182 days after the birth of our son, my husband and I “handed” him over to a local nursery, and walked away with an emotional sting.
As I was getting back into the flow of the business world, the ol’ brain started to feed me with all kinds of motivational titbits – “what can we do to beat our competitors”, “how can we delight clients”, “where can we create value” and “how do we knock the competition to the ground?!!”.
My brain also kindly fed me a whole series of thoughts that were genuinely alien to me – “the team have coped without me, so they clearly don’t need me”, “how will I feel if this post-birth, uneven squidgy sausage-body never springs back”, “will my brain still work”, and “if I fail, I’ll be that person who just couldn’t cut the mustard”.
Maternity leave for me meant I traded conversations about business, coffee, politics and market trends for discussions about the colour of poo, sleep patterns and birth! This trade meant a leap from my comfort zone into a new, very uncomfortable world, with a new set of challenges, which in hindsight were not dissimilar feelings to starting a new job, contract or setting up in business. I was in charge of an actual mini human, but one with no objectives, no ability to self-manage, or has no familiar way of communicating.
Having my son has been the most fulfilling part of my life to date but, boy did I miss the diversity of work, the “banter” (dare I use the word!) and clients with challenges that required solutions, so I returned to the business world with fascination in how I could create a world where I could do both, well, and feel fulfilled. This has been my biggest career challenge yet. To combine two worlds, while “achieving balance” was bouncing around my brain. My Chimp was tapping me on the shoulder with a series of sarcastic anecdotes while my Human was reiterating it could be achieved based on the information logged in my memory bank.
Work life “balance” is the addressing of your personal and professional life in equal measures. Many HR bods regurgitate this, primarily from HR manuals and trendy blogs and to discredit it could be considered sacrilege. To dispel this wonderfully viral myth, it’s ludicrously impossible for most humans to create this equilibrium. For starters, a large proportion of the UK work 35+ hours per week, so before you get into the detail, you’re faced with this first hurdle.
When each day starts with a dirty nappy, warm milk and coffee before wrestling a toddler who’s kindly trying to help you put your eyeliner on and then arriving at the office with saliva stains on each shoulder, through to managing budgets, a team and a heavy yet impressive workload, it ends with picking up a bogey ridden, sticky child covered in glitter all by deadline, then THERE IS NO BALANCE… unless, it’s stood on one leg, whilst using the other leg to keep a cupboard door shut from your infants exploring hands! This, of course, has become a new talent of mine!
I stepped back to think this through for a moment; to consider what I was trying to achieve, without any societal pollution, and opened my eyes to “integration” as a theory which seemed more achievable than “balance”. This revelation lifted an immense amount of pressure and opened up a more unobstructed view of how life’s complex calculus could be solved.
Nonetheless, it’s not easy and does take some discipline but is entirely liberating when you realise the integration of your different worlds is a much healthier approach for your mind and body. Do we really have to partition these worlds? Does it matter if we do an email on holiday? Does it matter if we start early one day and finish off early another day to take care of some personal items? Only you and your employer can determine this but in my world, agility and integration results in a happier, more productive human, for sure!
However, discipline’s still required. You need to figure out your own discipline or routine but here are some of mine:
- Make the bed. It’s a random one, but it’s the first win of the day!
- Create “white noise” & thinking time. For me, weight training, boxing and music achieve this; it’s my time and no one else’s. I do this at least twice a week.
- Remove time wasters. Do you need to attend hours of meetings per week?
- Identify your circadian rhythms. Work with them to be a more effective version of yourself, i.e. there’s no point carrying out detailed work during an evening if you know you’re more effective at it in the morning.
- Build your team. This being colleagues, advisors, your direct reports, friends and family. Without this, integration wouldn’t be possible. Don’t be blindsided – change is never achieved alone.
So, next time “balance” is thrust in front of you, step back and consider what it is you’re trying to achieve before jumping on the balance bandwagon.
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