Work-life balance is a myth. If you don’t believe me, read Work-Life Balance Myth.
Although I still catch myself using the term, I try to avoid it because it’s so over-used. However, there is a strong desire to “feel” more balance in our life. I know when a client wants to work on work-life balance, what they are actually telling me is that they are feeling exhausted and want to work less.
It’s not practical or even logical to expect that your work life is going to be equally balanced with all other parts of your life. That your resources (time/energy) are equally divided. If by some magic it does happen, it won’t stay that way for long, because everything is in constant change, demanding different levels of resources. Sometimes your family will demand more (this past 12 months demonstrated that) and sometimes you need to get a project done at work. There is a constant shift in demand.
The act of trying to be balanced is a very active, effort-full, hardworking activity. I’m exhausted just thinking about how much energy it takes to balance with all those metaphoric balls in the air.
In reality, with our 24/7 society, there is no clear line between work and everything else, this past year was a testament to just how blurred it really is.
A peek in your day may look something like this, assuming you’re lucky enough to have the kids back in school.
It’s your day to pick up the kids, so you stop work at 2:30 pm knowing if you wait any longer a 90 min trip can easily turn into 2 hours. You’re feeling overwhelmed, a big project just took a turn for the worse and you’re feeling guilty for walking out on your team. After picking up the kids, you try to engage them about their day, but your thoughts drift the project with the big problem you recently encountered. You have no idea what the kids said in the past few minutes and you feel like a horrible parent. Traffic is bad and you feel yourself feeling anxious and impatient. Suzy asks you a question and you snap back in your response. You’re really wondering what kind of parent you’re turning into. It’s hard to concentrate on driving much less have any time to reflect in the car. At home, you help Johnny with his homework, his reading isn’t where it should be and he has a hard time staying focused without you sitting next to him to help, but you grow impatient as you sit there and your frustration and anxiety grow. You sneak peeks at your email on your phone; a lot has come in the time since you left, but you can’t respond thoughtfully right now. Soon dinner prep needs to happen. Texts are now coming in as you’re about to sit down for dinner. You’re starting to feel panicked. You respond to a few but you’re trying to abide by the family rule of being present for dinner with the ‘no phones at the table rule’ (you’re worried about all the screen time the kids have had over the last year). After dishes, you check on Suzy’s homework, bath-time for the kids, and coax them to bed. You finally have some time to respond to some of the urgent emails and try to get on top of things before the next day, but you’re having a hard time knowing where to begin and focus with the feeling of guilt and worry brewing constantly, you don’t know if you can do this job. You collapse into bed much later than you know you should, again sacrificing much-needed sleep and connection time with hubby. You try to let the underlying feelings of guilt, unease, and worry, but your mind is buzzing although you’re exhausted.
If this resembles anything close to a day in your life. You may not be able to control what comes at you, but you can save the energy you waste on how your respond to it.
Our lives are too complicated and integrated for work/life balance. What you really want is to feel grounded, calm, and the security of knowing you’ll be fine regardless of what life tosses in your direction. Let’s call this the practice of centering.
Centering is not a goal, it’s not an event nor an accomplishment – it’s a practice. Centering is a verb. It is an ongoing process. It is not an endpoint, as if it’s a destination or state of being implying you have “made it” and now you’re done.
Instead, centering is a pragmatic approach that fully acknowledges life is ever-changing, must be engaged with since we don’t have the luxury to step out in order to get ‘balanced’. As you practice centering, you are not withdrawing from life, you are practicing centering while engaging with what is happening.
Unexpected things show up in life: be it a traffic jam, a death, a sick child, or an unexpected urgent request from your top client (when you’re behind on another project). It’s how we respond to these unexpected happenings that dictate if we experience more joy or despair.
Centering is a practice you engage with that can take many different forms. Centering suggests you are a whole person with many aspects to you (not just work and life) and that you are the center of all of those parts.
Your practice must have the intention of self-compassion, self-care, or self-love (whatever term resonates with you, which I’ll call Self). You might, like me, have a judgmental, guilt-ridden, perfectionist approach towards yourself. For this practice to work, the first step is understanding and acting on the idea that Self must come first, you are the center of everything around you. So practicing centering starts with a strong intention of Self.
A strong intention of Self is being kind, loving, and compassionate towards yourself as much as you would towards a young child. There may be times your saboteur (inner critic) shows up; that’s normal especially in the beginning. When this happens, recognize it’s not helpful and turn up self-compassion. This is when I usually have to have a little pep-talk with myself.
Starting your Centering Practice
There are so many ways to practice centering. But as I mentioned, the most important part is your intention towards Self. Below are three areas you can begin your practice, where you start doesn’t matter as much as how you keep your intention of Self.
1. Take care of your body.
The better we take care of our physical body, the better our emotional self will be able to handle the chaos called life. The two areas to start are sleep and nourishment (healthy food and water intake). Allow yourself to be in bed (attempting to sleep) for at least 8 hours and consistently do this at the same time. Drink a minimum of half an ounce per pound of body weight (this is usually a minimum of 2 liters for women) and more if you exercise (replenish) or have high stress (flush those toxins). Eat as healthy as you can on a consistent schedule.
2. Breathe deeply throughout the day.
Take moments to stop and breathe deeply throughout the day. Do a 4-count while breathing in and again while breathing out, do this 3-5 times. You’ll not only get more oxygen in your lungs (helps with energy levels) but it also gives you a mental break to slow down. Allow your brain to rest, it’ll be a bit clearer and more thoughtful afterward. If you feel you can’t take a break, this is exactly when you absolutely must.
3. Create buffer space in your day.
If you’re rushing from one meeting to the next or don’t have use time during your workday to get actual work done and need to do it after hours, then create buffer space. This comes from learning how to set boundaries and say no. If you’re rushed running from one meeting to the other, ask yourself if these meetings really align with your goals and priorities. What can you eliminate, delegated, shortened, or reduced in frequency? You may think you must go to all those meetings, but I seriously doubt it, be brutal and do a meeting purge.
If you’re frequently late, create a buffer. Shorten the meeting time (people will take as much time as you give them, so give them less). Make the meeting 50 mins instead of 60 (even better, cut it down to 25 mins). Give yourself the space to breathe deeply before going into your next meeting to get present.
When you give yourself this buffer, you start to give yourself mental space. When you allow your body to breathe deeply and slowly, this is creating space in your body (relaxing the muscles instead of the constriction we keep on a daily basis), this then creates space in your mind.
Buffers also allow for the unexpected to happen. If it’s a traffic jam, or taking a moment to chat with a friend or noticing the sun on your face or the flowers outside or the crisp winter air. Buffers allow space for noticing, connecting and enjoying what’s available at the moment.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You don’t stop brushing your teeth when they are clean. No, you continue to do it again morning and night. This goes the same for eating, drinking water, exercising, deep breathing, creating mental space, reflecting, being present, laughing, and all the things that help you really feel joy.
Practice centering is not about getting it ‘right’ or ‘doing’ things perfectly. You will have days that feel good and days that don’t. The practice of giving yourself the kindness to gently move towards something that helps and feels better in the longer term.
Soon you’ll have more energy because centering allows you to be thoughtful about where to use your energy. Instead of mindlessly letting your energy get zapped in catastrophizing or beating yourself up. This practice allows you to create space between what’s happening, and to be thoughtful and intentional about what’s next. You won’t be taken over, but instead will have the feeling of being powerful during the chaos and having a sense of knowing.
This feeling will grow with the more practice of centering you do. The more compassion you have towards yourself when practicing, the more the feeling will grow.
If you need a partner in creating your practice of centering, I’m here for you.