Work–life balance. Wildly varying definitions abound with accompanying complexities of its overall feasibility. I define a healthy work–life balance as an ongoing, reasonable equilibrium among all important aspects of life, given the stage of life. This entails continually calibrating and recalibrating time and energy; making deliberate choices; lessening the guilt; dare I say, lowering expectations; and accepting that we may not be able to have it all, or do it all, at once. Work–life balance is categorically imperfect and absolutely attainable.
Despite our society’s heralding of the busy, sixty-hour-a-week employee and false narrative of needing to be stressed out and overworked in order to be productive and serious about ones’ career, in reality, we also require fun, self-care, and space in our schedules in order to function at our best. Because when even one aspect of our lives, either personal or professional, is out of balance, the resultant stress seeps into our thoughts, emotions, reactions, and behaviors in all facets of our lives. We run on automatic pilot, unintentional in our actions, repeating unhealthy habits. To avoid the anxious feelings, we binge on Ben & Jerry’s, numb with mojitos, zone out with Instagram, or cultivate workaholic tendencies. And when we are depleted, we are not very productive or innovative, and certainly not operating at our best.
At the end of a long workweek, when mental and physical energy reserves are at their lowest, there is scant opportunity for reflection or insight into improving our wearying plight. We spend the weekend recuperating and preparing for the busy onslaught to commence once again early Monday morning, perhaps even crawling out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to check our email.
Without regularly pausing to step back and survey the big picture, it is impossible to assess the ineffectiveness of our long-standing habits or how we might better prioritize our lives. Not only that, but when we are stressed and slip into survival mode, the first things to go are the good stuff: our sense of humor, compassion, clarity of thought, and libido. Ultimately, when pressed to prioritize we lose sight of what matters most deeply to us—connecting with family and friends, engaging in hobbies for the sake of pure enjoyment, offering ourselves a little well-deserved TLC. Instead we fill our time with whatever appears urgent in the moment, typically everything but what matters most. We become so habitually conditioned to stress that we may not even recognize the tension headaches, achy muscles, or stomach ailments until our health deteriorates to the point of complete exhaustion, illness, or burnout—swiftly bringing us and our nonstop tendencies to an inevitable screeching halt.
There’s another way to live. We can pause, take a few deep breaths, and bring our full attention back to the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness, which helps us slow the seemingly urgent pace of our lives. With mindfulness, we are more able to choose where we place our attention, determine our response rather than react habitually, notice and savor beautiful moments, and create increased calm. When we are calm we are more creative, productive, playful, efficient, healthier, and happier. To be tuned in, at ease, and aware of our overarching goals is a powerful recipe for work–life success. Only then can we tweak our life structure and choices in small ways, ushering overall balance into our daily lives.
Excerpted from Breathe, Empower, Achieve: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Women Who Do It All (The Experiment Publishing, 2019).
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