What professional women hasn't struggled with what she believes should be the ultimate balancing act -- career success and personal fulfillment? In fact, many that I've come to know, despite their significant professional accomplishments and stellar performance as mothers or key contributors to their communities, still, at the end of the day, anguish over what they believe their lives should be, rather than celebrate what is. So they bathe in momma-guilt over a missed soccer game, or they spend countless hours lamenting a failed or non-existent relationship and then wonder if they'll ever learn to balance it all. The answer to that question is no, you won't. And neither should you!
Hear me, sisters, the idea of "balance" is a big fat lie.
Our lives were never meant to be reduced to such a static notion. Life is movement. It is a constant series of evolution, growth, stretching and at times, constriction. So instead of reaching for an ideal that is completely counter to the very essence of life itself, why not seek to value and fully integrate the various aspects of you into one seamless reality?
Now in striving for better work/life integration rather than the fool's gold that is work/life balance, you might still wonder exactly how to get there. How do you truly integrate all of your responsibilities, joys, interests and aspirations such that you continue to do what you must, but be there in meaningful ways for those you love and ultimately, live the holistic life of your dreams?
The answer is four-fold.
First, you must get crystal clear about what you want.
This first step is critical. Until you get this right, nothing else falls into place. You must allow yourself the space to dream, and then identify and overtly claim what's most important to you. Until this essential task is accomplished, you won't have the necessary benchmarks around which you can even begin to prioritize your life in real and intentional ways. Too often we shrink, minimize, push down or in other ways, divert our attention away from our greatest aspirations. In short, we lower the bar and believe we'll be happy with good-enough. The reality is, this practice is a recipe for perpetual disappointment. Facing your desires is the courageous first step to creating the necessary space to engage in the activities that will ultimately make them real.
Second, you must learn to prioritize Y-O-U.
If there is one thing that women are perpetually guilt of, it is the practice of putting other people's needs and desires above our own. Far too often, you may find it difficult to say no because "it'll only take a second," or perhaps you just "don't want to disappoint." But the sooner you realize that diverting attention away from your priorities robs your ability to live a life that is reflective of what you've identified as most important, the sooner you'll begin to use the power of no to make the necessary space for a life that is fluid in its integration of those things you hold most dear.
Third, you must live the habit of honesty.
Candor is especially crucial for managing the expectations of those we love. If, for example, work makes it unlikely that you'll make each and every one of your child's sporting events, then pick out two or three and commit to those. When life presents itself such that you can be present at more, then guess who'll love the pleasant surprise! But grounding expectations in honesty from the beginning, will not dim your light in the eyes of those who love you. In fact, it will only increase their understanding and respect for the hard work that you do, and the full person that you are.
Lastly, you must get comfortable with requesting and receiving help.
You can't do it all. Now notice, I didn't say that you can't have it all. In fact, I believe quite the opposite is true -- every woman not only can, but deserves to have it all. But to get there, you have to learn how to lean on others. So if that means receiving assistance from family or friends or even hiring professional help for managing the recurring tasks of daily life, by all means do it! Remember, time is the only commodity you have that can never be replaced. So value it. Protect it. And make conscious choices about how best to spend it. Don't let the pride of superwoman aspirations ruin your chance at living the holistic life you've always imagined.
Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever is the Founder of the Exceptional Leadership Institute for Women. To get more leadership, career, and work/life integration advice, log on now to www.avisjonesdeweever.com