Choose wisely. How often have you agreed to do something only to regret it when the time rolls around? Before committing to something, I try to ask myself: Do I really want to do this? Will this make me happy? Am I needed? I also try to consider my priorities. If something conflicts with these then I’m not going to do it. For example, the girls and I have a special bedtime routine and I try not to miss it. So, I usually schedule things for after they have gone to sleep. And when I’m training for a race, I avoid alcohol so I’m not going to agree to go for drinks after work. Commit to things you actually want to do and maintain the routines and activities that you value.
- Schedule ME time. I think we all can agree that this is important. It’s so easy to put our needs last. Life gets in the way. Personally, if I am feeling IN it, I will go for a run or workout. There’s nothing that shifts my mindset like exercise. It’s almost like hitting the reset button. I also plan things to look forward to each day or every week that will give me some joy. This can be little things: a glass of wine at the end of the day, a hot bath after the girls go down, a night out with my husband. Or bigger things: a massage or facial, a trip. If I have fun things on the horizon, it makes it easier for me to get through the less glamorous parts of my day.
- Clean up my diet. I can sometimes fall into the trap of mindless eating especially when I am pressed with deadlines or feeling stressed. Inevitably, I just feel worse afterwards. I can’t control the challenges that arise each day, but I can control my actions and that includes what I choose to put into my body. Eating clean (i.e., getting lots of greens, proteins, and whole foods) boosts my energy. More energy = positive attitude = clarity and focus.
For me, all of these ideas are tied together by two things: values and happiness. What do I value in life? Will making this choice support my priorities? Is this relationship making me happy? Do I get fulfillment from doing this or do I feel guilty saying “no?”
Keep in mind that our lives are constantly evolving. As we all know, so much can change in a year or two. We are not always going to be the same person with the same needs and the same responsibilities down the road. That’s just not realistic. Our lives will transform and our priorities will evolve.
Personally, I don’t think the end goal should be to have all parts of your life in equal balance. Rather, acknowledge those moments when you feel you are being pulled in three different directions, pause, and consider the steps to take NOW that will bring enjoyment to your life and to the lives of those who matter to you.