A couple of weeks ago I was meeting with a potential client about giving workshops on work-life balance in their organisation. At one point during the meeting the training advisor of this organisation asked me: Do you feel balanced all the time?
My honest answer was: no. It is not like once you know how to feel balanced, you will feel balanced all the time. Do this and it will be like the fairy-tale ending, living happily balanced ever after. Do this workshop and you will feel balanced the rest of your life. No, that is not how it works.
Circumstances in your life might change, which might affect your balance. Also, what you need to feel balanced might differ on a daily basis. And finding and maintaining balance is a practice, a daily practice, a daily practice that requires conscious daily attention. And if you stop practicing, you will feel less balanced.
So no, I don’t feel balanced all the time. Actually, the day after I had this meeting I realized that I had not taken care of myself enough and really had not felt balanced for some time. Because hey, I am human …. just like you.
It is like going to the physiotherapist because you have backpain. You learn some exercises which you do daily. And you are so happy, after some time you are pain free again. For some time you keep up the daily practice of doing your exercises. But the longer you feel free of pain, the more likely it is you will start skipping to do the exercises. So many other things to do, and you don’t feel pain, so why bother? Until you stop doing them all together. At first that is no problem, but after some time your muscles will tense up again and you will feel the pain coming back. And then you will reinstall your habit of doing these exercises again.
So what happened? I had worked really really hard for a number of weeks to get everything ready for my new programme Work-Life Balance in Academia. So much to do, so little time, so I unconsciously and sometimes consciously ignored my boundaries and just summoned up my action, focused, goal-oriented energy to get everything done. In those weeks I had sometimes heard a soft voice within in me that asked me, insn’t it time to take good care of yourself? Isn’t it time to nurture yourself, recharge yourself? But I had not listened to this voice. Along the way I had let some of the habits that really helped me to stay balanced, slide (because hey, I had felt balanced for a long time now and I was really busy, so….).
But then those last weeks I felt so really really tired, and I did not feel much joy in my work, I was mostly working on willpower. So the morning after this meeting it was no longer a soft voice that suggested to take better care of myself. It was a very loud voice that said to me: what are you doing Samula? You are ignoring your own boundaries to be able to teach other people to honour their boundaries?…mmmm something doesn’t add up here??? Once that thought hit me loud and clear I could smile actually, because I saw the ridiculousness of it, the irony and the humour of it. And I took action right away.
What helped me to regain balance again?
– Seeing the humour, irony of the situation helped me to smile and look with mild eyes upon myself. And it helped me to reconnect with what is important to me. Walking the talk, practice what you preach. Because the best way I can serve my clients is when I really take good care of myself. So without condemning myself I could decide: something needs to change. What actions can I take to get back on track again?
– I started with taking a long walk in the woods (which really is key for me feeling balanced, but had not done for some time). And during that long walk I critically looked at my work. Where can I make space? What things can I change in the work I still have to do, what is absolutely essential to do and what would make it better but is not essential, etc. Knowing there is a lot more you can do and deciding no, you are not going to do all of this always the scary part. (The voice of my inner critic always comes in then: Will you have done enough to make this a success? What if it is not enough? You could do more if you just pushed on a bit)
– I reinstalled some of the habits I let slide, starting that same day. An important one for me was starting to write down again what I was grateful for, at least 3 things every evening. Why? Because consciously taking a few minutes to think about all there is I am thankful for in that day, connects me to my joy again. It helps me to see all the wonderful things in my life. This I not about ignoring the difficult or darker things in life. But it is about consciously paying attention to all the light, beauty and joy there is next to the difficulties. So I have been writing down what I am grateful for every evening since then. It brings a smile to my face when I do it and I feel the joy in my work has come back again!
I am back on track again.
The eb and flow of feeling balanced and unbalanced is just what life is about. And if you know what your specific signals are that you have wandered of track, and if you have tools and strategies to get back on track… you will never wander so far away from the track that you will get lost. Once you notice, you will be able to find your way back. So being an expert on work-life balance does not mean I never wander of track. It just means I never stray too far and that I know what conscious and gentle actions will help me to find my way back to balance again.
Wishing you a beautiful day!
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