A few days ago, some colleagues and I were joking about what we’d had for lunch the last few days. Pretzels, cheese sticks, a diet coke. Last weekend, a colleague texted me to say, have a relaxing weekend. What relaxing? I texted back. I’m at a conference. I’ve had more than my fair share of days that begin at 5:00 a.m. and don’t end until 9:00 p.m. I called my husband around 6:00 one day last week to apologize for being late and asked if I could pick up dinner for him. Late? he said. I wasn’t expecting you until 7:30 or so. I laughed and said, let’s just assume 7:30 from here on out, and if I’m home earlier, it’ll be a surprise.
No, this is not balance. Almost every woman I know that is invested in her career works like this. Is it a bad thing? Why do we insist, especially for women, that we balance our lives. If I’m enjoying the work I’m doing, isn’t it okay if I’m committing 12 hours to it on a particular day? Does “balance” come from the whole “we can have it all” idea so that you’re balancing work with keeping house, caring for kids, etc.? What am I balancing work with?
The thing is that for most of the people I know that invest a lot of time in their work, it’s not all the time. It’s not every day. Every job has its intense moments throughout the year. Sometimes those moments coincide with intense moments in your personal and family life and that can stretch a person really thin. I like to think about balance more holistically than considering whether how much I work in a particular day or week. I like to think about over the course of a few months or even a year. Summers, for me, for example, are much quieter. I find I’m able to exercise most days and cook whole meals. Fall is always particularly busy. Winter slows down a little, and spring goes up and down.
I try not to get bent out of shape about missing a workout. I try not to listen to those articles (or worse, people!) that insist I’m ruining myself or my family by not having a meal on the table every night or a perfectly clean house. I have high standards for myself across the board, and I know that’s where my stress sometimes comes from, when I’m not meeting those standards in one area or another. I just have to remind myself that there’s an ebb and flow to these things. I really can’t be Martha Stewart when I’m running on all cylinders at work. Some people talk about sending the message that we (women) can’t have it all. It’s true, we can’t have it all at once, but if you’re willing the do a little juggling, sacrifice a clean house and a homemade meal every once in awhile, you can have it most of the time. Define your own balance and don’t let others define it for you.