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A fine balance May 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, energy, family, journey, learn, life.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

all is calm

“Work-life balance” has become one of those catch-phrases which seems to sum up a modern conundrum: the clash between personal and professional satisfaction. But, after reading various work/life advice sites on the internet, I find their solutions unsatisfying. And that, I realize, is because work and life don’t split neatly into two halves; the struggle for balance is not two-sided, but multiple-sided.

And I have been struggling for balance. Work is a given — from approx. 9 to 5 every day, I’m committed elsewhere — and work stresses do have an effect on my life. But enough about work. My main concern is how I spend the rest of my time, because that’s where the balancing act is the most difficult for me. (My partner is having similar difficulties: check out her litany here.)

After all, there’s a new puppy, which has meant less sleep, more interruptions in the rhythm of the day, and definitely a lot more mopping up. (Of course, there’s lots of benefits too… more on that at another time.)

There’s family time, catching up on my partner’s day and actually having a conversation from time to time. There’s eating and sleeping and trimming my toenails — all the aspects of personal care. And, yes, that should include exercise… my balanceball and weights are languishing in the cupboard, but at least I’m bicycling to and from work nearly every day so I can take the puppy out for his lunchtime pee break.

Then there’s my own particular (or peculiar) computer interests: besides my sometimes-near-addiction to computer games (also known as “the great escape”), I am halfway into a do-it-yourself Dreamweaver course, I have a slideshow project that I’ve committed to create for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary next month, and then there’s e-mail correspondence and co-op board information to keep up on. And besides this blog, I post photos and participate on Flickr, and I’ve recently started a new blog as well. So, I’m obviously having difficulty finding balance because I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to another.

A-ha! I hear you conclude: I obviously do it to myself. Why oh why would I take on so much stuff if I’m having trouble with balance? Hmm… good question. It might be the perfectionist side of me, or the workaholic, but to tell you the truth, I don’t think those aspects are very strong. You’d realize that if you saw what a messy packrat I am.

I think my own particular (peculiar) challenge is that I love a challenge. And, more specifically, I love starting a project, I love the thrill of learning and mastering something new. But… I’m not that good at continuing once the freshness has worn off.

Oh yes, speaking of freshness, let me say a few words about my new blog, which I’ve called “Wondering eye“. I was inspired by seeing the new photoblog design that WordPress announced recently, and thought I’d use it to showcase some of my favourite photos. And I discovered, as I thought about what to say that would harmonize with an attractively framed photo, I re-discovered a former interest of mine: poetry.

You may have noticed the “Haiku of the Day” from Shaw Malcolm (thanks, Shaw!) which I feature in my sidebar, and occasionally I’ll quote a line or two of poetry in my posts (I especially enjoy the poetry of Jan Zwicky). And I also owe thanks to faithful blog-friend Richard, who more than once has remarked that my writing is poetic. But I once wrote poetry — ok, I was in my teens, and it was pretty bad — and I’ve decided to give it another try.

Writing poetry is not at all like writing this blog; it needs time for reflection, carefully chewing over and choosing the best words, trimming, listening, and trimming again. The point is: it can’t be hurried. I have to wait with it, sit with the words and the feeling I’m trying to capture, until it seems right. So, I don’t know yet whether it’s any good, and maybe that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, through writing poetry, I’ve found a way to stop hurrying through my life, and listen.

tall gillian leaningAnd when I listen, I can hear my body saying it needs more exercise, or less junk food. I remember how much fun it is to take photographs and start planning for an outdoor excursion. I find I have time to sit on the sunny lawn and watch the puppy romp and sniff the dandelions.

I haven’t found the perfect balance yet, not by a long shot. But I hope I can continue this new project, because I believe the contemplative listening involved in poetry will help.

So, maybe poetry doesn’t work for you, but what helps you keep your balance? I’m still looking for ideas and advice on this one.

And while you chew over that question, here’s a Life Balance Quiz I adapted from one I found online. There are several quizzes out there, but I think this style is more effective than the multiple choice version. See what you think:

Elements of Life

Think about your life today. What is most important to you? Take a moment to examine your priorities. Below are some of the important elements of your life you may try to balance every day. In Column A, circle the importance of each element of your life as you would like it to be (1=not important; 5=very important).

Elements of Life ………………. Column A …………………. Column B

Family ……………………………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………… 1 2 3 4 5
Personal Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Spiritual Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Volunteerism …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Education …………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Career …………………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Physical health ………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Emotional well-being …………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Relationships/Friends ………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Recreation ………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Other ______________ …………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5

How did you rate these parts of your life? There is no right “formula” but there should be a balance. Everything cannot be a “5”. That would set unrealistic expectations for life. You will probably feel more in balance if you have a variety of numbers circled. Take some time to think about what is right for you.

Now, in Column B, circle the number that most closely represents each element as it actually fits into your daily life. Cover up Column A while you do this, so you don’t subconsciously echo your previous answers.

When you are finished, compare the two lists. If Column A and Column B responses match, then you are giving proper attention to the areas that you feel are important. That’s great! You are probably better able to cope with the stresses in life that come your way.

