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.