This is a post about work-life balance. It begins with a man blowing in my ear, and it wasn’t my husband.
Okay, enough with the salacious tease. I was at the doctor’s recently having a series of tests because I’m dizzy. It’s technically vertigo that occurs when I turn my head to the left. To figure out why you’re dizzy the doctor puts a device that blows hot air into your ear and sounds like a power drill. Then they put a bunch of probes on your forehead attached to a goofy cap, and you have to follow a colored light on the wall with your eyes without moving your head. This is followed by a traditional hearing test, where you click a device when you hear a tone.
The vertigo came on in mid-February, just as I was wrapping up a brutal three-month stretch of work. I’m a freelancer, and sometimes when it rains it pours. Since I never know when it will rain again, I almost never turn down work. (Recession is an excellent motivator.) In three months, I completed four projects that comprised roughly 100 interviews and 60,000 words (including a book). The vertigo may be related to too much computer screen time, or to stress.
When it rains work, I disappear into the bunker of my office and the rest of my life starts to fall to pieces. The house turns into a disaster, I exercise less, sleep too little, eat too much unhealthy takeout and miss deadlines that don’t relate to work (i.e., my youngest won’t be playing soccer this spring because I didn’t register in time.) My husband and three kids pitch in as much as they can, but it’s kind of like the captain has jumped from the sinking ship and the passengers are bailing water. Even my dog gives me a baleful look when I let her out in the yard instead of taking our usual walk, knowing she’s been gypped.
So I thought it was pretty ironic that when I lost work-life balance, I literally lost my physical balance. If I look up at the ceiling and turn my head to the left, the room flips and spins like I’ve had too many cocktails. If I’m lying down on my left side and stand up suddenly, I walk like I’ve had too many cocktails. Unfortunately, I’m hardly the life of the party.
I’m finding work-life balance is kind of a holy grail in your mid-40s. I try to create a life that accommodates work, family, friends, exercise, spirituality, volunteering and the relentless household chores and kids’ activities. But I think sometimes I’m asking too much of myself. Maybe my life can accommodate all of that — just not at the same time.
When I feel overwhelmed, I do what my mother, who had eleven children, used to do – look to the season ahead and recognize that in time, it will get easier. She would tell herself, “In the spring, this one will be out of diapers; in the fall, this one will be in school.” Then let go and embrace the moment.
Projects eventually end. Work inevitably slows down. And the kids are alright. I managed to take my youngest shopping for an Easter dress yesterday. I made it to the gym this morning, and will meet friends for lunch. Spring arrives on Sunday, and maybe by the summer, I will have regained my balance.
What are your best tips for achieving work-life balance?