What is Life Balance & is it Achievable for Everyone?

by Kelly on November 2, 2008 · 29 comments

in Inspiration. Happiness. Self Improvement,Parenting. Relationships

life-balance.JPG

This post is late coming due to my technical issues and temporary loss of mind. Stacey, you’re welcome to use it for your writing project if you want to. If not, that’s cool too.

When Stacey of Create a Balance posted about her life balance group writing project, my first thought was “great idea, shame I know absolutely nothing about life balance.”

I said as much to Stacey, but she convinced me to try and put my own spin on the topic, particularly since I struggle so much with it. And what a struggle it’s been. In truth, until very, very recently, I would have told you I have no idea what life balance is.

None. I’m not exaggerating.

For this reason I decided to consult a book by Paul Wilson, who is often cited as the Guru of Calm. In Perfect Balance: Create Time and Space for All Parts of Your Life, Paul defines PERFECT BALANCE as

The “feeling of everything being just right and making sense, when you perform at your best and most productive without stress or distraction, when you are motivated and inspired, when you can relax and enjoy the company of others, when you have all the time in the world…”

I read that and my first thought is, “Does anyone feel this way?” Because I certainly never have.

For as long as I can remember I have been one of those people who throws herself from one extreme to the other. When I was younger it was 12 hour days as a product manager balanced with boozing, popping pills and snorting coke until I didn’t know whether I was waking up or going to bed.

Then I spent years where I achieved some real meaning in my life, but there was still no balance. I was either: working, studying and saving; or taking off backpacking for 5-6 months. This usually involved lying around on beaches, drinking beer, meeting new friends and exploring temples and markets. After recharging my batteries, I’d inevitably return home and start the treadmill all over again.

I guess there is a kind of balance in this; a SEE-SAW EFFECT. But when I was in work mode my most common feeling was exhaustion, which is hardly a sustainable state.

Trying To Be The Perfect Mother Reduced My Life Balance To An All-Time Low

At 32, after years of this tiring, but at times exhilarating SEE-SAW, I embarked on what would become the most unbalanced phase of my life. Motherhood.

For the first time I went from being a die-hard independent; a woman who had been completely self- driven for 14 years, to a woman who gave up everything to raise my son.

Yes, EVERYTHING. All exercise, self care, my job, my own money, my LIFE outside of Bunny.

I was so determined to be the PERFECT MOTHER. To get everything “right”. To be there for every second of my son’s life. To have him know he was my top priority; the one person he could always count on.

To me, being a good mother meant sacrifice. Lots and lots of sacrifice.

If you’re thinking there’s a happy ending here and I’m going to deliver a bullet point list of how I turned my life around in 10 easy steps, well you’re going to be disappointed. I do see the error of my ways and I now understand that HAPPY MOMMY = HAPPY CHILD. But to say, I’ve got it all worked out, that would be overly optimistic.

Is Life Balance Achievable?

This group writing project has come at an interesting time because I have been consumed in recent months with the need to balance my responsibilities to others with my responsibilities to myself.

It has been an at times heart wrenching struggle as I have questioned whether I am even cut out for motherhood. I have so many personal ambitions and a free spirit that does not like to be confined. How do I reconcile this with my current responsibilities and the needs of the family I adore?

I have asked myself many times what I really want out of life and so far my ideal picture of life balance involves:

– my time being evenly split between work/projects that are creatively fulfilling and spending quality time with my child

– having satisfying relationships while also taking quiet time to continue with my personal development and spiritual studies, or just do nothing and recharge

– to have some financial security balanced with a high degree of freedom and a respect for my adventurous spirit

– to live mostly in a state of inner peace

– to spend more time in the present and enjoying my physicality and less time in my head

When I read those words, I can’t help but think I’m searching for nirvana. Doesn’t everyone want this kind of life, and realistically how many of us are going to get it? I have considered the notion that maybe the SEE-SAW is the best I can hope for. Maybe I’m just built this way – a woman of extremes.

