August 9, 2012
“It’s just a phase,” I would hear my mother say to her friend on the phone. As teenagers, my sister and I had no idea how much we put our mother through and while she says now we were just fabulous, I know the teen years are far from it.
With a teen of my own, I get to experience several phases at once: the remembering phase (“God, was I like that?”); the mothering phase (“Because I said so.”); the daughtering phase (“Mom, I am so sorry if I ever, ever said something like that to you.”); and the mid-life phase (“What do I want out of life?”).
All that rolled into one makes for some interesting times.
A friend of mine once told me I could choose how to view this phase of parenting: as either a gift or a curse. I have chosen to look at it as an opportunity of self-discovery as I witness my children grow into the people they will become.
Whether you have children or not, we all go through phases in our lives. Sometimes we are up; sometimes we are down. Sometimes we are suspended on a tightrope, daring ourselves not to look down.
While work-life balance experts will tell you that equilibrium is the goal, I disagree. Alignment with your truest purpose, and all the hills and valleys, are what you are here to experience. So what if you topple off that balance beam? Maybe it’s just what you needed to get a different perspective.
When we take back our lives with clarity and vision, those valleys seem less frightening. Grab yourself some sentries in the form of friends and loved ones who will stand by you in stormy times. Reach out when you need it. We all deserve that kind of support.
Do it with love. Do it shamelessly. Hug out the pain until it slides back into the shadows.
We’ve got this life, broken down into units of time. Take it all. It’s yours.
July 29, 2012
Gazing at the picture of my thirty-year-old self with a baby in my arms, I had no idea what life had in store for me then. Soon after the picture was taken, I was confronted with the dilemma so many working women face today: dueling priorities of both work and home life. Having arranged a part-time position in the marketing department of a major investment firm, I managed to work a forty-hour job in thirty. There was no balance: just 5 a.m. wake-up times, baby fevers and early pick-ups at child care in the middle of the day.
It was a nightmare.
In the sage words of Vickie L. Milazzo in her 2011 release Wicked Success is Inside Every Woman, “[i]f you haven’t been reduced to your breaking point one or more times in your life, you’re either very young or probably not a woman.”
Forget what self-help gurus tell you. Work-life balance does not exist.
In my view, work-life balance is a media sound bite that tries to remedy the conflicts working parents face every day. It is a myth primarily because the image evokes the sense that work and life are on opposite spectrums of our existence. In fact, they are not.
Anyone with a smartphone will tell you work bleeds into life after hours. If you are an entrepreneur or freelancer, such as myself (I soon discovered Corporate America would not support mothers they way I needed it to), you find yourself working at odd hours. Partly, it’s because we are passionate about what we do. Partly, it’s because our global world demands it.
What is possible is aligning your life with your truest purpose. Everything else cascades from that centerpoint. If you know what you are passionate about, your focus will be laser-like and the extraneous distractions that tug at your attention will fall away.
I recently chat with CBS This Morning correspondent Lee Woodruff, who is doing the opening keynote address at the upcoming Women’s Leadership Conference in Las Vegas August 14-15, 2012. When she offered up her view of work-life balance, I sat up and listened because her priorities have really been put to the test in her life. For those of you who are familiar with her husband’s story, Bob Woodruff replaced Peter Jennings in the ABC news anchor chair. For 27 days. That is, until a bomb in Iraq struck him while reporting there in 2006. His amazing recovery has been recorded in various places. Here’s one.
For someone who has been to hell and back, Lee is a remarkably resilient personality whose sense of humor is certainly her recipe for success (just ask her about the power of flannel nightgowns). Spending a few minutes on the phone with her was enough to boost my spirits skyward. Her writing will do the same for you. She’s just penned her first novel entitled Those We Love Most, which will be released in September 2012.
According to Lee, “there isn’t a balance. It’s a myth that we’re chasing. And we’ve done women a big disservice to say they can have it all.” She referenced a recent Atlantic Monthly article by former director of policy planning at the State Department Annie-Marie Slaughter that claims the current workplace and society at large are not equipped to deal with family life as a holistic part of an employee’s existence. The personal and the professional are held separately and not valued equally. Slaughter suggests that someone who trains for a marathon and puts in the early and late hours to reach his goal is considered disciplined, committed and admirable. Someone who puts in the same hours caring for a family is not regarded the same way.
Glibly put, family life, should it interfere with work at all, is regarded as an unspeakable part of yourself, like gastrointestinal issues. In current times, it is unprofessional to mention you might have a life beyond your cubicle.
Society dictates that you are ‘less than’ when you show you have family commitments outside of work. You are somehow subpar to those who really ‘dig in’ and don’t let pesky distractions such as a sick child or school matters interfere with more noble pursuits such as the bottom line. In fact, I have been told to say I have an off-site meeting to clients when really I’m attending my child’s concert. I was instructed that it is unprofessional to speak of such matters because it would indicate my attention is not 100 percent on the client himself. No one places 100 percent of their attention anywhere. That, too, is a myth.
We need to redefine what professionalism means. We are not robots. We are social beings in a broader network with other social beings. When will family life be as hip as Facebook?
Lee admits that she cannot have it all and that, whilst on the speaking circuit, her children aren’t going to get that home-cooked meal. She says you can still be a great mother and miss a few sports games. The trick is self-forgiveness.
“We’re calibrated as working women to have an entire sense of guilt because we can’t chase it all. Once we become kinder to ourselves, the whole thing is a lot easier to manage,” she admits.
