Oh, balance. That elusive state of Zen-like being. The one in which I find plenty of time to attend to the needs of home, work, family, friends, and myself. I have often heard others say that adding just one or two more hours to the day would solve time challenges and allow them to achieve balance. I suggest that doing so would simply provide more hours to fill.
Please allow this blog post to serve as your personal invitation to my “balance does not exist” bandwagon where we will comfort each other with the understanding that balance is not elusive but, rather, a downright impossibility. As I have advanced in my career, I have found striving to achieve balance just another stress-inducing task on my to-do list. I once believed that I could do it all … I could simultaneously be the mother of year, the student affairs professional of the year, the spouse of the year, the daughter of the year, and the friend of the year. Turns out that – even on my best days – I can maybe be the spouse of the day or even the daughter of the week, but achieving my maximum potential across all of my roles on any consistent basis is just not possible. Turns out that balance is bunk.
So, what’s a wife/mother/professional/daughter/woman to do? I don’t balance, I integrate.
For me, integration means that sometimes my family takes priority, sometimes my career takes priority, sometimes my spouse takes priority, and sometimes my personal needs take priority. I’m willing to bet that we all juggle our lives this way, but I don’t know that we accept this approach as valid and sustainable when balance has been the gold standard for so many for so long. Integration is not fool proof, of course, as my roles do have a tendency to come into conflict with one another, but thinking about my responsibilities from this perspective helps me cope.
I learned one of my new favorite tricks from Jennifer Keup, my fellow blogger, peer mentor, and cherished friend. Both Jennifer and I travel on business, and she shared that she learned early on to prioritize her family when travelling home by NOT working on her final flight. Say what? I had come to savor the uninterrupted work time on my flight home and could not imagine giving that up. However, given that I trust Jennifer and consider her one of the smartest people I know, I thought I might give her approach a try as I had been struggling with arriving home frazzled, stressed out, and exhausted – not in the best state of being to embrace my spouse and son after time away. So, I did it. I spent four solid hours on an airplane reading for pleasure, napping, and just being. It was glorious. I arrived home ready to allow my family to take priority, and we were all better off for it.
Another approach that has become more important as my life has grown more complex is allowing my roles to overlap, where possible. While my institution – a graduate school dedicated to training practitioners in psychology and behavioral health – does not field sports teams or have an extensive performing arts calendar, it does offer lectures and events that are of interest to both my partner and me or, on rare occasion, are toddler appropriate. Viewing a lecture or student event as a “date night” opportunity allows me to be present for students and enjoy grown-up time with my partner. It seems that this approach is common among my peers and requires a reframing of my thinking at times, but it can work.
My final – and most challenging – tactic in working toward integration is to hold myself accountable to delineating between a “must do” – the priority list – versus a “nice to do” – the wish list – in all of my roles. As a mother, I believe that I am responsible for providing a safe, nurturing, and healthy environment for my son. While I might like to commit to a Thursday at 5:30pm enrichment class each week, I simply cannot make that happen on a consistent basis given my professional responsibilities. In the process of letting go of the wish list of modern parenting, I must also permit myself to give up the mommy guilt and fear that my toddler will be disadvantaged without a weekly enrichment class, not an easy task in and of itself.
In my role as vice president, I must attend to matters of risk management, compliance, and policy. It would be nice to carve out time to work on creative projects with my staff or collaborate with my colleagues in Academic Affairs on a new student support initiative, but my priority list does not allow for many wish list projects. Rather, I must focus my work time on meeting the primary obligations of my role to the benefit of my students and my institution.
How do you integrate the many roles you occupy in your life?