Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cutting yourself some slack isn't the same as quitting

My friends think it's funny that I write about work-life balance when I obviously have so little of it myself. I tell them that I really write about juggling work and life, my full-time career and full-on family, which means that when it comes to balance, I'm the fulcrum on which it rests, not the one who actually achieves it.

A few months ago, I was asked to be part of the "You. Reinvented" project at Yahoo!'s Shine. My reinvention? The way I deal with my work-life juggle. My most important tip, though, the one I really struggle with, didn't make it into the video: Allow yourself a treat, cut yourself some slack, and give yourself permission to take a break.

In spite of our parental superpowers, we are simply human. It took me a long time to understand that having to say "this much of my to-do list is just not going to get done today" was OK and sometimes necessary and not at all a sign of failure.

A few nights ago, my husband and I put the little kids to bed and then went to bed ourselves. It was practically unheard of, turning out the lights at 9:15 p.m. without one (or both) of us being sick or without one (or both) of using having to get up for work at something crazy, like 2:30 a.m. I actually started rationalizing the decision -- "It's not that different from going to bed at 3 and sleeping until noon! We both used to do that before we had kids, right?" -- while he tried to nod his head without moving it off of his pillow.

Truth is, we were both just wiped out. And hitting the hay on the crazy-early side was all we could do to keep ourselves sane.

A lot of people ask me, "How do you do it all?" or "How do you keep it all together?" and are surprised when I answer that, sometimes, I just don't. There are days when all of my plans get left in the dust as a herd of other things -- lately, pointless but somehow still important -- stampede over me, clamoring for my immediate attention. Sometimes, I get bogged down trying to navigate minefields sowed with other people's insecurities. I get discouraged when the things I honestly want to do don't get done because I'm either out of time or out of energy. I try to delegate, and discover that my priorities don't mesh with other people's, and it's easier -- or, at least, less frustrating -- to do what I can myself and let the other things slide.

Home- and office-supply provider ACCO Brands is searching for "Everyday Heroes," asking people to share their "keeping it all together" stories for a chance to win $1,000 in home- and office-organization products. Which sounds great, but the real prize, I think, is the inspiration that comes from reading some of these stories: A Head-Start teacher who is keeping it together for his students, a working mom with a special-needs son who says her home office keeps her sane, volunteers who keep it all together to help other people live a better life. They're not compensating me for mentioning this, but their contest does seem perfect for so many of you who read Write. Edit. Repeat. and my other blogs -- The 36-Hour Day, my blog at Yahoo's Shine, and In the Parenthood -- regularly.

Now that I think about it, "keeping it all together" can apply to a lot of things: Your household, your kids' activities and obligations, your career, your sanity. So, readers, how do you keep it all together?

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