The word balance connotes images of a scale where the two sides are equal in weight in order to have equilibrium.
As a working mother of 2 children who runs a Branding and Marketing Agency, is very committed to daily exercise, and juggles a handful of other professional and personal commitments, I've learned to accept that balance doesn't really exist. (And I know I am NOT alone!) The elusive work-life balance is BS.
Years back, people worked what we call 9-5 or forty-hour weeks. Today, we live in a world that is half online and half offline, and society tends to demand for us to be responsive on all platforms at all times. Technology has advanced the pace at which we work, which explains why we are seeing more anxiety across the board, so much that in 2018 Barnes and Noble announced a 25% surge in the sales of books on anxiety, up from 2017.
Rather than a balance, work-life has become more of integration for me, in which I just embrace the chaos. With this shifted perspective, I am less anxious, more fulfilled and am not beating myself up about trying to separate work and life. Below are 6 tips that have helped me refine the work-life balance to more of a work-life integration:
Resist the Time Wasters and Distractions.
We are targeted by over 4,000 ads per day, and that's a conservative number. For those of us who wake up to our smartphones (yes, me included), think of how many messages you see in the first 5 minutes of your day that truly don't add value to your work-life objectives for that day. Be it the eNewsletters from YETI's latest collection to the 25% off discount from Crate & Barrel, or the Instagram scrolling that turns you away from your own personal agenda and goals for the day, these couple of minutes of time-wasters add up. Social media, in particular, clutters your brain when it's at its freshest. Now think of how many times during the day you pull yourself into social media or get caught in the trap of click-bait articles. Try logging these minutes and soon you'll realize that these "time-wasters" can be limited. Instead, set times when you're not hovering over email, turn off or disable most of your phone notifications, and be focused on the task at hand.
Sort out your Priorities and Learn to Say No
Be it making it to your son's baseball game or finishing a project on deadline, determine what is most important and will deliver most value to you. The most productive people don't have less on their plates; rather, they simply come to the table with an organized plan. Limit-multi-tasking and give people and projects the focused attention they deserve. This applies to personal time dedicated to your wellness and happiness just as much as it does for work time. Don't be afraid to say "No" to opportunities or events that come your way if they are truly not worthwhile. The FOMO, judging and guilt of saying now has been built up by today's "crazy busy" and caffeine drive lifestyles; however, once you accustom yourself to say no, you realize what's most important to you.
Trusting and empowering others to help you achieve your goals is difficult to do. Luckily, I use to compete at an elite level in the sport of rowing, where I learned that teamwork truly does make the "dream work" for as cliché as it sounds. (If you're less into sports and more into music and entertainment, the recent Bohemian Rhapsody film reinforced that for as big as Freddie Mercury was, he was unable to succeed as a star without his team. The rock band Queen was a team.) Figure out what you are able to do best and what others are able to help you with. Maximize the skill sets around you and hire people that do the jobs you need done better than you. My colleagues at work are more talented than I am in their specific skill sets and that's what makes our team so harmonious and effective. So, embrace a "We" as opposed to a "Me" mentality when it comes to getting things done. The same goes for family life. Sort our tasks and responsibilities with your partner or kids, so that more can be accomplished efficiently day to day.
Be Realistic and Accept Limitations
When I say that I embrace the chaos, I also mean that I am realistic to accept limitations. Find inner peace and shift your mindset to a more positive one that embraces constraints. Ask yourself, "How can I be as effective as possible within these constraints?" So for example, "If I have only 4 hours per day to work, how can I finish that project or make as much money as possible?" Or, "If I can only exercise 4 hours per week, what are the most effective workouts I can do to lose weight?" Then use positive affirmations ("I can do this!") as opposed to negative ones ("It's not enough time") to accomplish your plans. Positive affirmations might not work for everyone, but they do for most. Try it and you may learn that constraints might even boost performance!
Ride the Wave and Cherish The Slow
We feel this need to be busy, busy, busy, go, go, go, because if we are not, there must be something wrong with us, right? Wrong. Try this: Stop chasing busy. I know that after a big work event, pitch or even a workout (think of savannas after yoga), there tends to be a slower period. For me, it was in December of last year when work slowed down, and for others, it could be a seasonal cycle of when sales are strongest for their products; think of sunblock or beach accessories in the summer. When you have these moments: Take. Advantage. Don't feel the need to fill your schedule for the sake of it, rather do something to embrace the slower time. Be it a pedicure, a cooking class you've wanted to try, a special activity with your family or lunch with your friends, make those things happen. And if you're one who feels the need to continue to work on your business, use the slower time to asses your business from a 360 degree perspective, for instance, update your portfolio, refresh your web site, do some research and meet new people. Ideally, you will have more clarity to remember your "Why" and benefit your business and well-being to a new degree.
Make time for yourself.
Scheduling time for yourself is a keystone to wellness, and it doesn't need to be earned. Even for those of us who love our work, it's important to let go of "the good stress" and plan time for you. This is Non-Negotiable. Bottom line, most of us tend to live off of everyone's else's schedules these days (our kids, our clients, etc.) and we no longer follow our own internal compass. The more you do things that you want to do, the more fulfillment and happiness you will get out of work and life.
Luckily, workplace flexibility is allowing for more of this work-life integration, as the 9-5 workday is about as existent as payphone at a train station. Stop chasing the 50/50 balance, because it doesn't exist. Rather, embrace the chaos, and be as true as you can to who you want to be and what makes you feel most fulfilled.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019