During the stress-free days of elementary school, my favorite game on the playground was the good old fashioned seesaw. I recall spending half the recess time period with my best friend trying to get the seesaw to stay exactly balanced in the middle. Little did I know I would spend the majority of my adult life working on the same balance in my work and personal life. The most recent Internet articles continuously state, “Work-life balance does not exist, and it cannot be achieved”. I humbly disagree, as my childhood years proved with the right tools, balancing a seesaw is possible.
Here are 4 lessons learned from an elementary school girl on how to achieve work-life balance:
1. Surround yourself with “best friends” – Run from the naysayers and critics
I chose to ride the seesaw with my best friend every day because she was encouraging and supportive. We laughed when we flew up in the air and cracked up when one of us would plummet down with a “thump”. It was a fun and creative atmosphere. I avoided, actually I ran, from the kids that yelled at me for hitting the ground, criticized me for not doing it right, or even went so far as to blame my weight as the cause for our failure. By the way, I was a skinny stick, who for a moment questioned my weight and worth – but that is another story. Lesson Learned: Surround yourself with family members, friends, and co-workers that will come along side and support you with their time and words in ALL areas of your life. Remember: “You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life”
2. Stop comparing yourself to 6th Graders (or others) – Find what works uniquely for you
I used to get frustrated watching the 6th grade girls balance the seesaw in half the amount of time it took me and my friend. They made it look so easy that when I tried to mimic their exact steps, it failed every time. After my oldest son started kindergarten, I realized the other elementary school moms were volunteering in the classroom 3 to 4 times a month and eating lunch with their child. I was lucky to get my son to school on time, let alone volunteer or eat in the cafeteria during the day. The more I compared myself to others, the more I felt like a horrible parent that was failing her son academically – “what’s wrong with me”. I’m not a supermom volunteer at school but I found a parent-helper plan for balance that worked for me and my son (my #1 priority). Lesson Learned: When you are looking at the people around you and feel as though you are not enough, STOP the comparison game and develop your own unique strategy. Remember: “Comparison is the thief of all JOY”.
3. Sometimes you get stuck – Ask for help
Every once in a while, I would get stuck at the top of the seesaw. I was scared I would not be able to get down without plummeting to the ground and the whole experience was outside my realm of control. These were the moments, when I would erratically scream for a Playground Volunteer, who then swiftly lowered me down to the ground with ease. When I have been overwhelmed in my business or personal life, it feels very similar to being stuck on the seesaw. I am feeling a lack of control and not sure how to handle the situation without hurting myself, or others. In these moments, I have had to:
• Recognize I’m scared, overloaded, or stressed • Acknowledge I don’t have all the answers, and I cannot do it alone • Humble myself to ask for help from a mentor, family member, or friend • Receive the help that has been offered – whether it is time, advice, service, or a gift
Lesson Learned: Frightening or stressful situations are a lot easier to bear when you ask for help; the outcome is never as difficult as you imagined. Remember: “Fears are the stories we tell ourselves”
4.) Find the effort needed to achieve balance – Be prepared for trial and error
When I focused on going up on the seesaw I often pushed so hard that my friend would sink like a rock to the bottom – ugggh, painful moments. To avoid the crash, we tried to stay focused on one another and slowly pushed on our toes to find the exact percentage of energy needed to find balance. When I focused 100% on work, then my family had less of my time and my personal health often suffered due to stress. On the other hand, when I focused 100% on my family, then my business suffered financially and I missed key opportunities for growth and promotion. Clearly pushing “all-in” in one area of my life was detrimental to other areas. I did not get it all figured out in a week, and I had to accept the fact that I would make mistakes along the way. Lesson Learned: Identifying your priorities and establishing equilibrium in your business, relationships, and personal life requires patience with the process of trial and error. Remember: “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least” ~Goethe
As if it was yesterday, I can easily recall the feeling of satisfaction and joy when my best friend and I achieved perfect balance on the seesaw. It was a moment of success and jubilation. If you are willing to implement the lessons learned and patiently find the effort needed in the most important areas of your life, then you will experience the peace of work-life balance and the joy of a life well lived.