“Work life balance” wasn’t a phrase I was familiar with before moving to Columbus and working at my current company. I was intrigued when I was hired because it sounded like my new company was “good about that” and it seemed like I would be able to not only work at a great place, but leave at the same time every day (even granted flex hours which was going to allow me to choose my start and end time), get a workout in, and go home (which was an apartment at the time) to my fiance who would turn husband in 30 days, and we could eat dinner together and plan to buy a house. I was craving the routine and wanted to use my spare time for last minute wedding planning, house hunting, and figuring out how to get around on 270.
A little over 7 years later, “work life balance” means something totally different to me. Or how about we say “balance.” I am going to share my theory on “how to balance it all” based on information I’ve heard through speakers, friends, blogs, books, random passerbys, therapists, coworkers, etc. I feel like this topic is relevant because 1. Who isn’t trying to balance it all but feeling like they’re drowning? 2. I’ve spent a lot of time researching the topic and feel it my duty to pass on the good word. 3. People who follow my blog often ask me how I “balance it all.” 4. My monthly goal of eating healthy is reminding me of the principles I preach to people who ask me to mentor them at work, so here goes….
In my life, there are 5 major areas that are important to me:
1. My faith
2. My health
3. My relationships (husband, parents, friends)
4. My job
5. Other interests, hobbies, travel, adventures, fake businesses that I’ll never start, shopping, watching motivational speakers, etc.
We all have a list. What I would love to tell you is, that list is the order of their importance and the order of how I spread my time and attention…but it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s the aspirational version of my order of importance, but I when I dissect my day, I think it’s fair to say the majority of my time and energy are often allocated to item #4 and then the rest fall where they may.
What I have learned is (and have heard many ‘a Christian speakers give the same sentiment) is that we should look at our lives in a season. It’s sometimes easier to swallow. (I’ll be un-apologetically using several examples from my life to help illustrate the point). For example, when I was moving to Columbus and getting what was once my “new job,” I was in a season of getting married, house hunting, merging bank accounts with Chris, selling my old house, and figuring out what living together really looked like. In that season, I needed a job that I could leave at the same time everyday and then go tend to that to do list. I got that job. I tended to those things. A new season came.
There was a season of going to grad school where I needed my life set up in a way where I didn’t overcommit to weekend plans. There was a season of life where I was doing figure competitions and I needed to carve out time for workouts twice a day and cooking a ridiculous amount of food for the week. There was a season or two where I was applying for promotions at work and I needed more than 40 hours in the office to cover those duties. There have been seasons where my family has needed me in one way or another and I’ve needed to be able to drive to Dayton on the fly. There have been seasons where we needed a vacation so bad that I needed (“need” is a loose term) to spend a ridiculous amount of time researching hotels.
Some seasons are harder than others. Some seasons last longer than others. But in no season can everything on my list be #1. This does not mean everything else on the list gets a half-ass or 50% effort. I can be in a season of focusing on my health and still do a kick-ass job at work, but I know that the above-and-beyond-logging-in-at-night piece may have to take a back seat for a quick second while I cook a healthy dinner. I can apply for a new position at work and give that my 100%, but that doesn’t mean I ignore Chris or my friends and family and only focus on work. I may not be able to text them all day everyday, but I find creative ways in the moments I do have to show them what they mean to me.
My biggest piece of advice when it comes to looking at your life in seasons is, you have to communicate to the people closest to you about what season you’re in! I see this go south ALL THE TIME! I watch friends, family members, coworkers, and strangers who decide to pursue a “season calling” – and let’s say it comes in the form of a new hobby. They go all in. They tell no one. They just show up doing the new thing they do or wearing the new thing they’re into or going to conferences related to whatever they’re digging at that time. It leaves their support system going “why the hell did so-and-so buy a Harley and now he’s saying he’s going to drive it across the country?” or “So-and-so has been working so much, it’s like we don’t even exist, she never returns my calls” or “So-and-so is so obsessed with so-and-so and never even hangs out with me anymore.” They’re clueless….because you never told them….and now you want them to cheer you on and adapt?!
If you don’t tell your spouse, friends, and maybe the couple people you sit next to at work that you’re in a season of <insert season of your life> they are going to have no idea and will in turn become a barrier instead of a supporter. You will not only have this new season to deal with, but now you have to go around defending it to people and backing up and starting from the beginning. I’m not suggesting you tell everyone all the gory details of your life or random things that pique your interest – but when a big season is coming, you’re welcome to steal a line or two from my book….
