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Finding Balance Before We Explode

I’m often asked two questions about these Monday articles – how I decide what to write about, and when I write it.  Sometimes what I write about is a series of relevant thoughts or topics, but mostly, I write about what’s come up within the teams I’m working with or what seems repeatedly current enough to push itself forward.  More often than not, I write it at 5am on a Monday morning as my brain responds better to being in a specific zone and adding a little bit of pressure.  Occasionally, I write it ahead of time for one or other reason.

What’s coming up within myself and all around me at present is the mental and emotional wobble created by having too much on any given plate, and no respite or clarity.  I’ve been repeating the adage “I don’t have ducks, and they’re not in a row.  I have squirrels, and they’re at a rave!”, and receiving lots of conspiratorial nods in response.

We’re all searching for balance, some desperately so, before the wheels fall off or our brains explode.  And whilst this balance is something we constantly seek (see my article series on The 6 Core Human Needs), as the remainder of the year speeds up and end-of-year deadlines loom, balance seems ever more elusive.

During a conversation today, I was reminded of the story told by Bryan Dyson of Coca-Cola fame, about juggling 5 balls.  It goes like this:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends and spirit – and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

When I searched for this story, Google brought up an article by F John Reh entitled “In Pursuit of Work and Life Balance”.  He puts it beautifully, so I won’t reinvent his words – and his main points are this:

  • Work / Life balance is an incredibly individual thing.  Some happily work 18 hour days in work that invigorates them, whilst others need to close the door and go home to their families.  Neither should be judged by the other – our needs are individual and the point is that we are responsible enough to find our own balance so that we can keep all the balls in the air.
  • Flexibility is perhaps a better word than balance.  We all have different needs and those needs change over time.  What we require to keep the balls in the air is flexibility which allows us to shift the balance without retribution or judgement of ourselves or others.  Aiming at whatever flexibility allows us to function to our best level of responsibility and accountability to the various work and home teams we’re involved with is better than aiming at some trumped up view of “should be doing this or that” and failing to meet the self-imposed, box ticking or imaginary mark.
  • Beware of extremes and respect all of life’s priorities.  The rubber ball IS important, and sometimes it doesn’t bounce back.  Work is the source, at least in part, of our stability, our security, our ability to provide for ourselves and our families, our recognition and significance, our purpose (amongst other things).  None of us survive well for extended periods of time with extremes of any nature.  Balance and flexibility are key.

It’s our personal responsibility to work out what this all looks like for us, to create boundaries accordingly and to communicate those boundaries to those we are accountable and responsible to and for, so that everyone is on the same page.  We need to know what we can expect from ourselves and others.

I’m working on this balance and flexibility myself.  There was a pivotal moment for me a year or two ago when my son asked me “Mum, why do you spend so much time on your laptop during the weekend?”.  Part of me wanted to say to him “Dude, you don’t understand.  I need to keep going because I need to make sure we’re okay.”, and part of me sank in the realisation that I may not be correctly measuring what “okay” looked like.

So today is Thursday.  Tomorrow, I’m driving to see my son for the weekend and I won’t open an email or my laptop until I get back on Monday afternoon.  If something is urgent, I assume someone will phone me.  Flexibility and balance means that I need to fit Friday and Monday into today so that I’m clear to spend that time with him.  A year ago, I would have been highly stressed during the weekend feeling the work piling up and my “responsibilities” neglected.  Today, I’m still not 100% comfortable, and the squirrels of everything that I need to line up in the coming months will come with me.  But, I’ve adjusted my head enough to genuinely look forward to this weekend and know that it will help to balance both of us if I’m fully present and appreciative of the gift that is this time.  Time neither of us will get back and that both of us need and treasure.  I’ve taken care of the responsibilities I can see, and I’ve given myself permission to be flexible – this is what it looks like for me.  I’m incredibly grateful I have this opportunity.

What’s out of balance for you right now?  Do you need to reprioritise?  Where can flexibility replace seemingly-impossible balance?  What are you picking up from your home team or your work team?  Are they out of balance and is it starting to wobble?  Can you have a conversation about expectations and figure out what’s reasonable?  What are real, self-imposed, box ticking or imaginary expectations, goals or bars.  Are they reasonable?  Or is something else at risk without balance?  Author Stephen R. Covey said, “The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”  Think about that for a second.

by Christen Killick

October 14th, 2019

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