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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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