“Hey <insert your BFF’s name> I just got a promotion and I’m so excited, but I’m going to end up doing my old job and new job for the next 90 days or so until they find a replacement. So if you don’t hear from me, hang tight and know I’m thinking about you. Let’s get something on the calendar a few months out because I’ll be dying to catch up with you and it’ll give me something to look forward to” <insert super supportive friends and family who will give you space. And you’ll have fun plans to look forward to>
“Hey <insert your spouse’s name> I am on this huge project at work and it’s killing me. Be patient with me this week and I promise to emerge as myself again by the weekend.” <insert understanding spouse who may do a chore or two of yours now>
“I know this sounds really crazy, but I’m thinking about taking <insert random hobby or class you’ve always wanted to do>. You can make fun of me if you want, I’m cool with that, but I’m just checking it out for fun and you’re welcome to join me” <insert you being able to take a joke when people tease you/freedom to not have to hide your interests>
“Hey <insert coworkers names> so-and-so in my family has been in and out of the hospital and that’s just where my head is at. I’ll know more next week, but I just wanted you to know in case I’m a little off. I can’t talk about it right now without being upset but I wanted you to know.” <insert coworkers who cover things for you without you having to ask>
“Hey <insert everyone who invites you to lunch> I’m on this crazy diet again. So if you see me decline lunch plans, it’s only because I’m tryin’ to get fit and all that fun stuff. Pencil me in for a pizza in 12 weeks!” <insert the hope of a pizza while you’re on a diet>
By sharing, you’re allowing your scale to tip more towards the season you’re in and less towards the other priorities in your life that have to take a back seat for a moment.
It doesn’t work perfect every time and these quotes may be oversimplifying the season you’re in, but I can tell you that you’ll get a lot of people backing you and rising up to support you when you’re straight up about the season you’re in. You don’t have to set up special super creepy long drawn out conversation types of meetings to share this info. You don’t even have to share your feelings about it. Just give a 1-2 sentence heads up to the people around you about where your head is at and you’ll save yourself some grief on the back end.
This leads me to my final thoughts on how to “balance it all” even though I hope I’ve shown you that “balancing” doesn’t mean all of the priorities in your life get 100% at all times. When you approach a season, or you find yourself smack dab in the middle of one and don’t know how you got there….set an end date for that season (and most importantly, communicate that to the people you’re sharing with per my recommendation above). Some seasons are easier for this than others – so I’m going to give you my best suggestions…
If you’re in a season by choice (i.e. hobby, a class, house shopping, money saving, etc) then you can set an end goal. “I want to be done with my Masters degree by X date.” “I want to find a house to buy by spring.” “I want to save X amount of dollars by X date.” Share the date with people. Put a countdown app on your phone. Set up a celebration (I don’t always mean party, this could be a half day and pajamas and TV time).
If you’re in a season that you’ve landed in and wish you could be out of, set a check-in date. Set a date that you’ll check-in with yourself and your sanity. You may not be able to exit that season, but you may be able to say “if I’m still working 60 hours a week by March 30th then I will pursue getting another job.” “If this person still needs my assistance by April, then I will hire someone to help me take care of them.” “If my business doesn’t turn a profit by June, then I will seek advice from a consultant.” It’s a sanity check that allows an undesirable or tough season to not become your entire life. It allows you time to live in the season, but time to check-in on your mental health and make decisions on the next step.
With all that said, “balance” to me means that there are seasons where work requires 50+ hours a week. I can tell my husband, my parents, and my friends that I’ll be heads down at work and they give me space, they pray for me, and they are waiting on the other side when I turn in assignments, finish a project, or get a new position. It means that when I need to spend time pursuing a dream of mine, like writing a book, I can position myself and my team at work to get work done within a fair amount of hours per week so I can free up my personal time to focus on the book. It means that when I need to focus on my health by eating better and working out more, I can adjust the other things in my top #5 to allow me to do this. It means I can tip my scale towards what needs it and I can do this through planning and communicating with the people around me.
So I’ll leave you with this…
*Make your list of your top 5 priorities in life
*Know that only 1 can get your 100% and the others can be 80%
*Tell people what is your #1 right now/what season you’re in
*Set an end date or sanity check (and communicate that to people)
*Rotate the top 5 list as needed
Focusing on eating better has reminded me of this dance we do that we call “balance” and I felt all of these thoughts stirring inside me that had to get out.
