Running my practice is what I would describe (with love) as mental athletics. I liken it to a triathlon where the muscles required for performance change with each event. The sprints are frequent, the road often steep, the water occasionally cold, but always, I reach the finish line with more wisdom and experience than when I started. There is never a lack of new learnings to be had and the necessity to continually take in new ideas that improve my field of work is high. While I am constantly reading, it is rare that I read for pleasure anymore.
So it is notable that I recently gave in to a spontaneous grocery line purchase of a magazine, the Magnolia Journal. The print on the cover caught my eye and made me pause long enough to think that the words I read at that very moment were likely not just coincidence. “Time well spent. Beholding the beauty of the Here and Now.” It felt like a message. A call to be present and to engage in that very moment. In the checkout line.
I have to confess that I never really understood how to employ the concept of work life balance. Life includes work, and when you love what you do, work is a joy. There are times when I have a sudden eureka moment on a vexing issue and it takes over my entire focus regardless of whatever else I’m doing. Do I adore my family and spending time with them? Absolutely! Do I love vacations, long weekends, cooking ridiculously large family dinners, getting pedicures and binging my favorite tv shows? Of course I do! How often am I still mentally at work even when I’m doing those things? A lot. Probably more than I know and certainly more than I like to admit.
Time well spent. Here and Now.
Those lines were enticing. Something I knew, on a deep level, I could do better. At the age of 52, I am still trying to find my balance.
It took me another week to curl up on the couch with my purchase. With a gas stove flickering and coffee in hand, I indulged in this now rare luxury of pouring through a beautiful magazine. There is a method. Leisurely moving from page to page, I first enjoy the texture, the nuance within the layout, the contrast of photos, colors and text. Bit by bit, I turn through, barely reading, just to enjoy the tactile experience of the weight, the slight crinkle, the scent of newness that always comes with pages unfolding for the first time. When I finally reach the end, I take another sip of coffee and start over, this time taking in every word.
Joanna Gains is on my List of Most Favorite People I’ve Never Met. She has a practicality and focus that belies the deep artisan roots and love of what I call Just Because that shows in everything she puts into the world for consumption. I’m terribly jealous. Not in a bad way. More in an inspirational way. A take-a-deep-breath-and-just-go-because-that’s-what-Joanna-does kind of way. Her Letter from the Editor is what sparked this particular blog and has, like anything worth reading does, made me pause and reflect. I have quoted here, with my own emphasis, the pieces that struck me so soundly.
“Sometimes it can feel like the world is really good at telling us how we should manage our time. We’re reminded often to prioritize our kids, our marriage, our work, our friendships, ourselves – which is to say that we should prioritize everything. So we listen, and we try because we want to do right by the people and things we love.
But while the list of all that we have to do grows and grows, the amount of time we’re given in a day remains the same. Its’s easy to blame time when we’re constantly finding ourselves wondering where it went. We’ve learned to see it as something we begin to lose the moment our day begins.
If time is something we are all so aware of losing, it’s no wonder we’ve started to treat it as yet another burden to carry. We plead for more of it. We call it a thief. We ask it to be kind.
But maybe time is innocent in all of this. It has to be when it’s the very thing that makes it possible to live and to love, that affords us the opportunity to experience wonders and chase our dreams. It is with time that we choose and shape and build our lives.
Time isn’t something to lose, it’s something we choose.
The world will always demand more of us than time will allow. But we can choose to view time as our own. Not as our burden but as our gift, and ultimately, it’s up to us how we spend it.
This isn’t about adding more pressure to your days by trying to make every second count. It’s remembering who you were and the things you valued before the world got its hands on you. It’s choosing what fills you up and fuels you forward over any other lesser thing.
And it will likely look different for all of us.”
Joanna Gains, Magnolia Journal, Issue No. 18.
Quietly, subtly, powerfully, my perspective shifted.
I had to concede, there were times when I felt that every demand on
my time was a burden – even when it was people, things and activities I loved – and I felt guilty. I would work even harder, I would sleep even less, I would try even more to juggle….and of course, at some point, fail. Work life balance…what about love guilt balance?! I tried to remember back to a time when I actually chose what I did with every moment of my time and did it without guilt. I was probably 10.
So how do we pursue the work we love with absolute zest and not let it take over the rest of our lives?
Balance I know is the answer, but it is easier to say than to do, at least for me. Just like everything else, this requires a strategy.
Every day I am working to share a formula for business that has proven to be worth its weight in gold. It is simple – everything we do must tie to a 3-point core foundation – Purpose, Growth and Survival – and the highest priorities are those things that follow the Critical Path – the ribbon of perpetual learning that weaves itself through each of these three points. This creates balance within the organization and ensures that we have created drive, agility and resilience.
It occurs to me that this formula plays out for the person as well as the business.
Purpose is that thing (or things) that we jump out of bed for every morning. The thing that gets us excited and tell us that we are contributing to the greater good. That we are putting something back and paying something forward for all the learning that was shared with us through the years. That we are helping others and meeting a deep need of our own at the same time. Even if the legacy we are looking to leave is simple kindness and love imparted to another single soul, it matters.
Growth is the piece that allows us to keep learning – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, physically. It is vital, I think, because humans don’t stand still very well. We are hard-wired to continue evolving, to push ourselves in some direction, even when we sometimes don’t know which direction that is or necessarily why we need to go there. At least at first. At some point, it becomes clear and we grow yet again.
Survival is simply about perpetuation. Taking the steps to ensure that we are here for as long as this ride is supposed to last and leaving something in our wake. It is sometimes the hardest because it doesn’t seem right to put ourselves before others, to manage our physical, emotional and mental well-being – but it is. I am actually in-flight as I write this blog, and the lesson plays out. Through a static-riddled intercom these words come through: “In the event of an emergency…..place your own mask over your nose and mouth before you help someone else.” We cannot be of much use if we are down for the count.
The culmination of those things that make up our personal purpose, growth and survival is what drives the soul, or whatever name you like to put to it. It will likely look different for all of us.
So what new habits can we bring into existence to better choose time? To create balance and feed our personal need for purpose, growth and survival? Here are three things I now focus on doing with intention.
1. Choose where you will spend your time today, even if it is just one small space in 24 hours. You may have meetings, schedules and deadlines imposed by someone else. But somewhere in your, day carve out a few moments to intentionally focus on something you choose to do.
2. Change your words. I wonderful acquaintance shared with me the power of choosing words. When we say “I should” it automatically implies that we are failing to do something – it leaves out choice. Use instead “perhaps.” When we say “I will” or “I choose” it puts power behind our intention. There are many more, but this one was particularly prevalent for me, as it is probably so many others.
3. Find gratitude in everything you do. Even when things are difficult, unpleasant or burdensome, there is still some nibble of benefit to be found. Maybe it is being grateful for the paycheck your job brings, the one and 100 person who appreciates the help you provide, or simply the ability to turn your face into a smile for no reason at all. Being grateful for the good stuff is easy – finding gratitude when it is least obvious will serve to bring more of it into your life.
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