I have put a great deal of effort into finding life balance in the past few years. I think I am a lot closer to finding balance than I used to be, and as a result I am less stressed and happier.
Approximately 3 years ago, I went to a presentation by Victoria Maxwell. She had some wonderful suggestions about keeping track of how you are doing each area of your life. What really left an impression on me was an exercise she asked us to do.
She asked us to list the activities we do that bring us joy and balance. I made my list, and then I looked at it. I was surprised that what I had listed was not how I was spending my time. In fact, I was spending very little time on these activities. No wonder I was feeling burnt out!
A year later, I still had not made any significant life changes. I was burnt out, and did not seem to be able to get better from a cold I had. I was feeling like I was doing a poor job at work and at home, but I did not know what to do about it.
Then I had a family situation that made it clear to me that I needed to be spending more time at home. A very understanding employer let me go on temporary leave from work. I was able to devote most of my time to my family, and wrote my book of worksheets in my "spare" time.
This was a bit of an adjustment. I think the hardest part has been feeling that I cannot take time to work as well as time to myself. My work time often becomes my "me" time, which essentially leaves me short on "me" time.
I ended up not going back to my job, and now I am homeschooling my kids and have started working on another book. All in all, I feel sooooo much more balanced now.
Anyways, here are some of the things I have learned about life balance:
1. Balance is dynamic. It comes and goes, and is constantly changing. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you end up unbalanced again. I just had a great day where homeschooling went well; my book was reviewed in CJOT and sales went well; and I even managed to attend a Zumba class. The day before had been a long day with the kids. I was driving in the car and a song was playing on the radio, "I can't help falling; I can't help falling for you." The kids were in the back seat shrieking, "I can't help farting; I can't help farting on you," and I thought, "This is my life?" Every day can be different.
2. The grass is always greener. I know people who often talk about how they do not want to go to work, yet I believe they would be restless and unhappy after the first week or two of staying home. I have had clients who would have given anything to be able to get a job, and whose biggest problem was too much free time. Yet many of them would not be able to handle the stress of a full-time job. It is so easy to look at the situations other people are in and think that they would be better, but that does not necessarily make it true.
3. Life balance does not happen by accident. It involves conscious choices that are not always easy, and often involve some planning and sacrifice. It was not easy to leave my work (and salary) and figure out what else to do. It was not easy to get off the couch and go to Zumba the other day. If I want "me" time, I have to write it in on the family calendar or it somehow does not happen. If you just let life happen to you, you end up missing out on the activities that bring you joy and balance. If you do not plan how you will spend your time, someone else will spend it for you.
4. Our perception of our life balance is affected by how well we feel we are doing at something. If we feel we are not able to do something well, we dread it. If we feel we are doing a great job, we do not mind spending a lot of time on it, and derive a sense of fulfillment. Now that I am devoting more time to parenting, I feel I am doing a good job of it, which makes me happier about the time I spend parenting.
5. Life balance looks different with everyone. As an OT, I want to categorize occupations into self-care, productivity and leisure, and then look at how much time everyone is spending on each. However, there is no one right answer. What works for me will not work for you and vice versa. Some women are perfectly happy being mom, wife and homeschool teacher. I need more. I'm not willing to let go of being an OT.
I am looking forward to this year's OT24Vx on "Exploring Balance." I am sure I will learn a lot more about the research on balance, and maybe learn a few tips to help me have balanced days more often. This post is part of my Blog Carnival Celebrating World OT Day.