Jul 21, 2008
Pen To Paper: Getting Clear On What Work-Life Balance Means To You
Last post we talked about the 7 fear triggers that keep us from making progress on creating a work-life balance. Trigger #7 focused on the confusion that comes when we’re not really sure where to start. Commenter James Chartrand from Men with Pens sums up what a lot of people are feeling on that post:
If we don’t know what balance truly is (i.e., more money, more happy… what does that mean, really?), then how do we know what our goal is? Without a goal, how can we take that first step? Or, should we rather accept we have no clue where we’re going but it has to be better than going nuts or dropping dead from exhaustion?
It’s Ok To Have No Clue (As Long As You Start Looking For Them)
Confusion is a real pain in the ass, because it gets you all locked up inside. With so many directions to choose from, where do you start going? What if you choose the wrong direction? What if you screw it up? These thoughts (and many more) spin around in our heads every day, contributing to that sense of helplessness that makes us feel like getting balanced is an impossible ideal. Rather than take action, we avoid it and just try to keep up with the pace of our life as it is.
The tricky thing about being uncertain is how the uncertainty itself can paralyze us from making the time to get clarity on the problem in the first place - the ultimate catch-22. The antidote to that paralysis, fortunately, is something you already have available to you: Pen and paper. (Or, for the more tech-addicted, a text file / Word document / whatever.) That’s all you need to start searching for clues to what balance means to you.
As James said above, it’s hard to take that first step when you don’t have a goal in mind. So let’s talk about how you can start hunting down the clues that will give you a clearer idea of what you’d actually have to do to feel more balanced.
First, Draw A Big Line
Take that piece of paper you grabbed and draw a big ‘ol line down the middle of it, separating it into a left and a right side. On the left side, write “What I Want” and on the right side scribble down “What I Don’t Want.” We’re going to ignore the “What I Want” side and focus on the other one to begin with, for two reasons.
- Reason #1: “What You Want” Can Stress You Out. If you’ve read the 7 fear triggers post, you’ll see that “Overwhelm” is trigger #1. If you add a whole bunch of things you want to your list, essentially you’re adding new goals to your plate – and if you’re already struggling to keep up with it all right now this is just going to stress you out. It’s probably the main reason most people don’t have a clear idea of what balance means to them in the first place. It’s just a list of more things you don’t have time for.
- Reason #2: “What You Want” Can Create “Writer’s Block.” There’s an old saying that says there’s nothing quite as frightening as a blank sheet of paper. It’s true. Face a blank page, and it can be intimidating. It’s where the whole “what if I write stuff that’s not good enough, or stupid, or wrong, or impossible?” thing comes into play. On the other hand, thinking of “What I Don’t Want” is easy. You can tap into that vein pretty simply, because you think about these things on a regular basis. Every day, every week, every year, there are things you wish were different. Things you hate dealing with in life. You already know what you don’t want, to a large degree.
Next, Let Your Frustrations Out
Oh yeah, it’s time for some cathartic purging here. Think of the things about your life that you just don’t want to experience anymore, things that throw everything out of balance. Your list might include things like:
- “I don’t want to miss having dinner with my family anymore.”
- “I don’t want to work so much overtime.”
- “I don’t want my kids to feel like I don’t spend enough time with them.”
- “I don’t want to stay out of shape.”
- “I don’t want to keep putting off time for me.”
- “I don’t want to have a job that can screw up my schedule at the last minute.”
- “I don’t want to go another year without a vacation.”
- “I don’t want to feel so damned rushed all the time.”
- “I don’t want to put off X / Y / Z / Whatever any longer.”
You get the idea. Let the internal pressure you’re feeling clue you in to what you feel like you’re missing, because that’s going to give you a lot of clarity. Sometimes when we think of “what we want” we’re really thinking of what we imagine might make us happy … and we all know from experience that getting what we want doesn’t always give us what we thought it would. Instead, tap into what you know you don’t want, and then you can get to the next step …
Decode The Pain And Get Some Clarity
In the next post of this work-life balance series we’ll get into how to use what you don’t want to figure out what you really do want (hint: it’s not just “finding the opposite”). For now, just start with the exercise above to figure out where your work-life balance pain points are. Keep that paper handy, and as the day goes by, be conscious of times when you feel pressured, stressed, and under-the-gun, and see if there’s more that you want to add there. As you become more attuned to thinking about what you don’t want, you’ll uncover more areas of your life that you want to tweak.
Give this a shot, and be really honest with yourself as you do it. And if you feel like it’s stressing you out to focus on all these things you don’t want, remind yourself that this is only the beginning, and what you’re uncovering here will be the ammunition you need to move your life in the direction you want it to go.
Take 15 minutes today with a pen and a piece of paper and you’ll be on your way. (And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog by email or RSS to make sure you catch all the upcoming posts in this work-life balance series).
See you in the comment section,