As for my week of food choices, I continue the regularly scheduled program below.
Jan 8: Like….if you can stick to a diet on a Friday, you’re basically in the top 5% of people in life, ever. I had a belated holiday lunch on the calendar today with some work peeps, so my choices played out like…
*Organic oatmeal chocolate chip square
*(Cooper’s Hawk) – Parmesan crusted chicken (was reminded when it arrived how there’s healthier chicken dishes out there) + potatoes (they turned out to be mashed potatoes but a small portion) + garlic green beans + the best coffee ever. I text my friend, Katie, after the lunch and she reminded me that it’s just 1 meal. It’s not spiraling into all kinds of bad choices. I took her advice. I moved on. I actually forgot until re-reading this blog I even ate it. Sidenote: must go to Cooper’s Hawk more often.
*Protein shake – In the Magic Bullet I put organic chocolate protein powder + ice + 1 scoop organic crunchy peanut butter + cashew milk. It’s okay. People brag about how good their protein shakes taste. None of them taste good, it’s just all about how much “proteiny” taste you’re willing to stomach.
*Organic fruit bar
*Spinach feta turkey burger + asparagus salad
I lifted and did cardio too.
Jan 9: My day off working out, which means I really need to stay the course on the diet. This was made easier when I woke up to the kitchen smelling like a restaurant. Chris made me breakfast! By the evening, I was mass texting and posting on my private Facebook page with my friends about how I really wanted to cheat on my diet but wasn’t going to. But I really wanted to. But I didn’t. But I wanted to.
*egg sandwich (Ezekiel english muffin + eggs) + organic turkey bacon
*(Whole Foods) – “green goddess” smoothie. This is where things became difficult. This was technically lunch time and it wasn’t enough, so I found myself starving later in the day and way under my total calories that I should’ve been at….so I kept snacking!
*Organic oatmeal chocolate chip square
*Organic white cheddar popcorn (I bought the bag last week, I’m shocked I didn’t open it earlier)
*Spinach feta turkey burger with guacamole on top + asparagus salad
*Bowl of some sort of Granola Ancient Grains cereal with cashew milk.
Jan 10: Sunday. The day I created a new yoga/formal/cardio outfit all in one. I was headed to an hour of yoga, a friend’s graduation ceremony, and then to the gym for cardio. I managed to pull off one look for all of this.
*(Northstar) – granola + mint iced coffee. I’m aware of the high number of calories in this dish, thank you MyFitnessPal for ruining that for me, but I don’t care. It’s “healthy” and it’s my weekly tradition and I love it. So it stays on the menu.
*Chocolate chip Cliff Bar
*Organic chocolate protein shake
*Spinach feta turkey burger + a handful of organic white cheddar popcorn (popcorn isn’t on a fitness competitors diet….but I’m making my own rules here)
I’m doing the diet and the workouts….I’m feeling good. I’ve sworn the scale off until the end of the month to avoid getting derailed if the numbers aren’t what I am dreaming of.
Jan 11: Work is full of back to back meetings but is actually serving as a good distraction these days. I hop meeting to meeting and only have time to eat what I’ve packed and am so distracted with current assignments that I don’t dwell on the sad little lump of lean meat that I call my lunch.
*I think I had an organic chocolate protein shake, or an organic oatmeal chocolate chip square. Whatever it was, I was apparently too busy to track it in MyFitnessPal app.
*spinach feta turkey burger + quinoa black bean salad
*blackberries + blueberries + greek yogurt
*handful of organic white cheddar popcorn (during that pre-dinner starving mode) + egg sandwich (Ezekiel english muffin + 2 eggs + shredded cheese)
I lifted legs and did some cardio to the tunes of Missy Elliott.
Jan 12: You couldn’t pay me money to cheat on my diet. I’m too far in.
*half of an organic chocolate chip oatmeal square (it was 4:45am and I was headed to spinning, I was eating out of necessity, not because I was hungry)
*organic chocolate protein shake
*spinach feta turkey burger + quinoa black bean salad. The microwave line was really long in the cafeteria and I had a meeting at noon….so….I ate it cold. Yup. <drops mic>
*organic strawberry greek yogurt
*organic chocolate protein shake
*egg sandwich (Ezekiel english muffin, 2 eggs, a little bit of shredded cheese)