By: Jamie Collins
If I come across one more article which proclaims to enlighten people on the concepts of work/life “balance” or work/life “harmony,” I truly might leap from my fifth story office window.
As most of you know, I am a busy litigation paralegal by day. I double as a writer, legal columnist, blogger, loving mother and dedicated wife, by night. I guess in reality, I’m actually all of these things all of the time. I make an effort to be fully-present, engaged, and mentally focused in any environment in which I currently find myself – at work or home. But there are definitely moments when I find myself about one stray thought away from offering my supervising attorney a glass of chocolate milk with an accompanying bedtime story or sitting in the little league bleachers cheering loudly, as my mind wanders off to a task left undone or a call left unmade during the work day. I think this is probably true for most of us who ever so carefully straddle the line between the personal and professional worlds.
In through the gates of life charge the writers, promising they will tell us how to finally achieve that work/life “balance” (and accompanying harmony) we’ve always sought. Perhaps you’re buying into this theory, but I’m not…at least not on the level they’re selling it. Some days, perhaps even a vast majority of them, we find ourselves teetering between that ultra thin line of work life versus family life – attempting to assess, divide, and conquer our personal and professional desires, obligations, a multitude of tasks and endeavors, countless volunteer projects, and perhaps even a hobby or outside interest or two (maybe even a lime margarita, fresh coat of nail polish, that next massage or round of golf), while managing to keep our limbs attached, and our sanity at least partially intact. That is the reality of a life spent on the brink of this so-called “harmony” and “balance” line. I write this for every person on the planet who wants to hear the real deal on what this whole balance/harmony looks like. You ready for this? I’m about to drop a big one on you.
Work life balance/harmony does not exist.
Okay, maybe in fleeting moments it does, but typically the life of a busy working professional and dedicated spouse and parent is FAR from harmonious and balanced, perhaps a few solar systems away on certain days. That’s not to say we aren’t happy. It’s not to say we don’t see glimmers of calmness, peace, and a Zen-like balance. It’s not to say we aren’t living inspired lives. That’s not to say we don’t sometimes feel in control and overtly successful, like we’re living our lives out loud. We do. And we are. It just isn’t wrapped in a pretty little bow and easy to figure out. There is just life – our one crazy, precious, utterly beautiful, chaotic, splendid, wonderfully crazy life.
Some days, balance means not falling over on your stilettos while walking your child out to the bus stop or into the school building. It means forgetting to write the teacher an important note and frantically searching the contents of your purse or briefcase for anything even remotely resembling the likes of a writing utensil, giggling aloud while you scribble down serious notations with a light yellow highlighter. It means waking up late, getting ready a little too slowly, and issuing verbal orders to your household in the tone of a drill sergeant, because you swear no one is going to arrive to school (or work) late on your watch. It means forgetting to bring cookies for the teachers’ pitch-in and driving to the local Walgreens to pick up a replacement item to avert a full-on contribution crisis. It means volunteering to be the room mom because it’s a priority to you, even though you may need to enter the Witness Protection Program in order to depart your employer’s building en route to each holiday party, to sharpen 30 pencils, and pass out cupcakes.
It means staying up late with a sick child and knowing there isn’t a place you’d rather be, then arriving to work the next day resembling one of the cast members of The Walking Dead, if you arrive at all. It means helping with last minute school projects, which really came with a week long lead time…if only you had known about them the day they were actually assigned. It means providing compassion, guidance, empathy, and explanations to a little person, even when you don’t feel entirely up to the challenge. It means bandaging cuts, mending hurts, laughing at silly-but-not-quite-funny jokes, and giving all the best of what you have to give to a piece of your heart that is sitting outside of your body, steadied by two legs. It means being soft. Being tough. Being whatever you need to be in order to help a person along. It means showing your child that work ethic matters. Morals matter; being a person of substance, character, and integrity matters.
It means showing them it always pays to work hard, even when you’re sick, even when you’re tired, even when you’re sick and tired. It means making mistakes and owning up to failures, as your little one casts an innocent gaze up at you in quiet admiration. It means getting frustrated that you can’t be all things, and do all things, and be all places. It means making choices. Assessing priorities, and learning to live with the consequences. It means being damn proud of the parent you’ve become, and the one you’ll work to become in the future.
It means working hard. Sometimes working later than you’d like, occasionally more than you’d like, and being more tired than you thought humanly possible, while sliding in to “pretend” you care what makes its way down onto that wooden table as vittles for dinner (even if it came from a box, packet or microwave). It means volunteering for one more task, when you have absolutely no idea how you’ll see it through to completion. It means wearing suits, even when you don’t feel like it. Showing up, even when you’d rather not. It means sometimes feeling run down, half-sane, and borderline crazy. It means always being where you believe your time is needed most. It means being damn proud of the work you do, and the place you go each day to do it. It means explaining to your child that dedication matters. Helping people matters. Following through and meeting the expectations of those who rely on you matters.
It means owning the good choices you make. It means owning the bad choices you make. And making better choices in the future.
It means clinging to a glimmer of hope that you can accomplish all of the things sitting on your plate at any given time, even when that plate quickly begins to resemble one of those large, white, rectangular Styrofoam trays with all of the slots heaping over with a full serving of obligations. It means sometimes sacrificing one thing over another. Choosing to spend your time one place over another. It means choosing one task over another – sometimes a bedtime story over a weekend work project and sometimes, the other way around. It means feeling guilty about it. Doing it anyway. Promising to yourself you’ll choose differently next time. Because you will. Feeling accomplished. Being proud. Counting the moments and hours you spend away from your child. Reflecting upon the number of years left in your career. Counting the moments until your head will hit the pillow that evening and wishing it were 30 seconds from now, rather than a continental time zone away.
Wanting to make every moment count. Seizing every good thing. Working through every bad moment. Pulling your weary soul upward and onward, even when you’d rather not. Being thankful for every good moment. Realizing you are in many regards, a time trader, with your biggest commodity being the way you choose to spend your time, and with whom. It means tears, and laughter, and every imaginable emotion all entangled and tucked between 24 hours, 7 days, or more. It means living life brilliantly. Basking in successes, forgiving yourself for less than stellar performances, and hanging on for one more day to do it all again.
So if you want to know the secret to work/life balance, it is this: Stop trading in what you have for someone else’s idea of what it should be. It’s maddening, crazy, rewarding, difficult, sensational, daunting, and most importantly – it’s doable. And it’s yours. All yours. Your world. Your choices. Your consequences. Your life to live the best way that only YOU can.
Should you manage your time better? Perhaps. Should you work to streamline your obligations and schedule? Absolutely. Should you read a few books on how to be a better person or live a better life? Go for it. Should you seek the advice of others? If it helps you.
Be true to yourself, your family, and your career – whatever that looks like for you.
In the end, you’ll one day stop to make a mental note of this crazy, chaotic, beautiful time in your life; a time when you found yourself in the thick of things – struggling through the worst of things, living through the best of things, and realizing it was one heck of a journey (some of the best days of your life) spent between the folds of unwavering insanity and a vibrant happiness.
Work/life balance is a myth. The reality is something so much better. Crazier, but better. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Work/life balance is a myth. Living a vibrant, unbalanced, ultra-crazy, beautiful life – that’s the reality.
That is the reality.
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We’ll see you next week, TPS readers. Until then, bask in the glory of the impending Paralegal Freedom Festival, otherwise known as “the weekend,” and keep it real!