“There is no decision that we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice” ~ Simon Sinek
Returning to work after the birth of our son is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But not for any of the reasons that I expected.
I expected to feel guilty leaving my gorgeous wee man at home with his Dad. I expected to feel guilty about leaving childcare arrangements to someone else. I expected to feel guilty about missing important milestones.
Instead, I felt guilty about the work I’d missed, and the load that my colleagues had carried in my absence. I felt guilty about scheduling meetings around the times I needed to express. I felt guilty about working part-time. I felt guilty about enjoying not being at home.
And… I felt guilty about not feeling guilty about the things I thought I should have been feeling guilty about.
Seriously: I felt guilty about not feeling guilty!
Having a baby does weird stuff to your head – hormones are out of balance, and sleep deprivation comes in on top nine-ish months of having all your nutrients absorbed by a thriving growing little bundle of cells. This weirdness isn’t only limited to mothers, either! Dads’ lives are thrown into just as much turmoil!
I remember how my confidence waned. I remember starting to doubt my abilities at work, and to worry about my capacities as a mother.
I wish I was alone in this. But research carried out by theconversation.com found that, while the specifics change for different families, most households feel that they are forced to make decisions that they would have preferred not to… negotiating different days/hours with employers, compromising day-care options based on availability, returning to work sooner than desired for financial reasons… the list goes on.
This got me wondering about the elusive “work-life balance”. Does it exist? And if it does, why does it seem like nobody achieves it? And if it doesn’t, why are so many people still chasing it?
What if ‘Balance’ is just another kind of Perfectionism?
In a recent article, I wrote about the perils of perfectionism – that elusive idea that there is a ‘flawless’ possible outcome that you could achieve if you just tried a little harder…
I propose that work-life balance is exactly the same.
Here are five ways you can stop feeling bad about the lack of balance and make things work for you and your family – whatever that looks like.
Accept that you need to prioritise…
Unless you have a time machine, doing one thing means not doing something else…
Having a drink with a major client means not making it home in time for dinner.
Returning to work to bring in some extra money means you can’t stay home.
Attending your kid’s ballet recital means you might miss a phone call from your boss.
You can’t be in more than one place at a time, so make a decision, and own it.
…But don’t let someone else prioritise for you
With the possible exception of your significant other (at which point it should be a ‘family decision’, not his or hers), you need to make your own decisions, and then relax. Remind yourself that you made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time, be clear about what factors guided your decision, and don’t feel guilty about it afterwards.
Guilt doesn’t change the decision, it doesn’t improve the outcome, and it doesn’t even ensure you’ll make a better decision next time. It just makes you feel like crap – and nobody benefits from that!
Accept that work will always be an option…
Although it’s true that re-entering the workforce gets harder the longer you are ‘out’, the things that make you a valuable employee, or a successful entrepreneur, generally are competencies that can be transferred to a different job, or a new business – if you need to.
Even if you get fired – something that feels horrible and overwhelming when it happens – there are other jobs out there.
…but that your family may not
Your kids will grow up, and they won’t need you as much as they do right now. Milestones are just that – significant waypoints on a journey. The first steps, the first words, the first time riding a bike, going to school… these are milestones precisely because they are firsts.
Your spouse will support you in your career to a point – but if it becomes an absentee relationship, can you really expect that to be sustainable and nourishing for either of you?
Relationships take investment and effort.
Instead, focus on not being too imbalanced
If everyone is out of whack, then it doesn’t matter so much, right? And they are.
All you can do is try and be in tune with yourself enough to know when you are teetering so far out of balance that you’re at risk of falling. When you feel this, you need to correct. Don’t ignore it, or you’ll end up falling on your face, in some aspect of your life.
Don’t look longingly at other people’s lives and imagine that they’ve found balance. Compassionately recognise that everyone is trying to figure it out, and give yourself a break!
I want to help you to lead. Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.
So I’m writing a book specifically for you. It’ll be out early next year (28 February 2018 to be precise).
If you’d like to know more, please sign up for my newsletter (I don’t spam, just a weekly newsletter) where I’ll keep you up to date on progress, test some ideas, and even share a preview or two as we get closer to launch-day.
Let’s do this!