If the Column A responses are very different from the Column B responses, then you are not providing enough attention to those areas that are important to you. Is it possible that this imbalance is hindering your ability to deal effectively with life’s changes? Think about what you can do to align what is important with your daily patterns.

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1. Shelley - May 18, 2008

“Work/life balance” is an oxymoron. 🙂

But you have made the first step – you recognize that you are being pulled in many directions and not all taking you in the direction that you want to go.

I have now been on a Robin Sharma conference twice – and you have hit the nail on the head in that stress is caused by a mismatch of our desires and our actions. Of course we all realize that work is what allows us our pleasures, so unfortunately we can;t remove that piece from the equation.

If you want to borrow any of his material as reading – let me know….I think I’ve got just about every book he’s written … plus a few othes by other life coaches.

Figure out the goal – then the rest should hopefully fall into place.


2. lavenderbay - May 19, 2008

I think two aspects of my life cover just about everything on that survey.
Blogging: Personal life, Spiritual life, Volunteerism, Emotional wellbeing, Relationships/Friends, Recreation, and possibly Career.
The dog(s): Family, Emotional Wellbeing, Physical Health, Recreation, and my current job at the pet store.
“Education” is a natural drive, and part of everything I do.
Am I healthy?

3. eyegillian - May 19, 2008

I’ve always liked that word “oxy… moron”! And thanks for the hugs and Robin Sharma information, Shelley — I’ll check out his take on things. I know that figuring out my goal (and aiming toward it) is a key; if only I didn’t keep getting lost in the day-to-day details, I’d remember that!

And thanks, lavenderbay, for your insightful divvying up of the various categories. It wasn’t until I read your lists that I recognized the not-so-important (but all too demanding) “elephant in the room” — housework! If there wasn’t the seemingly endless cycle of meal preparation, dish-washing, and the minimum of cleaning and tidying, I would have more time to spend on those personal projects that give me so much pleasure. Hmmm… sounds like that familiar clash between the puritan/calvinist work ethic and the modern I-want-it-all-and-I-want-it-now hedonist.

So, do I follow the “pay yourself first” philosophy, or the “getting things [work/responsibilities] done so I have more time for myself” philosophy? I guess that should be the first question!

4. themarvelousinnature - May 24, 2008

I read this when you first posted it, but in now reading your little “curio-cite” in the sidebar wanted to comment that it’s perhaps not so easy as that. For me, over the last few years, stress has come in the form of trying to balance being happy with paying the bills. There’s no way to get out of paying the bills, short of selling everything you own and going to live like a hermit in a cave in the woods. But I’ve found paying the bills through some means that you enjoy doing difficult. Since you’re inevitably committed to spending more than half of your waking hours during the week doing whatever it is you’re doing to making money, I’ve never liked the philosophy of “it’s a job, it pays the bills, I live for the weekend”. What kind of life is that, spending 5/7ths of your week (or day) counting down to the remaining 2/7ths? My dad is in a job like that, counting down to retirement in a few years, and not terribly happy except when he’s at home in those brief moments where he can do what he’d like. I don’t want to be that person. I want to enjoy my life, my whole life, all of it. And I know it is technically possible to make money doing something you enjoy. Just, in my case, it hasn’t been a lot of money, and it’s been very piecemeal, and there’s constant stress about making ends meet and where the next paycheque’s coming from. The sample case in your “curio-cite” sidebar example may have no choice about working 18 hour days because he needs to work that much to make enough money to feed his family (or whatever). In which case, how do you scale back? Money versus happiness, that’s where the conflict is, and that’s the hardest to balance.

5. paula - June 2, 2008

Having been juggling with work-life-balance I haven’t had a chance to catch up for a week or so…interesting stuff gillian. I’m committed to what I do, but more and more my type of farming doesn’t deliver the hard cash..it’s a way of life, as people say, and often make the assumption that money is rather a dirty word – well, more so here in the UK than north America. But we still have to live and pay the bills.

Lots of thought provoking stuff – will let it filter down and come back.

6. eyegillian - June 28, 2008

Thank you, themarvelousinnature and paula for your thoughtful responses. I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to acknowledge your comments until now.

I totally agree with your point, themarvelousinnature — in fact, I’ve said much the same thing myself. Someone once gave me a mug with the phrase, “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go”, and I hated it, I hated the idea that my only motivation for work would be to pay bills. I’ve heard and read too many stories of people worn out or dead by the time they’ve retired, and there goes their plan to finally reap the rewards of a lifetime of work. So I’ve resolved to enjoy each day as much as possible, I don’t sacrifice the way my parents did… mind you, I have no dependents (except animals). The downside is that I have racked up my credit card/line because I don’t want to miss any opportunities, and I have no retirement plans at all. So, now what?

Paula, from what I’ve heard, farming is more likely to get you into debt than out of it…. like the joke I heard about the farmer who won a million dollars and, when asked what he was planning to do with his winnings, he said he’d just put it into the farm until it was all gone. Some joke, eh!

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