But then I started reading Perfect Balance: Create Time and Space for All Parts of Your Life and two of Paul Wilson’s quotes leaped out at me:

“Everything you need for a perfectly balanced life you already have. There’s nothing new you need, there’s nothing you have to give up. All you have to do is rediscover and refocus the strengths you have now.”

“Your life will be as balanced as you make up your mind for it to be.”

Aha – LIGHT BULB MOMENT. In an instant I understood where I have been going wrong.

Achieving life balance is about making MORE than just physical changes

Too often people associate life balance with a more productive combination of work, family, spiritual and social needs. They caught up in thinking about the physical changes needed to improve their lives. But what about the internal changes?

Life Balance is MORE than Productivity and Goal Setting and “Doing What You Love”

Meaningful life balance starts with CHOICES. With seeing that you are not a victim of circumstance. You choose how to spend your time, so before you start moving the pieces of your life, ask yourself:

What choices are you currently making? ie. where are your energies currently focused?

Are these choices in line with your values and priorities?

Where do you WANT to spend your time and focus your energies?

Can you choose to look at your life differently, see all that’s right and feel good about it NOW?

I’m still moving these ideas around in my head, but straight away I can see that my attitude to my life is my biggest problem. I tend to wish I had the freedom of someone who doesn’t have children and I get stuck on the restrictions that come with motherhood. I want to be able to travel and concentrate on my writing like I could “in the good old days”.

But what’s the point of thinking this way? I AM a mother. I AM a wife. I’m GLAD I made BOTH these choices, and I have never regretted them. I envy aspects of my husband’s career driven life, but wen it comes down to it, I wouldn’t swap with him and miss out on the bond I have with Bunny. And if I could go back and do my life over, I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere different now.

So, starting today I’m going to get real about my life. I am a mother of a young son and he needs me. I’m happy he needs me. This means some of my personal goals will have to take a backseat sometimes, and life will flow a lot smoother if I don’t expend energy resisting that.

I guess the lesson is that life balance is an ever changing puzzle. Priorities today will not necessarily be the same a year from now, so I should try going with the flow more and judging myself less. I can only do the best that I can, and for once maybe I should tell myself that my best is good enough.

How successful do you think you are with life balance? Are you happy with your choices? If not – is it your priorities that need to change or your attitude?

Photo by greenapplegrenade

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jenny Mannion 11.03.08 at 1:34 am

Hi Kelly,
Brilliant post that touches on a very important issue MANY at home moms face but do not talk about. I struggled with the same issues and I believe they were PART of the reason I became sick. I felt very guilty about questioning staying home or longing to travel or pursue a career. I will tell you it gets easier. My youngest just went to full day kindergarten and I now have most of the day to get stuff done and pursue a career. BOTH my children got GLOWING reviews at their parent/teacher conference and yes, I DO take credit for how well behaved and adjusted they are – not full credit but I am VERY grateful I was able to stay home with them and give them the attention they needed. I was told my son in the fourth grade is “Kind to everyone, finds the good in everyone and everything and is very positive” he also got glowing “school reports” but the personal comments on him meant the most to me and I told him so. He said “Of course mom — you always talk to me about the law of attraction and that everyone has good in them — how ELSE would I act?” YOU by spending time with your son are giving him valuable life lessons in love and life.

That being said it is important to remember WHO Kelly is. Mommy is an important Role you play but it is NOT you. Get out for date nights with your husband, talk with friends on the phone or during walks or nights out, make other mommy friends so you can have some SWAP kids time — Bunny gets a play date and you get to go out and be YOU. Take an exercise class, go for walks, do something YOU love to do, take 5 minutes for meditation before, during or after the shower…. time is limited but even taking 2 minutes a few times a day to think about what IS good, read an inspiring post or just to take some deep breaths will keep you connected with YOU.

