While I was thinking about last week’s piece on work-life balance, it occurred to me that I do not appear to be a poster child for balance. In fact, my life probably looks pretty out of whack right now. A variable summer schedule demands masterful juggling of camps and sitters to cover my child-care needs, so the tension between my work and family lives becomes tauter. My third pregnancy has had me completely exhausted, so my parenting and housekeeping have slacked, and I feel behind on both my work and personal to-do lists. Did I mention I have a five-year-old’s birthday party to plan and a kitchen renovation underway? None of that seems very balanced, and yet I feel okay about it – I believe that that periods of imbalance are necessary to achieving balance overall in our lives.
Balance is not a state you reach and maintain – it is a dynamic and ongoing process. Sometimes temporary imbalances are necessary to promoting balance across time. Being out of balance can also illustrate for us where we need to make changes in order to promote long-term wellbeing. It’s a matter of knowing your priorities and making day to day decisions that are aligned with your big-picture goals. It also means keeping a positive attitude when you have to make tradeoffs.
The key to balance – to everything, it sometimes seems – is in awareness. In knowing what is important to you, and in being present enough in your moments to chose actions that support those things, even when the choice paradoxically promotes temporary imbalance. I highly value the little bit of “me time” that I get these days. I find myself squeezing in one more chapter before bed, and rising while it is still dark to go for a run. I have learned the hard way that I am more recharged by some discretionary time than I am by an extra hour of sleep.
In those times when I find myself needing to get some work done at home, the physical juxtaposition of work and family makes salient to me the universal need to be present in the moment so that you can make an intuitive judgment about which activity is truly important or urgent and should therefore take priority. Sometimes it will be work, and sometimes it will be family – sometimes it will be sleep, other times the morning run. Maybe for others it means sacrificing a vacation day to pursue volunteer work, or turning down a job transfer to be closer to a sick relative. Balance doesn’t mean equal time spent in our different roles or activities – it means allocating our resources in a way that makes us happier, better people.
Engaging in this ongoing balancing act requires awareness – not just in the moment, but in how those moments accumulate. At the end of the day, week, or month, what did you prioritize most often? Were those choices in alignment with your big-picture priorities and goals? If not, what can you do differently next time?