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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Don't Juggle; Make Choices.
A question coaches are asked a lot is, “How can I juggle work and life?” In my experience, when I am asked this question, my client is feeling like they are taking on too much in one area of their lives. I’d like to start by sharing some stories that I think readers may relate to, especially as the holidays approach.
John is an executive at a large company, who tells me he spends a minimum of 14 hours working, at least three hours driving, 4 hours sleeping and the rest taking care of his living needs. Part of his 14-hour workday is spent texting/emailing, starting before 5am most mornings and ending close to midnight most evenings. His phone rings constantly, often during dinner with his family. He almost always answers. His wife and family rarely see him, and even when he’s physically present, he’s frequently mentally distracted.
Jessica has created a habit where she ends her day in the office at 4:30pm so that she can be home for the kids in the evening. She and her husband tag team to get the kids to various sports and commitments in the evenings, all while juggling the dogs, dinner prep and other household/family needs. After the kids are in bed, typically between 9:30 – 10pm, Jessica will log back onto her computer and “catch up” on the work she missed by leaving the office at 4:30. She typically works until well past midnight, sometimes later. She sees her husband daily yet doesn’t feel that they have any truly meaningful interactions.
Emily is just returning to work after giving birth to her second baby boy. Her oldest is about to turn 3 years old, so she is juggling the demands of two young children at home and reentering a director-level job at a larger company. She has been late for every morning meeting this week, realizing it’s hard to get out of the house on time and still meet the needs of her kids. She uses the mother’s room every three hours while at the office and has been leaving every day at 6pm. Once home, she is too exhausted to log onto her work email, and yet her work is just getting started at home. Nights mean getting up every 4-5 hours to feed the newborn baby, leaving her sleep deprived the following day.
As you read these scenarios, I imagine you can see yourself or someone you know in one (or more) of them. The point being is that we all have something that we are juggling; things that we are trying to “keep in the air”. Yet, from my perspective, here is what we are doing wrong. We are using the wrong word.
Life is not about juggling work and our personal lives. When we juggle, we are continually trying our hardest to keep everything in the air, to keep all the pieces moving and let nothing drop. If we do drop something, we run the risk of it breaking – and everything else falling out of place too. When we juggle like this, we assume that we can exert energy indefinitely to keep each object in the air, throwing just right to maintain the rhythm and always catching. We are aiming for perfection in keeping all the objects exactly where they need to be. I don’t know anyone, professional juggler or not, that can maintain an endless amount of energy. Eventually something falls out of rhythm. Eventually the cycle breaks.
What if we didn’t use a juggling metaphor for our professional and personal lives – or even balancing for that matter. What if we thought about life as a series of choices, choices that we control? If we say yes to this, we say no to something else. What if juggling or balancing was simplified by allowing us to make choices? And, to help us make choices, what if we just need better questions?
As you think about making choices that impact your professional and/or personal life, consider asking yourself:
The answers to these questions are different for everyone and that’s okay. Life isn’t about juggling or balancing – life is about choices – accepting that they are necessary, and being comfortable with the ones we make.