I was recently interviewed on a radio show and the subject of work/life balance came up. I said at the time I’m not sure there is a one-size-fits-all work/life plan. As far as I can tell, everyone thinks they’re doing OK, but someone else should be doing it differently.
I’ve interviewed people about this subject for nearly 20 years, and the only thing I know is that I don’t want anyone telling me how to live my life and I figure the same holds true for everyone else. I’ve made the decisions I have about work and my family based on what I believed was best at the time.
But lately I’ve had this feeling that I really wasn’t making the “best” decisions. I was too focused on my work. I wasn’t able to turn it off any more, waking up at night with thoughts of what I should be doing, becoming distracted during personal moments with members of my family because I was thinking about my job.
I was ashamed of myself. Me, the workplace writer for 20 years, had fallen into the trap that I counseled so many to avoid. I had become so focused on my work that I was losing my perspective. I was exhausted emotionally and physically. But like a turtle on its back, I was incapable of helping myself.
Then, as it always does, life happened. My youngest son was hit in the mouth with a baseball bat. It sounds bad, and it was. (I never thought I would say it, but thank God for root canals and all the other dental wizardry these days that will keep him from looking like a jack o’lantern for the rest of his life.)
As I sat for hours watching my son go through medical treatment, I did think about work. What, I thought, could I learn from this experience to get myself out of this mess that I had gotten myself into? The more time I spent with him and away from work, the clearer the answers became.
As the days went by and my son began to heal, I found myself healing as well.
The greatest thing I can say it that my perspective is back, and I’m doing everything I can to keep it that way. I want to share some of what I learned, and maybe it will help others. I know I’ve written about this over the years, but this time it truly comes from the heart:
• It’s just work. At the hospital with my son, I watched an old man shuffle by slowly, carrying his wife’s pocketbook in one hand while he gently led her to the elevators. You know what? He could care less that I’ve written a book or never missed a deadline. But I was greatly impacted just watching the love and caring they showed for one another.
• It’s a choice. I chose to care too much about work, and I can choose to not care so much. It’s that simple. I know I didn’t lose my perspective overnight, and it did take me a while to get it back. I plan to be more vigilant from now on, and have entrusted loved ones to let me know if they see me start to backslide.
• I put blinders on. I no longer patrol the Internet and blogs constantly. I got caught up in the frenzy of technology, and it became the master. Technology can be a wonderful thing, but it can also get you in its frenzied grip, making you feel like everything has to be done right now, and you must react right now and you must always be at the top of your game right now.
• I turned away from e-mail. I check e-mail only several times a day. The world will not stop revolving if I don’t answer someone immediately, and I may just be more useful to them if I give my response more thought.
• I went to a museum. I walked the quiet halls with my son and pointed to beautiful landscapes and creative sculptures. I had no cell phone or Blackberry or any other agenda other than to simply move my feet from time to time. At first I was a little edgy – I didn’t know how to simply let my mind wander at will. But soon I found myself just enjoying the moment and felt myself take a deep breath and let go. And if felt great.
Monday, July 30, 2007
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I have 6 children and know how you feel; nothing like caring for a dangerously ill or injured child reminds one more quickly of what is really important. Especially if you are, like me, basically a writer creating words (ink) on paper (or pixels on a screen). God made children, men made words. Work has its place but we need to keep the busy-ness in perspective.
"Busy-ness" is exactly the right term. When I look back over the last several months, I want to kick myself at the things I jumped into and let suck up all my time...and they didn't really add value to anything I was doing. But, by golly, they seemed SO important at the time because I was caught up in all of it.
The problem with work-life balance is the word "balance." Like it was a 50-50 thing or something. It's not. One day it's 70-30 and the next day it's 100% one way.
It's how we choose to spend the time and whether or not the time is satisfying to us.
Getting out of whack is tough, since we're so close to the situation.
I'm reminded of the Andy Grove story at Intel where the management team was trying not to get out of the memory chip business and Andy asked if the board threw everyone out and brought in new management if the new management would get out of the memory chip business. All answered yes, so he suggested they all walk out the door and then walk back in and make the decision...
So the skill of being able to step back, consider perspective, and not lose direction is a tough one to learn.
These things that you did, Anita, are all good ones.
Thanks for sharing them with us.
Anita, I have been reading a ton of blog posts over the last year... this is hands down, one of the best posts I've come across.
Kudos for being able to recapture your priorities. Family and relationships are always first... it really is amazing how things (like a baseball bat, or watching an old couple waddle along) can help us put our lives back in order.
GREAT post. It is amazing how something that might be considered "bad" can really shift your perspective and help you. I am happy to hear your son will recover fully. I have 2 children and know the pain of when one is ill or injured. My son at 6 cracked his head open on the playground. I have never been one to tolerate the sight of blood but being a parent makes you get over whatever fears you have and be there for your kids! I am still working on "being in the moment" and am grateful I am paying attention to that stuff now and what is truly important in my life. Thank you so much for the post! Jenny
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