Forget Balance. Go For Ebb and Flow

When my husband and I were trying to build careers and raise a family, we continually struggled to achieve equilibrium between our work and family lives. We always hoped we’d find a perfect balance between the two. Of course we never did. Controlled chaos was the best we ever managed. Eventually I came to the conclusion that we were chasing an unrealistic goal. Balance implies a perfect state of being —one that you can attain if only you can find the right formula. But if there’s a perfect formula for achieving a balance, I’ve never found it. Nor do I know of anyone who has.  Sometimes my life is crazy busy; sometimes it’s less so. So I decided to stop going for balance and strive for ebb and flow instead. One of the ways I achieve that is by trying to be fully present wherever I am.

When I’m at work, I do my best to keep my head focused on my work. When I’m with my kids, I’m mindful of staying focused on them. When I’m with my friends, I give them my undivided attention. When I’m with myself, I make “me” time my priority. How do I stay in the moment with demands coming at me from every quarter? In the same way that I achieve all my goals: by making a conscious, disciplined effort to do so.

Let me give you an example of how something as simple as modifying your cellphone behaviour can have a significant impact. Have you ever seen someone so addicted to checking phone messages on vacation they can’t even leave their phones in their hotel rooms for an afternoon? Someone who’s sitting on the beach a thousand miles away from home but who might as well be at the office because that’s where their head is? Well, I used to be one of those people. But I didn’t want to be that person so I forced myself to unplug. I can’t go off the grid entirely when I’m away, but I learned do a quick check in the morning and at the end of the day. And you know what? I discovered that I’m not so indispensible that my team can’t carry on without me for a day!

Letting go of my cell phone wasn’t easy. But over time I trained myself to resist the allure of that pinging sound. Today, I try not to respond to work texts and emails at home unless they’re absolutely urgent. If I start to slip, which I sometimes do, I catch myself, and vow to try and do better tomorrow.

Once I decided to be physically and mentally present with others, rather than pretending to listen to them while mentally reviewing my to do list, I became a much more mindful person. By paying extra attention to my thoughts, I also quelled the anxious feelings I had when I was being pulled in different directions at once. Another thing that really helps is the “Be Here Now” sign that our consultants at work gave us to put on our desks. I love that sign. I keep one at the office and one at home. It serves as a constant visual reminder to stay focused on the present moment.

I definitely have to work at staying present, but any goal worth achieving requires hard work, and the payoff is that the more I strive to be present, the more I’m able to experience work and family as complementary, as opposed to conflicting forces in my life.