Earlier this month I spoke on a panel at the Massachusetts Conference for Women called "Finding Your 50/50" which addressed finding work/life balance. This post was originally written as a take-away from the conference.
There isn’t a woman that I know who doesn’t struggle to find balance in her life. We live in a time of extraordinary potential, but also a time of often overwhelming responsibility. Our roles vary from day to day, hour to hour, sometimes even from minute to minute. Friend, partner, parent, child, boss, employee – each role requires a different skill set, a different emotional investment, a different body of knowledge.
How is it possible to handle all our myriad obligations with professionalism, grace, and even a little style? How do we prioritize our responsibilities, while retaining a sense of self? How, in effect, can we have it all while doing it all?
When women talk about finding personal and professional fulfillment we often talk in metaphors: it's a balancing act, we're juggling all the details of our lives, keeping the balls in the air, the plates spinning.
I like to look at my own life like a length of rope. When both my personal and my professional lives are suffering, it feels like I’m struggling with a tangled, knotted mess. If only I could make sense of the chaos, I would end up with a neat coil of rope, a nest of perfect concentric circles. Instead, all too often it looks like this:
As a reminder, when trying to get my life back under control, I think of what COILS represent to me.
Community: A great woman once told us “it takes a village.” It turns out this is not only true of raising children; it also applies to how we can successfully integrate our personal and professional lives. In order to be an effective parent, partner or co-worker, we need the support of others. Friendships, both at work and at home, help us deal with stress, stay healthy and even live longer.
Use your community to support you in finding your balance. And take time to help others find theirs. Remember that sisterhood is powerful and that your women friends are a great resource, both at work and at home. Be a generous co-worker and a supportive friend. The rewards will be worth the effort.
Organization: Whether you call it balancing, juggling, or having it all, a full life well lived requires the preparedness of a boy scout, the logistical talents of General Patton, and the artistic flair of a symphony conductor. For most of us, leaving the details to sort themselves out simply isn't an option.
Schedules, calendars, diaries, agendas, itineraries and back-up plans -- any tool that manages the details of daily life -- can help us transform chaos into manageable tasks. Sharing those details with family members and co-workers will make everyone's job easier, helping each one to identify and work toward common goals. Organization can help teams at work function better. It can make your home life smoother and less stressful.
A key indicator of a stressful, unbalanced life is clutter. Banishing clutter, whether physical or psychic, can lead to more time, less stress and a more balanced life. If organization isn't your strong suit, invite an organized friend or co-worker to help you. Take it from a neat freak, making sense out of disorder is what we live for.
Innovation: Having it all takes organization and planning, but sometimes the only way to get the job done is to change the paradigm, abandoning business as usual. The world looks very different today than it did even 10 years ago, so finding your 50/50 may require new solutions to old problems.
It is up to us, individually and as employers, or employees, to forge new paths and find new solutions. The beauty of events like the Massachusetts Conference for Women -- of gathering more than 6500 women in one place, is that together we can rethink how things work, or don't work, in our busy lives.
Laughter: According to a recent medical study, when it comes to heart health, laughter really is the best medicine. The study revealed peple with heart disease laughted 40% less than people the same age who were healthy. Laughter can relieve anxiety, reduce stress, and boost immunity. In a professional setting, laughter can strengthen group dynamics promote bonding, and help resolve conflict.
The very act of laughing strengthens family ties as well, helping family members navigate hard times and creating an atmosphere of security, stability, and acceptance. All these things can be supported by a good giggle or a big belly laugh. Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Crying...not so much.
Strength: A strong woman is a balanced woman. Don't neglect your own health and fitness while taking care of others. Build time for exercise into your daily routine. And remember that microfitness can yield major results. Exercising in small bursts -- climbing several flights of stairs, walking a mile to get lunch, hula hooping with your kids, doing crunches while watching the news -- these activities combined can be as effective as an hour devoted to a workout.
When all is said and done, I'm not sure anyone's life is ever truly in balance. We tip one way and make a course correction to regain equilibrium. We wobble and shift and fall and start again. But we can strive to make our lives less frantic and more thoughtful. We can live in the moment and find the joy of small jobs well done until, sometime when you're not looking, the everyday triumphs begin to add up to success.