I’ve been asked many times over the past little while how I balance it all…. Young kids, staying fit, a big job with a lot of responsibilities, good relationship with my husband, network of friends, volunteer work…
My answer has always been that I’m usually not really balancing it all! That is an illusion for sure. Then I usually continue to respond about the fact that I’m very specific about what my priorities are and I don’t falter. So I have always said that my family and my health come first and that I won’t drop those. This is true. I have also always said that it is not about being balanced at one point in time but actually whether “on balance” I feel I have it right.
When you are clear on what success is for you, and then you follow that up each day with consistent but important decisions—that is how you live a full life in all its chaos and love.
I also think that much of what has been written about women “balancing” work and life, especially family life, is generally accurate. It does matter who you choose to share your life with. It does matter whether you have a flexible work environment. It does matter whether you have extended family support. It does matter whether you have a long commute or not. These things do matter. But they are not sufficient.
You can have all of the above and still not feel you have the right balance. You can speak about your priorities very clearly but not have the right balance. The reason, of course, is that as soon as stress events occur, the priorities change. Sometimes we say something is a priority but our actions very clearly state that they are not.
The actual answer is much more subtle as I reflected on it. It’s about perspective.
I have a super full life. And I love it. I purposely try not to say I have a busy life because everyone is busy with something. Being busy isn’t the issue. It’s the something that you are busy with that matters. So instead I shifted my perspective to “full”. And every day of my life, I am making dozens of decisions – probably even more than that – that affect the fullness of my life.
Live a full life, not just a busy one.
Do I bike to work or drive? Do I say yes to a request for my time at night or on the weekend? Do I put my phone away when I get home and be present with my children? Do I hug my child when he needs it or do I rush us out the door? Do I step out the door at 8pm at night when it is rainy and cold to go for a run with a friend? Do I leave work 20min later to finish something up or not? Every day. Dozens and dozens of little decisions actually define your life. What are your priorities? Look at your life. It will tell you.
Consistency is what creates habits. It is also what creates your character. When others know your habits and your character, then they also know your priorities and can help you maintain them.
Do I make bad decisions sometimes? For sure. Do I mix up the priorities sometimes? Of course. Do I dwell on that? No. Or at least very rarely. When you flip the perspective to decisions that you can control, it flips everything. I am 100% responsible for my choice to have a full life. I’m not busy, I’m lucky. I’m not trying to survive or manage, I am empowered. It is my choice to change it. Every day I can decide whether I want to be doing the work I do. Every day I get to decide whether I am going to be fit. Every day I decide how much time to spend in bed cuddling with my kids. Every day I decide if I’m going to put the computer down and really talk to my spouse. Every day. My choice. My power.
So what guides you to set your priorities in the first place? Your definition of success.
I learned a long time ago that if you try to achieve someone else’s success, you will never ever win. You will never achieve it because it isn’t for you. For me, it is largely about self-improvement and always trying to be better. There is no objective of how better is defined. I don’t’ have a specific goal. Just continual. Others may suggest that success means this or that – it means being a stay at home mom, it means having a large home, it means having a big title, it means it means it means… I figured out my definition of success and I try to stick to it all the time. Even though the world around me tries to tell me what success should be. My success is not how much money I make. I am not defined by that. I follow Emerson’s version of it:
“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded”.
When you are clear on what success is for you, and then you follow that up each day with consistent but important decisions—that is how you live a full life in all its chaos and love. That is how I find balance, on balance.