I will never forget being in an all-day meeting at my last job. I was in a two-year leadership program at work and we met once a month. Each month we’d have various speakers and an activity designed to guide us through this program.
One of our speakers was standing up before the group and asked whom among us were looking for balance in our lives. We, of course, all raised our hands. He calmly stood there and announced that “balance, was bullshit”. You can have it all he told us, but not all at once. And most of the time you wouldn’t do much of it very well.
I have always been someone who is driven to work. I got my first job cleaning a local bed and breakfast at 14. I’ve done every sort of food industry job you can think of down to delivering pizzas. I’ve been a receptionist at a hair salon and later ran the office of a state representative at 21. My favorite job was as a corporate recruiter, and I also spent seven years at a medical non-profit. For the last two years, I have been working from home as a blogger, staying home with our (now) toddler and giant eight-year-old, and until last fall I was a caregiver for my mom.
Working in “normal” jobs for so long left me floundering for almost 18 months after my son was born and I became my own boss. I had a hard time identifying my role without an HR-approved job description. I finally feel like I have found my groove and am comfortable in my own skin again.
With all the various jobs I have worked, there have been different hours required (my top was 102 hours in one week at my corporate job when I was eight months pregnant with Jack), different expectations, and very different challenges. Even with all the differences, I have found a few things ring true under all circumstances.
The Grass is Always Greener
We will always long for something that we don’t have. It is human nature and we can’t really fight it. When I worked my corporate job in Los Angeles, I started out as an assistant to five managers. The company was amazing and I was so happy to be there, but within a few months, I found myself looking around the office trying to figure out what was next. I looked up to the recruiters with envy and thought they had the coolest jobs ever.
An opportunity opened to slip into one of those recruiter roles and I was thrilled. But guess what? It was incredibly hard work. I loved it, but it was not the perfect position I assumed it to be.
To combat the “what ifs”, now I pause for a few moments and mentally list five things I love about my job. Centering myself in my reality goes a long way to keeping myself in check. I recently heard a quote that said “gratitude is free”. It doesn’t cost me a thing to encourage myself in the direction of positive thoughts.
Find Your Why
Who among us hasn’t worked a job because they had to? The whole “find a job you love and you’ll never work another day in your life” makes me want to scream. What if you don’t like your job but your family needs to oh, I don’t know, eat and have health insurance? There is much to be made of pursuing your dream and giving it your all. But I also champion every one of us who gets up each morning and goes to a job they don’t love because it is the right thing for their families. It is hard and doing the right thing isn’t always the fun thing.
No matter what your circumstances, there must be a part of you that can find worth in your role. All the crappy office politics or commute aside, something there has to be pleasant or rewarding. My mom was an elementary school teacher for years until she had to retire due to Multiple Sclerosis. She worked at a school where many of the families had multiple challenges. Drug use, socioeconomic issues, and behavioral issues were the norm, not the exception. She worked so hard, and like most teachers was never paid her true worth. And yet even with the hard days, when a kid finally got a concept or she hugged a kid she could finally reach, it was worth every late night and the stack of phonics papers she graded daily.
Embrace What You Can Control
One of the hardest times in my life was when I was in a job where I felt stalled. Troy’s career was in a tailspin, it felt like all we did was work, commute, and fight. We were so broke and it felt like every week brought a new financial challenge that had me in tears. Troy was working multiple low-wage jobs while pursuing a career in firefighting and was gone for two-thirds of every month. I was a walking mess of bitter and pissed off.
After what felt like years of walking around with a ball of anger in my chest, I realized it was not a sustainable lifestyle. Holding onto that was negatively impacting people around me and it was tearing me up on the inside. I couldn’t control our situation. I couldn’t control having to do everything at home, work full-time, and be solo with our son most of the time. But, I could control my attitude about it.
Instead of walking around hating the world, I channeled my energy into productive things. We couldn’t afford cable anymore, and thus I rediscovered my love of reading and the library. Not sitting my ass every night watching TV got me into the kitchen. All the things I never had time to do before like baking bread, cooking from scratch and gardening were now finding space in my life. I always had the time to do them; I just filled that space with other things.
And I started a blog to share my discoveries. 🙂
All of those new hobbies didn’t solve our financial or family problems, but they kept me busy and redirected my negative energy to more productive things.
Find Your Thing
It has always cracked me up to read advice in magazines or books explaining how to take care of yourself during times of stress. Take a quick vacation, have a spa weekend, or start doing yoga were constantly held up as examples of self-care. Let’s see…I couldn’t afford to buy yogurt, but a quick weekend jaunt to Palm Springs is totally doable! Thanks for that stellar advice, person who doesn’t live in reality.
In my experience, self-care always leads to needing some time to myself. I am an extrovert, but even I need some quiet time to recharge and reboot. When you have small kids, going grocery shopping or running errands by yourself can be such a treat. Trying to carve out a few minutes by myself by whatever means necessary could rejuvenate me for a few weeks.
Now that I work from home and have a little person hanging around, time to myself involves darting away to work when I can. Some quiet moments in a coffee shop or the public library mean so much.
On days when solo time doesn’t work out, I walk. Walking is free and can be done almost anywhere. When I worked at a traditional job, I would eat lunch at my desk and then walk during lunch. Walking clears my mind and allows me to focus my energy on thinking about what I choose to think about.
When my mom was still alive, I used walks as a time to decompress and breathe deeply away from the tricky intersection of caregiver for a baby and my own parent. It was a few moments of peace in a complex time for our family.
These days, I put the kiddo in the stroller, pop some earbuds in my ears and press play on my podcast list, and I walk. I alternate between business (blogging) related podcasts and funny ones that make me laugh so hard it is shocking I have never peed during a walk. I think about blog posts (this one was born while trekking up a giant hill), I think about life, and I think about gratitude and hope.
Find Your Tribe
Everyone needs their group. Their tribe. Their ride or die. The crew they can go to when the shit hits the fan and you need equal doses of reality…and someone to brush your hair.
This group is full of your rocks. They are always there for you through thick or thin. And so help me God, you better reciprocate on the daily.
Your team doesn’t need to be in the same town or even the same state. The brilliance of today’s technology is that anyone can be part of your (virtual) support system. One of my dearest and closest friends is someone I have never actually met in person. I could pick her out in a dark room and yet I have never even given her an actual hug.
Your people are out there. You need them and they need you. Be open to finding them.
Grace. Grace. And More Grace
It doesn’t matter if you have absolutely everything going for you and lead a charmed life. Eventually, something will happen and mistakes will be made. I’m sorry to be the one break it to you, but you’re human. And sometimes being a human suuuuuucks.
That is where grace comes in. Grace for accepting that you can make a mistake and still be a great person. Grace for knowing that there will be setbacks but you can pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Grace for yourself and those around you.
Grace can be religious for some people or just a matter of deep breathing and practicing forgiveness for others. You do you. I’m a giant fan of whatever works best for your own situation.
Remember, no matter what your employment situation or what your job description says, you have worth. You have immense value. And this world is a better place because you’re in it waking up every morning trying to improve on the day before.
Balance is bullshit.
But you are not.