I have always strived to find a balance, a place where I am not running through my life with my head down just trying to get through busy days of To Do’s, work demands, eating well, exercise, chores, social responsibilities, etc. I always had this crazy idea life should be enjoyed not endured. Not enjoyed just on vacations and weekends but every day, most of the day. Crazy I know. So, I started this journey of curating my life, building in more good moments, savoring them when they happened and plotted how to build in more. In this quest I realized a well lived life is about many small perfect moments and being present. It was not big things, though those helped, but loads of small things like appreciating that first sip of coffee. The way the sun poked out between the trees at sunrise making the duskiness start to sparkle. The kid with the too large backpack trudging to the bus stop with his shoe laces flapping about with every step. I started to notice the impermanence of life, the fleeting moments of the ordinary which became beautiful.
I learned to slow down my racing thoughts and directed into the world to notice what was happening around me, the clouds in the sky, the feel of my nubby sweater against my skin, a conspiratorial smile with a coworker in a too long meeting. I started to be more consistent about creating small spaces of appreciation for what was spinning all around me. This made me more aware of where I was giving away my time to things and people I didn’t need or want to. Not in a bad way, I just was busier than I wanted to be but felt pressure to do these things that didn’t interest me. I started to look at where I could pull back and reallocate time to things that made me feel like I was in charge of my days or redirect what I was doing in ways that I felt invested in.
One of the keys in this process I have found was learning to say No. Having set phrases like “no thank you” and “thank you for thinking of me I can’t”, was the first step to slow the roll of saying Yes to things I didn’t want to do and/or was too busy to do. It was difficult but in do so, I stopped resenting other people for asking me to do things and blaming them for my inability to speak my heart and mind even in the smallest ways. To be clear: these were not just work or drudgery but fun things too. I was no longer saying Yes, resenting them for something I created with my fear of saying No. That was step one in creating balance in a chaotic world: building my days with things I felt more invested in. I looked for jobs that mattered to me, to finding like minded people at jobs I was in and taking time to get to know them and enjoy them.
As I let some things and people go, I was intentional about what if anything I put back in my days. I learned that the universe abhors a vacuum so if I didn’t fill my days with things that I wanted or needed to do that other stuff would float in and jam me all up again. I learned to book time on my work calendar to get actual work done that came up in meetings and then actually did the work during those slots. I protected my scheduled time to get those things done and the result was I didn’t run from meeting to meeting with no time to get projects done. I took that idea and booked in lunches with co-workers, 15-minute walk breaks in the morning and afternoon. I started being proactive in all areas of where, with who, and how I spent my time. I built in space to stop, breathe and appreciate the moments of where I was and who I was with. Mostly it was just stopping my head spinning and being in the moment. Putting down the mental check list of To Do’s and stepping outside my head. It helped me jump off the hamster wheel I was on.
It was not only important to schedule things that I wanted to do, and things that helped me stay on track at work but also things I didn’t always want to do but needed to. Working out, food shopping, batch cooking for the week. I developed routines to ensure that those things happened in concert to keep the fussy two-year-old in my brain that only wants to do what she wants to do at bay. I didn’t want her running this part of my life. I started to sketch out a routine that was flexible enough to accommodate my fussy two-year-old self and my adulting self so that I was supporting where I was but most importantly where I wanted to go.
I started to realize what I was thinking of as drudgery and chores was actually self-care, self-love. I was nurturing myself and started to find recipes I wanted to learn and took my time enjoying buying groceries and cooking for myself. I took time to stretch my body and move it. These activities were no longer things I had to do but ways to care for my body in appreciation for what it did for me. I flipped the script in my head to the point where these things became more enjoyable, not always, not every day but when I did that pause and looked at the moment, I could feel it.
I learned to ensure flexibility and sanity. I stopped booking commitments back-to-back. Mostly because I don’t have a teleporter, so travel is needed and has to be accounted for even if I was walking across the hall, campus or town. I built in wiggle room for traffic, bathroom breaks, wandering time, a pause and the just in case window. Part of not running through my day is literally not to be running through my day because I over booked. There are also windows in my day with nothing planned, this is to take advantage of how I feel in the moment. As an example, 25 years ago I came to claim Sunday mornings holy days just for me, no commitments, no people or plans out in the world, just home time to recharge. Over time I took the whole day for prep for the week and quiet time just for me. As an introvert I learned I need alone time so taking Sundays has helped me find and keep some balance. I know many extroverts who also need downtime, in fact anyone with a pulse.
Knowing that I needed some downtime between social engagements taught me not to double book social commitments in one day. I might have play time with a friend for part of my day, even a chunk of it, but then left the evening to myself and visa a versa. If I didn’t choose what I wanted my day to look like and fill my time intentionally it got filled with other people’s stuff. When this happened, or happens, where I am over committed, I become overwhelmed and cranky. I start to feel boxed in, anxious and my head gets cluttery. Being vigilant about how I spend my time became second nature.
Balance is not a static thing where once you achieve it you are set. It is a dance of constant micro adjustments to respond to internal signals of what we want and need and external responsibilities, expectations and the spin of the world. If you were to stand on one foot in this moment you could feel and see your foot making those constant micro adjustments to keep you up right and standing. The exact same thing is true to in balancing your life. By taking the knowledge of ourselves and what we know about our historical reactions to events and pressures we can make adjustments for the best possible outcome for us. It is harder work in the beginning but after a while, like a balance practice of standing on one foot, it becomes steadier, easier and muscle memory. That is what life balance becomes in many ways.
In learning who I was and what I needed got me past survive mode into thrive mode. By paying attention and listening to my internal signals of what I needed and wanted allowed me to quiet what the world or those around me expected. We get messages like lean in, work harder, stay busy that are focused solely on achieving but those external messages are not taking into account the natural cycles in how we grow and learn or our unique talents, proclivities and desires. It is up to us to figure out how best to work in the world honoring who we are and pushing ourselves to our fullest expression of ourselves. What we cannot do is fit the mold others push us toward. So many of my clients are trying to change their true nature and what feels best to them because they don’t fit what is deemed the proper mold for a manager, for an executive, for adulting. There is no one way to move through this world. Our job is to look inside, nurture ourselves, do the work of figuring out who we really are and what makes us tick and then create systems, processes, opportunities for ourselves to thrive. It is also important to connect with others who see us for who we are and support, love and encourage us in our journey for wholeness and balance.
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