In those moments when she has her kids on the phone complaining that she’s not there for a special event, she gives herself a pep talk afterwards. She knows she is there for the big things in their lives. With twelve-year-old twins and two older children, Lee has come to realize they will survive without helicopter parenting. In fact, they will do better as a result.
“Stay the course,” Lee advises. “We are the best judge of what is going on with our children.” Mindful parenting does not mean you are a hovercraft.
It’s time to toss the balance beam out the window and get real. Alignment with self, family and work is where it’s at.
June 10, 2012
Husband shuffled lethargically from the car to the house and back again. Three hotels and 1,000 KM later, he had had enough of vacation. Admittedly, ten days is a long time of non-stop togetherness. Eager to return to my every day life myself, I predicted he would be out of the house before 8 a.m. the next morning.
Is there such a thing as too much time off? While I am a true advocate of frequent breaks, vacation and extended periods of rest and play, work drives meaning just as much as our playtime does. It’s undeniable. And I must admit I truly missed my life (including my dear friends, pets and even my clients!) after taking time off from it all.
And that’s a good thing.
So to answer the question: can you have too much Slow, I would say no, you cannot because slow means mindfulness in this context. Being mindful is the path to great happiness. Working mindfully is a part of that too.
For instance, are you mindful after you’ve had a vacation about how you feel when you return? Have you ever taken time off, only to dread returning to your daily grind? That’s when you know a sabbatical itself won’t solve your issues. In that case, it may be time to reevaluate your life in general.
- What’s working for you today?
- What isn’t?
It is easy to get overwhelmed when reflecting on how you might make changes in your life. Maybe it isn’t your actual pace of life that is tripping you up, but perhaps it is the content with which you fill your days. Dread, in any case, is a good indicator that something is awry.
Here’s a quick dread test (as found in The Power of Slow): when you consider doing something, does it make your heart sink or sing?
That’ll tell you a lot.
How might you move your life from dread to delight today? Hint: Do one thing that excites you. Then tell me about it. Because here’s the thing: when you share your excitement, it spreads like wildfire. And who wouldn’t want to be on fire with your special kind of enthusiasm?
June 8, 2012
Okay, so we’ve talked juicy. That’s when you have a chance meeting with someone who will rock your world. But what if you aren’t in a space to meet new people, are overloaded with work and just want to flop on the couch with a drink in your hand? Where do you go to get that mojo?
It’s not an easy question, but the truth is your mojo slumbers within you. Always. It may not be awake at present. You may just be getting by, or perhaps you are skirting on the edge of something greater than you are and it’s scaring you to death. You feel out of control. Or perhaps worse, you feel numb.
To tickle out your mojo, you need to make a change. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering one. It can be as simple as a minimal shift in your thinking. Let’s say your work colleague does something to really annoy you. And she does it often. Do you think she’s doing it on purpose to really piss you off? I think not. In fact, most people aren’t thinking about you, or the impact they have on you, at all. They, like you, are just trying to get by.
Those are marvelous prospects for tweaking how you see things. So the next time your colleague does that thing, reframe it into something else. Such as “She really wants to be happy, just like me.” You can apply this approach to any interpersonal situation, really.
You see, now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Your mojo resides right at the place in which you release the judgement that’s been holding you back from a deeper connection with both yourself and others. It is not the thing that makes us unhappy. It’s the judgement about the thing itself. And the great news is we can change our thinking about things by making the decision to do so.
So do this for me, will you? The next time you see your colleague, give her a hug. Or something like a warm embrace if body contact is très non-non at your workplace. Chances are it’s exactly the thing she needed. Then watch your mojo fly up a notch.
That’s more like it.
April 10, 2012
In 2009 Smith College, a quaint liberal arts women’s college nestled on the edge of the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts, recognized the need for students to understand the intersection between work and life by founding the Center for Work and Life. As an alumna of the college, I was thrilled to learn that such a renowned institution would provide guidance on such practical subjects as how to write emails to your professor, how to cook healthy (and affordable meals) and how to change a tire (and look good doing it).
It seems the College has experienced a rebirth of sorts. It has recognized that, while building our brains, we also need to comprehend the more pragmatic sides to life. In the eyes of the Center’s director, Jessica Bacal, there is a thing called work-life balance.
Jessica invited me to chat with students about the Power of Slow in late March. I was astounded at their hunger to learn that it’s really alright not to do everything at once. I was equally amazed that they thought they had to.
When I saw their relieved faces, I realized the Slow message is necessary for everyone. Whether in China, Korea, Australia or India, people of all ages are responding to its message to slow down. We are indeed on a slippery slope. All of us. And the good news is we’re in this together, which means it will take all of us to move beyond our hectic pace to a collective understanding of what the heck we’re all doing here anyway.
We weren’t born to race. We were born to help each other. So let’s start together by sending the message that it is alright to go at your custom speed.
And that message, dear reader, starts with you. Invite someone to walk a little slower today. Then tell me about it. We can all learn from each other as we tread this road called life.
February 7, 2012
A recent Workplace Survey conducted in eleven countries by the global executive staffing firm, Robert Half International, found that your boss can be a source of great stress. Duh? Not surprising, but the reason can often be attributed to a lack of management skills, not just to the fact that he or she may be a jerk.
Other stressors in the modern workplace include:
- increased workload
- too few people to handle the job
- unpleasant work environment (colleagues and office gossip)
- inappropriate pressure from the boss
January 23, 2012
Many thanks to Psychology Today reader Kallin, who pointed me to this mind map, courtesy of LearningFundamentals.com.au. It beautifully illustrates how we can regain control of the things we do in the time that we have.
Happy Monday Morning, All!