With no office to go into and our dining room table serving triple duty, the concept of work-life balance may seem more elusive than ever.
Sure we’ve got child care to deal with and reports to finish. So we squeeze ten minutes of virtual yoga in a week, order take out to give ourselves a break, and never seem to be able to catch up with our endless personal and professional to-do lists. But that’s what being a top performer is about, right?
For years I thought being ‘successful’ in business meant sacrifice. I liked #hustle posts and worked 60 hour work weeks. But it was all ok because it was ‘just for now’ and ‘would lighten up soon.’ I thought once I scaled and leveraged I would have the time and space to do things I want (and maybe even take care of myself).
That day never arrived. Instead, I burnt out and was forced to choose something else.
That’s when I learned that the key to balance is less.
And here are the three questions that helped me find my way to the space that truly felt good.
1) Is my life enough? Can my life be enough?
For years I thought my life had to become something else. I had spent 10 years stoned and drifting from one job to the next. Yes, I had some cool stories, but I often looked around and felt behind. I’d never be a 30 under 30 or even a 40 under 40, (Was there a 50 under 50 category?)
So when I started my own business it felt like I was always trying to catch up, to prove something to someone, but no matter how much I achieved, (six figures in two years as a coach, clients paying my $20k+, a TEDx Talk) I was never satisfied.
Then I started asking myself, what if my life is enough right now? Can I be satisfied with it, even if nothing changes?
Slowly I began to relax. I didn’t stop working or creating (I actually wrote two books that year) but I felt differently about work. Instead of being fueled by a need to prove something I was filled by a desire to serve and to do work as an expression of my life. From this place I was able to see what was extra and slowly let it go.
2) Why am I scared of open space?
Often I have filled my life with things just to pass the time. I’ve signed up for classes, created chores, did extra work, answered stupid emails, and so much more. I began to realize I was scared of open space. And I began to wonder why?
So I cleared extra time in my week and I made space to just be. Sometimes I would putter around doing dishes or play guitar, sometimes I would read books and go for long walks. In that space my feelings emerged, loneliness, grief, but also joy and peace.
I saw that my fear of open space was a fear of feeling and of being with myself. Once I had faced this fear and felt the relief of allowing my heart to breathe, I was able to let go of the things I only did to fill my time or push away the anxiety underneath all the doing.
3) What could I do better if I was fully rested?
For a long time, I only slept 6.5 to 7 hours a night. I would wake up in the morning with a grip in my chest. I would stay up at night hoping another episode of the office would put my worries to bed. But instead of dealing with my anxiety and my lack of worth I simply floated through life half awake and half irritated.
When I finally cleared some space with myself I started sleeping more and better. Instead of the anxiety raiding my bedtime hours I was dealing with it during the day and that meant I had space to relax at night.
The better rested I felt the better I worked. The better I worked the more unwilling I became to work from tiredness. And all of this led me to see how working from a place of depletion only made it easier to be stressed out and overwhelmed.
This insight helped me become bolder in what I let go of and more disciplined in saying no and letting other people do their part. Slowly things that I was convinced I had to do just started disappearing, people around me stepped up to help me out, and I found that being fully rested made it more possible for me to be fully resourced as well.
That’s it, these three questions are the ones I come back to again and again. They remind me that balancing too much isn’t really balance, it’s simply a shell game where I shuffle my stress and anxiety to a different part of my life. Instead, if I find a way to make more space, do less, and trust myself slowly, balance doesn’t become this Olympic feat.