I have little balance in my life. And I am o.k. with it. See, I’m impaired from the get go, I have an inner-ear disorder called Menieres that while it's very manageable, affects my balance, my real balance. So everyday that I’m actually upright, versus swaying in vertigo hell, is a good one to me. No need to balance on one foot or anything fancy for me. And along with my anatomical impairment, in terms of lifestyle, I work, from home and “part-time” but since I have three of these “part-time” jobs, it doesn't allow for as much balance as it probably should. Also, I 'm married to a lovable; but incredibly hardworking and often-travelling man, which makes it impossible to “balance” our household responsibilities (and with my part-time jobs, we don’t balance fiscally either.) And add to the mix by two young boys and I tell the truth when I say I do not live life in a state of balance.
I read the articles and listen to the endless conversations about achieving balance in my life, skeptically. I actually don’t think there's even much benefit to convincing women that there is this “ultimate” state of balance. Makes them feel that what they are doing in not good enough. That there is always something else that should fit into their mix. More volunteer work, more exercise, more time with their kids, more sex, more challenge in their lives. Do I believe that there are different aspects of our lives that need attention? Yes. Do I believe in conscious living and choice? Absolutely. But to think that women can be hardworking, socially responsible, nurturing moms, loving wives, caring friends, supportive daughters and sisters, fit and even 100% organic is just ludicrous. Of course we can be all of those things, just not at the same time. Maybe not even in the same season.
So when I saw that the Young Women of Influence chapter in Toronto was hosting an event on Work-Life Balance, I forced myself to attend. Maybe I would learn something new. Shed my cynicism. The panel was moderated by the very charismatic Lindsey Deluce, a CP 24 news anchor here in Toronto, and on the panel was; Cindy Mielke, Director of Marketing, West 49, who admits to working hard and loving every minute of it, Christine Russell, CEO and co-founder 889 Yoga who started on the corporate track and jumped off, and Grace Palombo, Vice President Human Resources at TD Bank who works to balance life to fit her work and home.
First thing I learned at the Young Women’s event. I should not be attending a YOUNG women’s event. I had 15-20 years on most of the attendees. Ugh. Oh and I was also late since I needed to feed and schlep kids before heading downtown. Is spending quality time with my kids before the event considered balance? Or is that multi-tasking? I’m confused. Anyway, the panel began and I put away my blackberry and put on my listening ears eager to hear what these women thought about balance.
First let me preface that all three women, as well as the moderator were quite different. They represented a good cross-section of age and stage. Two were newlyweds, one had been married for years and one was single. Only one had children (three in their twenty’s). I think they missed the boat without having someone with young children on the panel but those women were probably too busy to even attend.
Throught the hour discussion each woman told her story. How she got to where she was, the choices she had made and how hard they worked to get to where they were. But they all hit a point of having to make changes in their lives because they felt out of balance. They were tired. Walking around in dazes and felt as though they were spinning. They needed to think about what was important to them and somehow come to peace with leting the other stuff go. Now Cindy leaves the office at 5:00 pm and turns her cell phone off at 10. Cindy practices meditation and works at home each morning for a sense of calm and Grace makes sure she gets some quiet time during the day or gets home to eat with her family. While each of the women interpreted balance differently; internal balance, balance with family, time to volunteer, or health and wellness. They all agreed on the following: And, after reflecting on what I heard last night, so do I:
- Balance is individual. Everyone must define it for themselves.
- Know your priorities and your passions. This provides a roadmap as to where to spend your time and your energy.
- Shed the word should. The things you should be, should be doing, should have. They only create more stress.
- Have a vision. Visualize what you want to be like in 5 years and work towards it. See what fits and what doesn't.
- Check in regularly. Are you feeling peaceful? In the zone? If the answer is No. Identify why and do something about it.
- Indentify your zen spot. Know what brings you into balance, provides calm and re-focus and go to it whenever necessary. A walk, a tea, meditation, prayer. Whatever it is. Make sure you do it.
Turthfully even after attending last nights event I still feel that asking women to “balance” their lives is dicey, Butm I did shed some of my cynicism. Mostly because, I realized that what we should be teaching women is not to try and balance their outside life and responsibilities with work but to find their internal balance. It will be different for each of us since not all of us want the same things. But as Grace Palombo, my favorite panelist of the evening, said last night :balance to her means finding “the place where the world feels right and everything is good”. Hmmm . Even Little Miss "off-balanced" me can do that.
What does balance mean to you? How do you know if you are "in balance"? What do you do if you are not?