Life balance – it’s a tricky thing. For me, it conjures up images of a perfectly coifed women, just getting home from a productive day at her high-paying job, sitting down to help her kids with their homework while dinner finishes cooking in the crockpot (which she of course prepared that morning). She worked out during her lunch break and caught up with friends over a quick happy hour drink after work. Her husband walks in while she is putting dinner on the table and they playfully laugh at an inside joke, then everyone helps with clean up after eating their healthy and homemade meal. Everything in her life is obviously “balanced”.
This image of “balance” brings to mind a woman who has 20 plates and can keep them all spinning in the air perfectly. She might be going crazy on the inside, but she can spin those plates like it’s nobody’s business. I wanted to be that woman. I really thought I could work full-time, be home with my child full-time, keep our house in order, make all our food and be a wonderful wife and friend. I thought that defined success, and when I had my baby and started to face hard choices about my priorities, I freaked out about what to do with all those spinning plates! I tried to balance the time I spent working with the time I spent with my daughter. The time I spent cleaning with the time I spent talking to my friends. The time I spent cooking with the time I spent alone with my husband. I wanted to fit them all neatly into their categories so that I could check off my list and have what everyone described as life “balance”.
It didn’t really work that way. I became more stressed as I realized nothing in my life was really getting my full attention, and I was just going through the motions I thought were the keys to balance. I really looked at my life, and realized what I wanted to achieve, instead of balance, was PEACE. I wanted to feel at peace with my actions and choices and where I put my attention. Instead of trying to control every aspect of chaos in life and missing out on the actual moments, I wanted to embrace the chaos and have peace within it.
I’m still learning what that looks like for me, and I still have to work to let go of the vision of that woman with the perfectly balanced life. I will say, it’s amazingly freeing and exciting to give myself permission to put a few plates down and join the party. Here are a few things that have worked for me on this journey:
Decide what your daily action priorities are. I really had to accept that I could not do everything. After that, I had to believe that it’s OK not to do everything. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or weak. It means I’m human. My top priority is being a mom to my daughter and staying home with her as much as I can. That is just mine, and absolutely does not have to be yours. I have a priority to work and support my staff at Harmony all week as they need me. I have found a way to fit this in so that it doesn’t affect my time when I’m on duty as mom. I have a priority to work out every day. I have a priority to be there for my friends and family when they need me. I have a priority to talk and listen to my husband anytime we have precious time alone together. I have a priority to be positive and loving for my husband and daughter. Those are things I can do and the places I choose to put my personal actions and energy.
Decide what your daily action priorities are NOT. I also want a clean house. It really is an important thing for my husband and I. It’s just not something I can do. Oh, I can keep things tidy and clean the occasional toilet. But baseboards? Windows? Not happening. I tried, and it caused increased stress for us because I became pouty about doing it, I resented losing time to work or workout, and I just kind of didn’t keep up on it (I make the bed every day, though!). So we hired a cleaner, and it’s been A-MAZING. Seriously. Once I let go of my need to prove I could “do it all” and just sucked it up to find a cleaner, my top priorities were more easily met. Chose yours and don’t apologize for them or try to be like anyone else. They might change as the seasons in your life change, so be flexible and be nice to yourself.
Take responsibility for your choices. This is a tough one, because it involves being very honest with ourselves. It’s easy to blame outside forces for you not having balance in your life. “If only my husband would help.” “If only I had family nearby.” “If only I had more money.” It is really important to me to feed our family healthy and homemade meals. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen prepping, cooking, freezing, and cleaning. I can’t say I love all the prep and cleaning, but I love the outcome, so I do it anyway. There is no point in me getting upset when I’m in the kitchen because A) it’s my choice to be there B) no one is making me do it or expecting me to do it C) my husband has offered numerous times to get us food so I don’t have to do it. It is MY choice. I’m the one who says, “No, I want to cook tonight.” When I get annoyed at cleaning dishes again, I remind myself that it’s MY choice to be there. I’m choosing to cook for my family out of love for them and myself, so I need to have a loving heart when I do it. If it continually makes me stressful, I need to evaluate my daily action priorities and maybe change them up. We are responsible for the choices we make and our responses to other people. You can chose whether to embrace it or let it cause you stress.
Just focus on today. I love longterm goals and visions, but when I’m looking for peace in my life, it helps me most to just focus on today. What can I do TODAY? How can I act TODAY? Thinking of three months down the line sometimes causes me more stress because it’s unknown. But today? I can handle today. I can have fun today. I can enjoy my daughter and husband and friends and work and food and wine and laugh today. There is a quote I love that says “Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.” There is no point in worrying about what will happen tomorrow when most likely what you are worrying about won’t even happen! Focus on today.
Practice gratitude. This is huge. Maybe the biggest of them all. When you are being grateful for something, you can’t be upset or judgmental or stressed about it. Seriously – it’s impossible to be both. I also know when you are in the midst of large scale mental hang-ups and anxiety, this can be really, really hard. A few years ago, I decided I would start each day by saying “Thank you”. As soon as I wake up in the morning – before even opening my eyes or moving a muscle – I say “Thank you for another beautiful day.” It might be raining and cold outside – I don’t know, because I haven’t moved yet. I just know that I’m alive, I have a roof over my head, I have my loves in the house with me, and that makes it a beautiful day. I’ve now extended that time to about ten minutes in the morning where I practice gratitude and say my prayers/intentions for the day. I used to spend that time on my phone checking emails, and instead I now hang out with my thoughts. If you find yourself on the brink anytime during the day, just say “thank you”. Find something you are grateful for, and say it. Do you have a car? Do you have a house? Do you have someone who loves you or someone to love? Can you see or hear or taste or touch? Are you reading this on a computer? If so, you have more than some people and you definitely have something to be thankful for.
Finding real, tangible peace in life is not always easy. Take the time to practice the steps above and give yourself the gift of peace. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on! If you drop some plates, that’s ok! Just treasure the ones that are important to you, and let the rest fall.