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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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