Before we can really explore the art of work-life balance, we must discuss the elephant in the room.
It doesn’t actually exist.
At least not in the idealistic form. When we talk about work-life balance, what we are really talking about being present in the moment. Work-life balance isn’t about making sure that everything lines up equally in each area of your life. That simply isn’t possible all the time. Parents certainly understand that their children’s needs will supersede their own needs, often at the least convenient times. Regardless of what is pulling at your attention, when you are able to be present in the moment, you win.
The roots of imbalance
We give meaning to everything based on past experiences – pleasurable, painful, distressing. When we feel something pleasurable, we get a little hit of dopamine. When something is stressful, our brain triggers the fight, flight, freeze or submit mode and we get a little hit of cortisol. I’m overly simplifying this, of course. In either case, balance is easily tipped to attachment or aversion.
Our minds maps these experiences. We attach to pleasure and avert pain. The past experiences drive our behavior, often subconsciously. The attachment (raja) to success and aversion (dvesha) to failure certainly can pull your focus from the present.
Do you know how to catch a monkey? Drill a hole in a coconut, place some peanuts in it, leave it on a trail and wait. The monkey will reach in for the peanuts, try to pull its paw out and be stuck. Unless, of course, it lets go. That is probably not going to happen once it realizes it is stuck.
Likewise, me telling you to just let go of all the fears and attachments you have in order to achieve balance is ridiculous. Because so many of these are subconscious, a little exploration and compassion will be necessary for you to truly let go.
Exploring with curiosity
In order to “let go” of aversion and attachment, an exploration is in order. Over the years, I have found that if this exploration is conducted from a place of demanding change, it can be both hard and painful, even elusive because you judge your feelings. Our feelings are what they are for a reason. That doesn’t make them bad or good.
If, however, exploration is approached with curiosity and wonder, true healing can take place because compassion is present. Sometimes you can do this exploration in one setting. I find allowing myself time to marinade in the questions allows deeper, subconscious wisdom to arise. If answers elude you, put them aside for 24 hours. Come back with a fresh perspective. Often when we quit searching, we make discoveries.
When you think of the times in your life you feel you were successful, what made you feel successful? Was there praise, promotions, abundance, validation? What feelings made success so sweet?
Is there anyone in your life from whom you strive to be successful? Perhaps it is to gain their approval or to spite them?
How do you define success? Why do you define it as such? Does it encompass what is truly most important to you? How will you know when you have attained success?
Why am I doing this? What do I really, really want as the outcomes? (This answer needs brutal/courageous self-honesty!)
Define your fears. If you don’t know what you’re truly afraid of, everything will paralyze you or drive you on a path to burnout. What is the worst thing that could happen if you fail? What is the worst thing that could happen if you succeed? When you envision both scenarios in painstaking details, what are all the possible outcomes (best to have a column for pros and one for cons)?
If the worst case (or even part of that) were to happen, what could you do to get things moving in the right direction again? These can even be temporary solutions.
Now that the monster isn’t so scary, what are more probable outcomes if you were to let go a bit?
If you were to spend less time at work (or worrying about work), but work more effectively and efficiently because you were fully present, what would change?
Are there any true obstacles to you being as effective and efficient as possible at work? What would it take to remove those obstacles?
What is it costing you to not be fully present at work? In your relationships? With your health? If absolutely nothing changes, what would those three areas look like in 5, 10, 20 years?
What if the change were easy?
Becoming present, finding balance
Being present takes practice. When you are with your family or friends and your mind starts wandering to work, you have a choice – follow it or let it go. If it is important enough, make a note to deal with it later. Then return to being fully present in the moment.
Incorporate a daily mindfulness practice. Spend 5 minutes a day just observing your breath, thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. You can use a simple technique such as saying to yourself, “thinking” when a thought arises. If a feeling arises, say “feeling.” Just witnessing the thoughts and feelings are often enough for them to pass. When we attach to them, they take us into what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”.
Presence requires a continual commitment and trust. It is not something you can practice a few times and expect it to become automatic. When you become fully present in the moment, seeing things as is instead of attaching meaning, the floodgates of creativity and possibly are opened. That is were balance lies.
Check out and subscribe my new YouTube channel where I post a vlog on this topic, as well as a short yoga/mindfulness practice weekly.
Looking for some more 1:1 guidance? Check out my mentoring program. Not sure you’re ready or it’s right for you? No problem. Check out my tea and chocolate chat– it’s an abbreviated mentoring session that simply costs you a bit of chocolate (or tea). It’s done virtually or by phone.