SARK’s quote put this is perspective for me and is one I need to still remind myself of frequently: “You Have Enough, You Do Enough, You ARE Enough.” As a recovering perfectionist I still deal with the “life balance” issue but keeping in site the things and people I love and being mindful to “not be so hard on myself” and be in a state of gratitude HELP a TREMENDOUS AMOUNT! Didn’t mean to ramble…. Feel good Kelly and I am VERY grateful you wrote about this important topic from a “mommy” perspective”!

Love, Jenny

Jenny Mannion’s last blog post..Art — Spiritual and Healing

2 Stacey / Create a Balance 11.03.08 at 1:43 am

YEAH! I LOVE THIS POST! Thank you so much for contributing to the Life Balance Group Writing Project. It’s Sunday morning, I’m being pulled into a kid’s hot wheel car race, my little one is jumping off the walls, and everyone is hungry…so I’ll be back later to comment more on this INCREDIBLE post. Your honestly is priceless and will open doors for other mothers to also be true to their authentic voices.

Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..Is That a Pumpkin in Your Belly or are You Just Happy to See Me?

3 BC Doan 11.03.08 at 2:16 am

This is a wonderful post Kelly! I was an at home mother for years, and totally put myself behind others. But like you said, life is ever changing, and we will just have to do the best we can for that day. I’m happier now with my choices, since I’m more comfortable in my own skin, too!

4 Vered - MomGrind 11.03.08 at 7:38 am

I tend to look for perfection too, which is the main problem in my opinion. Your life can’t be balanced if everything you do needs to be done perfectly. I am slowly learning that. I don’t aspire to be a perfect mother/ wife/ hostess anymore. I don’t aspire to be perfect in anything I do. It helps. But when I started blogging, I spent too much time blogging, and since I was unwilling to spend less time with my kids, I gave up on getting enough sleep which is of course a very bad idea. I’m slowly re-defining how much I am willing to put into blogging, and it’s less than I was willing to put initially.

I’m still looking for my balance, but I’m also happier than I ever was before, so I guess I’m doing SOMETHING right.

Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Halloween Special: Creepy Costumes

5 Kelly 11.03.08 at 7:52 am

@Jenny
Thank you for taking the time to write me such a heartfelt comment and share your own struggles with life balance and motherhood. think so many women don’t talk about their feelings or even acknowledge the selfless invisibility that can come with motherhood. I love how you talk about the joy that comes with teaching our children about life and then seeing the benefits pay off in that. To be honest, I think I’m probably enjoying Bunny more now than I ever have as he’s really starting to ask interesting questions and I cherish the time I get to spend just talking to him about life, friendship and the way the world works. Getting an insight into a young and creatively, spiritually free mind is an awesome thing.

@Stacey
I am so glad you like it. I know I’m hideously late, and besides the technical issues I really struggled to articulate myself on this topic because its such a big one for me. But I feel so much better now I’ve written it.

@B.C Doan
That’s the one part of aging I’m enjoying. The becoming more comfortable with my choices and myself. And I do just need to remember that I still have a whole lfie ahead of me. Some things that have to wait now will come around again later. You can’t do everything at once and it puts so much needless pressure on yourself to expect differently.

@Vered
Yes, that nasty P word. I’ve been stuck with the “trying to be perfect” curse for my entire life, and the funny thing is just when you think you’e got it licked, you see some proof of where it’s still working. Another area where you beat yourself up and make yourself feel bad for not being good enough. It’s horrible, and I look forward to the day when I can honestly say I don’t do that anymore.

