For years I recruited cheerful and bright-eyed college graduates to come work at my former firm, boasting of the wonderful learning experiences, career opportunities, and of course, the infamous work-life balance. When reality began to mock my biggest selling points, I found myself redefining work-life balance as work-life flexibility. I felt an immediate need for a paradigm shift of this whole balance concept. After all, I reasoned, flexibility trumped balance because balance is not even mathematically feasible.
Think about it. Assume eight hours of sleep a night, eight hours of work a day, and the remaining eight hours in the day as free time, one would have a balanced breakdown of 33% work, 33% rest, and 33% free time. Unfortunately, that math is flawed because work also includes commute time, sleep rarely nets a full eight hours, and that affects your free time leaving you with a truly unbalanced load before you even begin. Then add motherhood to the equation, and your mathematical equation of balance is forever complicated.
I must admit that there are some days when my personal plate of to-do’s seem simple enough to juggle: respond to a few work e-mails, plan and make a scrumptious dinner, shower, read, blog, and analyze our monthly finances, all while looking like I have a natural glow (did I mention, my hair is probably effortlessly perfect too?). And of course enjoy a happy baby exploring safely, eating well, and taking long uninterrupted naps. These days are rare.
Most days, in fact, I’m struggling just to get by while juggling numerous and timely work requests (to which I alone can respond), no time for grocery shopping, a house that is never clean enough, and laundry that seems to multiply without mercy leaving me not only wearing the same frumpy college t-shirt and sweats for multiple days in a row, but adorned with imperfect, oily hair–no glow. To add insult to injury, most of the time, I am also kicking myself for volunteering to help out with yet another side project that I sincerely want in on, but feel trapped without enough time. And instead of enjoying that happy baby, I find am coping with an uncooperative baby who doesn’t feel like eating or napping, and who is suddenly fascinated with everything hazardous.
Home vs. The Office
In the workplace, we recognize and praise team players for both their flexibility with and adaptability to new and difficult situations. In motherhood, there is not a committee or staff in place to praise or motivate us to change. More often we find ourselves wondering where the balance went. But like a business, with an objective to keep up company morale, we need to set the tone starting at the top–this begins with us. It starts with understanding that true balance is not something we may ever achieve (see paragraph one, the math is completely against us), but being flexible, well that’s an entirely different story.
When I finally stopped trying to be balanced, and instead worked on being flexible–my perspective of motherhood madness changed. I realized motherhood has many unique adversities known as uncooperative children, overload of housework, and not enough “me” time; and instead of trying to mathematically organize my day into regimented time quadrants that balance out, I simply began to be flexible.
With that shift comes the utilization of patience, the cultivation of a positive attitude, and the willingness to re-arrange, re-prioritize, revise, and reorganize whatever I am caught up in. It wasn’t easy…but, slowly I got there. And I consequently became more comfortable with my self-defined failures which reduced my negativity and pity parties. Instead, I was joyful about the downs as well as the ups. I was giddy about the things I accomplished, and the things I had yet to accomplish. All in the name of flexibility.
As I told those fresh-faced recruits year after year, it’s not about balance, because that’s not really attainable. Instead, our firm can provide you with flexibility, and who doesn’t want that? I know I do, and I’m glad I remembered that once I became a mom. It’s not about the balance so much as flexibility, and you too can have it, if you so desire.
QUESTION: What are some ways you can be more flexible and stay positive while doing so?
CHALLENGE: Commit to be flexible over the next week and log how you’ve been able to respond to change with a positive attitude each day.
Photos courtesy of Daisy Phillips