Get It All Done: Finding Your Equilibrium
This article is part of a series of blogs around the Five Behaviors Standing Between Women Leaders & Greater Success. This article dives deeper into Career Limiting Behavior #5: Losing Your Equilibrium.
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Editorial note: We can debate the phrases work/life balance or work/life integration or whatever all day long. The point is that is that it can be really freaking hard to get everything done in a day. For successful women (and men), it can be a real challenge to find time for family, friends, work, eating, sleeping, exercise, and everything else it takes to make your life work. I'm using the term equilibrium here - take it or leave it. Ever the pragmatist, I believe the approach is the same no matter what term you want to use to define the problem.
When I first started working with Nanette, she was one year into a highly-visible VP role that had grown into something much bigger than initially promised. Good news: the company was expanding at a rate that was 700% higher than projections. Bad news: the growth was testing the professional and personal limits of everyone on the management team.
Nanette appeared to be excelling at work and at home: She was leading multiple new market openings in several states and managed to make it home for dinner any night she was in town. She made all the school and sports events and event planned the perfect princess birthday party for her four year old daughter.
All that excelling came at a cost. She was sleeping a chronically poor 5 hours a night, breakfast and lunch typically were in bar form and eaten in a car, office or airplane, and she could not remember the last time she exercised. Over the last month, her hair started to fall out in clumps in the shower and her stomach seemed to be in a near constant state of clenching.
>>Nanette's situation is incredibly common for many successful women: Nanette had lost her equilibrium.
Imagine your day as a big pie chart. You have a wedge for sleeping, a different wedge for eating and other wedges for things like work, exercise, travel, family, laundry, cooking, shopping, friends, wine drinking and more. The math is simple: When any one wedge increases, another wedge must decrease. There is only so much pie.
For Nanette, her drive to succeed was rooted in an addiction to performance combined with a desire to please. Her drive caused her to expand the work wedge, which crowded out all the other pieces. What's more, the energetic intensity she dedicated to the work wedge was so high, that the other parts of her life were left anorexic. She was present in body, but she was hardly present energetically, mentally or emotionally.
So how do you find your equilibrium once you have lost your footing? For successful women driven by the desire for more, better, faster... it can be a challenge (trust me, I know from personal experience). Like all behavior changes, the best was to start is to start small and build.
Figure out what you value. All too often, we go through the motions of life and don't really check to see if we are living a life aligned with out values. Checking in is not hard, but it can be hard to find the time when you to do list is approaching 3 pages. I have most of my clients complete a Values Inventory when we first start working together. I provide a long list of terms that outline various values and then clients rank them according to importance. You can add new terms and toss out the ones that are meaningless to you. The end result: A hierarchy of what you really value in life. This can be a powerful tool when paired with the next step.
Do a time study and reflect on how you spend your time. This is a practice that is popular in cognitive-based therapy. For a few days (ideally a week) log what you are doing in 15 - 30 minute increments. Simply note eating, driving (after you arrive), sleeping (after you wake up), meeting with Bob, etc. Then, note on a simple scale - smiling face, frowning face, neutral face or a scale of 1 - 5 - how you feel with each activity. Don't judge or overthink the activity. Just log and move on.
Then, at the end of the week, do two things:
1. Reflect on what you see with your week. What do you do the most of? Least of? What do you like/loathe the most based on your scores? How much of your day do you enjoy, like, dislike, hate or feel neutral about?
2. Go back to your Values Assessment. Compare your top 10 most valued values against where you spend your time. How does it compare? How much time do you spent forwarding or living out the values you listed in the top 10? Don't judge the answers - just observe.
Find a few minutes and just sit with this information. What do these two steps tell you.? How does this information make you feel?
Realize you drive the car of your life. It happens. When we are overwhelmed, we can drift into victimhood (or the always fun martyrdom). A gentle reminder that you are indeed in charge of the choices you make can help bring you closer to equilibrium.
Here is an example: At a workshop, a working mom said, "Are you telling me that it is a choice if I bathe my son each day?" My reply "Yes." It may not feel like a choice - and there may be days when the data really, really tells you that you need to bathe him, but yes, it is indeed a choice. Every day, we make choices about how big to make each piece of our daily pie. We can cut out exercise to expand the work piece, but we also need to recognize that it is a choice. It may be a tough choice due to deadlines and pressures from your boss, but it is indeed a choice.
Once you remind yourself that your life is a series of choices, you can begin to think about the choices you make each day. Are you saying "Yes" too much? Are you letting boundaries fall that need to be held? Are you in the wrong job, friendships or marriage?
Decide on one small step you can make to improve your life right now. Don't switch careers or buy a lifetime membership to a yoga studio. Think about one small step you can commit to making that will make a difference on the equilibrium of your life. Can you make exercise class one day next week? Do you need to hire a cleaner or find a dry cleaner that offers pickup and drop-off? What can you do to be kinder to you and get more time back in to the areas you really value.
Remember life has seasons. Once you nail down your equilibrium, something in your life or world will change and you will have to take steps to redefine your equilibrium. You may be promoted, move, get divorced or married, lose your job, get pregnant, or need to adapt your parenting time as your children grow. Life will throw you curve balls and you will lose your equilibrium. The good news: You can get it back!
Change is hard, but it can happen over time with small steps toward a larger goal. You define what "Equilibrium" means to you - and only you can take the steps to get closer to your own definition.
Need help with any of the behaviors here? Are you seeing trends that are holding you back from being your best, most successful self? YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Reach out. I work with existing and emerging women leaders, their teams and the companies that employ them to help leaders THRIVE and find their own ideal balance/integration of work and life.
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