Kelly

6 Lance 11.03.08 at 7:53 am

Kelly, this is a very honest and refreshing article on achieving life balance. It makes me appreciate my wife more, for the sacrifices she has accepted so she could stay home with our children when they were young, and for being home for them now when they return from school. You have hit upon an area that is oft not fully appreciated. There are many sacrifices that come with parenthood, and especially with motherhood. Life balance is an ever-changing thing for all of us, and having children is one of those things that really forces us to re-think what’s important in our lives. Though it is not always easy, you taking the time to really nurture Bunny – is a gift that will last forever. And, I think you hit on it toward the end – getting real about your life – and looking at what is truly important “now”. When we look through this lens, we do see what we value, where we should spend our time, and what is very important in our lives. And with that, I’m off to play some basketball with my two oldest children – because they mean the world to me, and they are an integral part of my life right now – thanks for the reminder Kelly…

Lance’s last blog post..Sunday Thought For The Day

7 Roz Mitchell 11.03.08 at 11:23 am

Balance Kelly is a hard one as we want to cram so much into our lives,especially now as there is alot of choices .
As we age those choices do become easier to manage as long as we listen to our internal voice,and realise when things are not running smoothly something must be wrong in the way we are managing our lives.So it becomes easier to stop and change in mid air and do what feels comfortable .
The bottom line is dont beat yourself up you are doing what you are meant to be doing right now so enjoy and in another hour ,day,month,year you will be doing what you are meant to do then. So congratulations on the insight you have discovered and enjoy your life and where you are at.Life is the most wonderful gift that anyone of us has been given.

8 Evelyn Lim 11.03.08 at 11:45 am

Wow!!! You did an excellent job with this post. Full of authenticity, sharing your heartfelt emotions and darkest moments. Love it!!

I can relate a lot to what you have experienced. It took me a while to realize that deep down inside, my stronger intent was not about the material pursuits that I thought I had. I had always wanted a family with kids. I wouldn’t give up my kids for the world. I would want every chance to bond with them. The only way to keep myself from becoming mentally bored is to start an online business, share my thoughts and publish my findings. And what a ride it has been!!

Creating life balance, in the end, is a very personal thing. How much time you want to allocate for each part to health, relationships, family, etc is a unique combination. There is no right or wrong but it is important to make conscious decisions and place more emphasis on what we value most.

Evelyn Lim’s last blog post..Trick Or Treat?

9 Cath Lawson 11.03.08 at 2:26 pm

Hi Kelly – this is a brilliant post. I’m glad you’re not going to give us a lecture on how you miraculously turned your life round. I like your idea of focusing on the fact that you made those choices yourself. And I think the fact that we’re at least working towards achieving some balance is important – we shouldn’t be stressing about not being able to do it all at once. And you have been doing that. Maybe things haven’t been moving quickly enough for you and you’ve yet to achieve all your goals – particularly making money out of things you love doing. But you have been working towards them. You’ve made a lot of progress with your novel, you write a popular blog and you still have plenty of time to spend with your son.

I’m achieving more balance than I was but I still have a long way to go. I resented the time I lost when I couldn’t work because of illness. And I was still ill when my kids were born. So when I went into my fire and flood business, I was determined to catch up on a lot of the stuff I’d missed. But I had no balance in my life at all. I barely saw my kids, I didn’t really have a social life anymore – I didn’t even have enough time to get a good nights sleep.

Now, I’ve changed things a lot. I’m making nowhere near as much money as I was before, but I’m not spending all my time working anymore. I’m not where I want to be yet – but working towards it is a start.

Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Don’t Draw Your Ideas From The Big Melting Pot Of Confusion

10 Kelly 11.03.08 at 7:48 pm

@Lance
I’m glad to hear I’ve made you appreciate your wife more. the more appreciation moms get, the happier families are, I think. MusicMan tries to understand what the past few years of changes have been like for me, but I know he struggles to get my down times sometimes. Actually, our Spain trip was very good for showing him what my daily life is like. By the end of that trip Musicman said he had a fuller sense of what it’s like to raise a child all the time. Enjoy your basketball.

@Roz
I am glad I have choices, but it’s true that sometimes it makes life more complicated. As you say, listening to our internal voice and being kinder to ourselves when we have frustrations is key.

