What’s This Thing Called Work-Life Balance?

My one-word theme for the year, “Simplify” is staring at me from the wall. Personal progress is suspect.

I tell you, simplifying is hard. It means saying No to SO MANY THINGS.

I experienced further angst when reading this stove analogy by humorist David Sedaris on management: “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist…was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

Oh dear. This is likely the reason I’ve never qualified for Boston. It’s the reason my great American novel is…well, where exactly is it? On the other hand, I’ve fought very hard for to keep the family fire burning. My friends probably feel very cold #sorry.

Is there any way to keep all four burners successfully lit? By trying to “do it all,” can we ever master anything? Logistically, getting those “10,000 hours” takes much longer. We become “jack of all trades, master of none.” For the select few, like elite athletes, master painters, novelists, and craftsman, cutting off select burners is essential.

But for the rest of us mere mortals? It seems those burners are constantly competing.

Over time I’ve become very aware of this simple fact: saying Yes to one thing means saying No to another.

It’s why my garden looked like this last summer:

My good and faithful garden still delivered tomatoes without much attention

I’ve always been a HUGE proponent of balance until one day, a few years ago, I thought, No, there should not be balance any longer – I’m throwing that out the window! I should choose the most important things in my life and pursue them with a single-mindedness. Everything else should fall to the wayside.

I struggle daily to find the focus. Every night I write out the next-day schedule. I have my “Top Three” priorities. I can tell you that “Write One Hour” is always on the list. Though I’ll be honest, it’s a pitiful five minutes.

I’ve noticed this stove burner thing play out in several different scenarios. If I immerse myself in total family activities/running errands/grocery shopping, “my work” (writing) suffers. If I stay at the computer all day long writing or getting ready to teach a class, I feel horrible for neglecting my children. Most times, “the work” takes the backseat. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the best choice.

Tough choices abound daily. For instance, I want a really clean and organized and perfectly decorated house, but I’ve consciously made the decision to not use my best mental hours to clean. Sometimes this is embarrassing (for every repair and mailman…)

I refuse to get any more chickens, rarely volunteer at school, and won’t make an extra trip to school when kids forget stuff (full disclosure: I still cave.) But darn it, it’s also the reason I can’t seem to get the pictures hung on the wall.

A Personal Manifesto to Keep the Burners Burning Bright:

1. Protect the things that are most important. That means we need TO KNOW what those things are. Make an actual list.

2. Pursue the MOST IMPORTANT things FIRST.

3. Practice the art of saying No. This is particularly hard for women. We like to save the day. But why? Are we trying to be helpful or are we trying to make ourselves feel good? “I’m sorry, I just can’t make that happen right now,” is a muscle that needs to be exercised! When we say NO to something, we are saying YES to something else – like time or family or a hobby – or A NAP!

Need help? How to Say NO Here. (ha!)

4. Remember: we choose our own level of busy. I remind myself of this when I see my name next to “feed dinner to 50 cast members.” I CHOSE to put my name there. (why, Amy, why???)

5. Make a decision and than own your choice. There needs be no battle between stay-at-home and working parents. We are all working parents. We are all doing our best to support and raise our families. Individual families require individual decisions. When it comes to one another, I think our only job on this earth is to love one another no matter what. Be confident in your choice. Haters be darned.

6.  Stop being a people pleaser. Ugh, I’m such an obliger. Stop it. The End.

7. Learn to delegate. Did you know? In families, 40% of women are the main breadwinners, yet 70% of women still take on the majority of the household tasks. It seems to me that we women want and need help and we resent the fact that our families don’t help more, but if they try to help, they don’t do it the way we would do it. We feel badly when there’s resistance. “Oh no no no, let me get that for you. You sit there while I load the dishwasher, sweep the floor, and kill myself from exhaustion…” puh-lease. 

We handicap our children when we don’t let them help. They become literally help-less. My first college roommate left college after a week because independence was so scary. She was scared to walk to class. “Laundry is too overwhelming.” As I sadly said good-bye I remembered scrubbing our kitchen floor as a child and I was finally grateful that I was taught to clean, cook, and wash my own clothes. I wasn’t good at it for a long, long time, but it came. Let the children fail, work and struggle. It’s a gift.

8. Seek guidance through prayer. I believe there is a God who loves us, gives us gifts, and wants us to succeed. Seek Him first and we will know what burners to light.

One last story: the other day I was at a track meet for my daughter. I took a video of another child winning a race and sent it to her mother. Her mother was thankful but I sensed she felt guilty that she wasn’t there, that she had to apologize and explain. Was I making her feel guilty by sending a video? Was I making her feel that I was the better mother because I was the one there? I wanted her to know that I’m not always the one “THERE” either. Next week, I can’t be at the track meet. Another mother or father will take a video of my child running and will send it to me. I may feel guilt but I will fight it. That No means a Yes to someone or something else. And sometimes that’s just the way it has to be.

Time is precious. May we use it wisely.

Thoughts on a Tuesday…

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4 thoughts on “What’s This Thing Called Work-Life Balance?

  1. Barrie

    Love this! and wondering why, oh why(!) I am a “yes” people pleasing tired mom all the time! time to let myself off the hook a bit- so thanks for all the well-spoken reminders~

    Reply
  2. Molly

    Great thoughts, Amy. Thank you. I was talking to myself? God? the other day and told myself…good things take time. Great things take a lifetime. Be patient, Molly. My children are my greatest investment. I know yours are too and it shows.

    Reply
  3. Julia Tomiak

    Oh goodness, I relate so well to EVERY WORD IN THIS POST. We cannot do it all, and we should feel guilty about it. I struggle with focus. I struggle with balance. I struggle with no. Family is important, right, especially as we face the departure of key members in the all too close future.
    Thank you for understanding my struggle, and for your words of wisdom.

    Got my hour in today. 😉

    Reply

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