What’s Better Than ‘Having it All’? Having What You Want of Course. Secrets to Striking a Work Life Balance.

What's Better Than Having it All? Having What You Want Of Course. Striking a Work Life Balance

I have a confession to make. There’s a question that strikes fear into me like it owns me. To be fair, it’s not so much the question, but the timing of the question. Tell me if you’ve been there: It’s a school morning at 8:05am (as in, ‘we should have left 10 minutes ago’ ) and the clue that it’s coming is the hurried thumping of bare feet on the timber stairs. Oh that sound. Maybe I loved it once, but now … I digress. Right. The question. The question is paired with the thumping – they belong together, and it’s this:

‘Mum … do I have any socks?’

Me:  ‘Yep. Sure. There’s some in the dryer. I’ll grab them.’ By that, I mean I’ll find the pair on the laundry floor that look the least grotty, throw them in the dryer for a quick spin – you know, to ‘freshen’ – and deliver them neatly folded to you looking so fresh you can practically smell the daisies. I may or may not have done this more than once.  

I struggle to keep a work life balance. How could I not – they’re both important and I want to give both my full effort. Of course, home will always win without question, as long as dirty socks and the odd several consecutive days of takeaway sushi dinners don’t fall them.

I struggle, but I don’t feel compromised and I don’t – ever – feel like I’m falling short of ‘having it all’. Uggh. Even as I type that phrase I hate it. I actually hate it. Like there isn’t enough pressure on women, and men, for that matter, to have it all figured out. Now, ‘having it all’ struts two steps ahead arguing hard that ‘all’ is better than enough. I’m not buying it. 

Here’s the thing. I could say I ‘have it all’, but the components of that ‘all’ take it in turns to be excellent. Some days I’m an amazing mum. And some days I’m rubbish at the job. Some days my home is the happiest place on earth, and then there are those days that it has the charm of a two week old temper. Sometimes I can give my career everything I’ve got. And sometimes I can’t. Sometimes my housework is completely up to dat… actually, no – my housework is never up to date. I’m not always the best wife or mother and I’m not always the best friend. I always try to be, but the truth is that some days I’m so far from it, I have to hope that my crew come back to find me – which they always do. They’re pretty awesome like that. 

So then, for me, ‘having it all’ is off the agenda. Let’s talk instead about how to have what we want. 

  1. Accept that both work and life might want more than you want to give at a particular time. And that’s okay.

    Having work life balance doesn’t mean that you will be able to give both work and life what they need to flourish – not at the same time, anyway. The truth is, life and work are intertwined – and that means sometimes one has to compromise for the sake of the other.  Decide where you want to put your energy and why, then make the decision free from stress, guilt or regret that you can’t do more. 

  2.  Be deliberate.

    There will always be competing needs. You can give time and energy to all of them at different times, but not all at once. Let me illustrate …

    Think of the important areas of your life – the big ones for me are self, relationship, work, children. It may be different for you. Imagine that each of these areas is represented by a light bulb. To burn at their brightest, they require 10 units of energy each. So to have all 4 light bulbs glowing at their brightest, 40 units of energy is needed. But – here’s the issue: At any one time, you only ever have a total of 20 units of energy available to put into those light bulbs.

    The challenge is to accept that, and to distribute your energy wisely and – here’s the rub – guilt free. So, you can have each at an average glow but if one is to excel, the energy has to be taken from somewhere else, compromising the glow from that bulb/s. With me? One can be up to full, but that means there is only 10 units to share between the other 3, so the other bulbs will be switched down to low … you get the idea. Where you give your energy will change from time to time and probably throughout the day. But the thing to remember is this – when one is fully on, the others get next to nothing. Spend your 20 units of energy wisely.

  3. Decide what’s important. 

    What’s the role you enjoy the most? Wife, husband, mother, father, friend, professional? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because it’s the one you enjoy that it’s the one that can wait. Be deliberate.

  4. Be ruthless about what not’s important.

    Work-life clutter is just as suffocating as any form of clutter. Get rid of it. Keep what’s important and get rid of the rest. First though, you might need to make a checklist of what counts as important. Will it get you home earlier? Will it tighten the ties? Will it make you more productive? Will it teach you something? Will it help you achieve something?

    Or are you including it because I want to or because you don’t want to say no. Which brings me to …

  5. Learn to say ‘No.’

    When you say ‘no’ to the things that aren’t important, you’re making room for the things that are. That ‘no’ might have just paved the way for dinner with your kiddos.

  6. Don’t make yourself too accessible.

    Email. Phone. Twitter. Facebook. All good to have but don’t check them all day. Self-impose a restriction on phone and social media – unless you want to do it of course. Try banning yourself between the hours of 7pm-7am – or whatever works for you.

  7. Make your goals specific.

    What are your long term goals? A successful career? A happy relationship? A stable family life? Put your goals into specific terms so you know what it looks like when you reach it, or when you’re straying off track. What will ‘a successful career look like?’ Rather than, ‘I want a successful career,’ try, ‘I will attend 2 conferences/workshops this year.’ Rather than ‘I want a happy marriage,’ try ‘I will have dinner with my wife/husband once a week’ or if you live with little people and getting away is tricky, whatever works for you. Rather than, ‘I want a good relationship with my kids,’ try ‘I will be home to read them a bedtime story at least twice times a week.’

  8. Big Rocks and Little Rocks.

    You’ve probably heard this one but let’s do it again – because it’s excellent. This concept was developed by Dr Stephen Covey. Imagine that you have an empty glass jar, a pile of big rocks, a pile of little rocks, and another one of sand. They all need to make it into the glass jar so what goes in first? The big rocks. Then the little rocks will settle in between the spaces and finally the sand will fill the leftover gaps. Do it the other way round and the rocks – or the big things in your life – won’t fit, however much you want them to. The lesson? Make the big things your first priority – get them in the jar first (give them your time and energy). Once the bigger things are taken care of, the smaller things will find a way to fit into the gaps.

  9. Get home at least twice during the week for dinner and, if you have kids, for bedtime.

    Stay too much out of the day to day routine during the week, and it will take longer to feel like you’re part of the family routine come the weekend. You don’t want that. And they want that less.

  10. Stop comparing yourself.

    It’s so easy to focus on what we don’t have compared to what others do, but that will never end well. People tend to put their best foot froward and keep the struggles quiet. If only everyone knew everyone’s shortcomings – could you imagine! All of a sudden we’d be so much more settled with our own.

As with most things, a large part of achieving balance between work and life lies in how you think about it. You can’t change workload or the expectations of other (pity!) but you can experiment with putting boundaries where they need to be and accepting that which is stubborn to change.  

(Image Credit: Unsplash | William Iven) 

3 Comments

irene dixey

life is hectic. I enjoyed your article as we think everyone else is managing. they make it look so easy. main thing do what you can and except that this is okay. enjoyed.

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heysigmund

It’s such a trap isn’t it thinking that everyone else has it all together and it’s so important to remember that we can only do what we can do, and that that is enough. Thank you for taking the time to make contact.

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The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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