@Evelyn
I agree that there is no right or wrong combination for life balance as long as we are taking care of our children’s needs. I have friends who went back to full time work very quickly after having kids because they had worked hard to develop challenging and fulfilling careers and I think that’s fine if it’s what you want. It won’t be easy to balance all those balls, but then again if you want it enough you just have to muddle your way through as best you can. I think that’s all any mother does really.

And I know what you mean about needing your own business (or in my case novel/blog) to keep yourself sane. I think all moms should have their own hobbies/projects in addition to their failies.

@Cath
Sounds like you’re on the right track Cath. It’s understandable after such a traumatic event that you’d feel a need to feel independent and secure and maybe you’d lose sight of the family values. But luckily we are not any single event or period in our life, and the main thing is now you are working out what’s really important to you and going for it. I look forward to watching your succeed :)

Kelly

11 Maya 11.04.08 at 1:26 am

Hi kelly,

You touched on something so important! I am a mom and I know what you mean. But I love motherhood so much. I am learning to make all sorts of compromises to be able to spend quality time with my little ones. With 2 little girls under two I learned my lessons early but the hard way ;). But all of it has not stopped me from being me – I am about to start my internet based company and have loads of work ahead of me ….I hope I take the right decisions and continue to be happy :)
You say you are “over-educated and under-employed” in your stumble profile ….Haha …pretty much sums it up for me too but I am trying to keep some happy balance here :)

Maya’s last blog post..Embracing our cultural identities at work and in life can only be good for us

12 Marelisa 11.04.08 at 9:07 am

Hi Kelly: I’m an all or nothing kind of person by default as well, which I find has brought a lot of stress into my life of my own making. I think my third year in law school was the most balanced I’ve ever been in my life, and come to think of it, it was also the happiest I’ve been. I’m going to have to sit down and analyze what I was doing (I was going to class and doing well, I had an internship with a judge, I was exercising 6 days a week, I was meditating daily, I was going to museums and to the Kennedy Center on a regular basis, and so on). I guess the good news is, if I did it once, I could probably do it again, right? :-)

Marelisa’s last blog post..10 Snazzy Ideas on Simplicity

13 Davina 11.04.08 at 4:24 pm

Hi Kelly. I LOVE this post! I agree with the notion that Perfection does not equal Balance. Staying balanced really does keep a person on their toes; as you noted, it changes from one day to the next. My challenge is to be flexible and LET it change when it needs to. I’m constantly re-evaluating priorities and sometimes it gets freakin tiring!

Davina’s last blog post..A Ghostly Life Experience

14 MizFit 11.04.08 at 11:34 pm

I need to keep believing it is :)

to do my dayjobwork and for myself.

fabulous post.

MizFit’s last blog post..Thank you therapy or how to take a compliment.

15 Kelly 11.05.08 at 6:54 am

@Maya
First time commenter – how exciting. Welcome to SHE-POWER! Two little girls under 2 and starting an internet based company – wow, I take my hat off to you. And in the mommy years I think there are lots of us who are over educated and under employed. But as you say kids are so worth the compromises. Hope to see you again :)

@Marelisa
Sounds like you were living fully in the moment and enjoying all that you life had to offer. And I think if we can remember the importance of this, then absolutely we can live happy and well balanced lives. I think I need to post reminders all over my house “Happiness lies in the present”.

@Davina
Forego perfection and strive for flexibility. I think that’s a mantra for life right there :)

@Mizfit
Thank you. And from your blog it sounds to me like you have got this life balance thing down pat :)

Kelly

16 Stacey / Create a Balance 11.05.08 at 1:10 pm

Okay, I’m back. I believe all moms struggle with life balance and with being a mom. I think some moms are better at finding it (or are in denial) but I think we all struggle. I believe life balance has more to do with awareness and less to do with fitting your life into a perfect puzzle. Kelly, your awareness is grand and I honor your awareness.
I love being a mom. I love my children beyond measure. That doesn’t mean that sacrifice comes easily. My mom would tell you that “this too shall pass” – that the phases of motherhood change as your child grows more and more independent.

And I agree 100% that life balance starts with choices! I have to run again…my little one is chanting for more “eensy weensy spider” songs and my oldest one forgot to brush his teeth (again).

Thank you, again, for writing this post.

Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..Top Ten Signs I May Always Look Pregnant

17 Robin 11.05.08 at 2:28 pm

Hi Kelly – I loved reading this article – I really struggled with the topic (for the writing project) for a while, too. In my life I’ve tended to go overboard with things and get intense about them, or else not feel motivated to do anything.

You know how you said something about the freedom of people who don’t have children… I’ve noticed that people with kids often say things like that – I haven’t had kids but I haven’t always experienced freedom by a long shot. In fact – I used to see my friends with kids (often the same ones who said that) doing all sorts of things I could not do because I had no money or I was sick or I was too lonely and depressed or whatever. I think many people with kids think that if they hadn’t had them, their life would be like it was before they had them, whereas it wouldn’t – they would have got older and stuff would have happened. Hope this makes sense.

(as I write this the news has come through that Obama has won)

Robin’s last blog post..How To Find Happiness

18 SpaceAgeSage -- Lori 11.06.08 at 1:52 am

What a wonderful sharing of your heart and struggles — looks like you touched a cord in many with this. Running against the wind seems to take up a lot of our time, and then we get tired and search for meaning elsewhere.

SpaceAgeSage — Lori’s last blog post..Butterflies and bricks

19 Kelly 11.06.08 at 6:32 am

@Stacey
I do think many moms deny having any troublesome emotions about the sacrifices they make for their families. It’s like we still think that we supposed to just take all this change and giving and suck it up without thought for ourselves. And I think you’re right awareness is the key and not expecting the impossible from ourselves. We’re all so different so it makes sense that we are going to have different needs as a parent and struggle with different things. We need to remember that how we feel and what we need is okay and we don’t have to justify it to others who might not feel the same way. Your mom sounds like a wise woman – I probably need to put “this too shall pass” on my bedroom mirror or something so I always remember to breathe and let go.

@Robin
I do get what you’re saying. Things do change all the time in life so freedoms can be curtailed by other circumstances other than just kids. I guess in my case I had already overcome a lot and come back from a nervous breakdown and anxiety attacks. Before I had Bunny I was at this really amazing place in my life where I had actually embraced myself and who I was and what I wanted. I never expected that self knowledge would then get thrown out the window once I had a child or that I would find it so much harder to maintain that momentum with my own dreams, but it did. So that’s why I say I have pined for the old me. It took me so much pain and struggle to get to a place of feeling like I had some answers and a grand life ahead and then I ended up back at the bottom of the heap, scared and confused and feeling like another person again.

@SpaceAgeSage
I like that – running against the wind. Yes, i think most of us do this before we give in and start working with life. let that wind pick us up and fly us to the stars. Hopefully I’m getting there :)

Kelly

20 Kim Woodbridge 11.07.08 at 1:18 am

I appreciate that you admit questioning if you were even cut out to be a mother. I’ve found that if I admit anything less that complete joy and fulfillment that I am looked at as if I am sort of monster or a bad mother. I think most women feel this way but refuse to admit it.

I gave up everything to stay home with my daughter for her first 3.5 years. I’m glad that I had that time with her but looking back on it it was not the right choice for me. I lost too much of my independence and confidence. Of course, now people tell me she is so awesome because I spent that time with her. I suppose I could take credit for it but I think that she’s just an great person and would be not matter what I had done.

Finding a balance? I guess I just refuse to feel guilty when I do something that is just for me.

Kim Woodbridge’s last blog post..Twitter Direct Messages – Is this Personal and Private Information?

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