Chasing the Work Life Unicorn

At a recent energy conference I asked a woman who shall remain nameless about work life balance. She seems to have it all, juggling a high powered energy career jet setting around the globe, two beautiful kids, and a handsome husband. She looked at me blankly and said “what’s that?” She shared that when she is at work she feels guilty for not being with her kids, and when she is with her family, she feels guilty for not working. This is a burden not exclusive to high powered executives.

The majority of us often feel conflicted by the duties of our different roles. I have a puppy, a husband, a mother, sisters, professors, and many others that I feel accountable to. I want to do a good job in everything that I am doing, and sometimes it feels a little overwhelming. For the last year I felt I was running around at full speed trying to do it all and taking on other projects along the way. Finally there came a moment when I realized that rather than trying to do it all, I had to stop and ask myself what I wanted to do.

List It

Recently I started to write it down. I make a list each day of three things that have to get done that day to ensure I do not go to bed feeling guilty. Obviously it does not happen every day, but it helps me focus my efforts. Apps like Wunderlist and ToDoIst help me to organize larger projects but sometimes just a post-it perched on my monitor as I sit at my desk ensures I knock things off. By getting it on a list that I can see and hold, it helps to alleviate the mental dialogue of everything I have to do and what I could be forgetting. Also remember to be realistic and place only action items on your list (you can have other lists for larger aspirations). Don’t forget to purge your list at the end of the day, and start a new one each morning. If you don’t, most likely you will feel so overwhelmed by all the things you didn’t do the day before that you likely avoid your to-do-list altogether. Keep it simple, and start fresh each day.

Work It Out

The number one excuse people use when asked about exercise is that they are too busy and simply do not have the time. Surprisingly increasing your physical activity will increase the amount of energy you have to expend, and also elevate your mood. The Mayo Clinic has done extensive work on the benefits of managing stress with exercise and concluded it increases endorphin's, improves your mood, and functions as a mediation in motion. Next time you have a stressful day consider supplementing a screwdriver with the StairMaster, your brain and booty will thank you.

Avoid Vampires: In his book Emotional Vampires, Dr. Albert J. Bernstein goes into detail about people who drain both your time and your energy. The most malignant kind can leave you feeling unworthy, and make you feel bad about yourself after interacting with them. Some indications that you have just interacted with an emotional vampire is a sudden onset of fatigue, your mood declines, or anxiety and depression ensues. I have made a list of the common personality types I have come, this list is by means exhaustive, but serves as a good starting point of behaviors to look out for.

  • The Narcissist : The person who thinks everything is about them. They lack empathy and do not have the capacity to exhibit unconditional love, everything has to be their way.

  • The Victim : This type of vampire lives by the motto, poor me. The entire world is conspiring against them and they always have an objection ready as to why any one of a million solutions to their large list of problems is flawed.

  • The Controller: They need to dictate and control those around them. They often dismiss the emotions of others, and are experts and dominating others and putting them down.

  • The Constant Talker: This type of vampire only engages in conversation to give themselves as opportunity talk. They do not listen and cannot wait to spew their word vomit given the opportunity.

  • The Drama Queen: Even the smallest incident will be escalated to an off the charts incident.

Done is Always Better Then Perfect

I have spent so much time working on an item that I missed the deadline. As a recovering perfectionist and aspiring MBA I can attest to the fact that done is always better than perfect. By forcing yourself to finish you actually give yourself more time to go back and edit the things that really matter.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Who among us has not set out to achieve Beyonce’s body only to abandon ship two hours into the Master Cleanse despite filling your fridge with lemons. The point is to start small and build from there. Our progress is often compounded over time but we need to remember to make simple changes. Try introducing one initiative as a time into your life and eventually add in additional adaptations. For example if you want to lose weight force yourself to drink more water setting a SMART goal of drinking a specific number of glasses of water.

If something is stressing me out, I ask myself why I am doing it and if the end goal is worthy I list it. I might go to the gym and give myself a little more time to let the subject marinate in my mind but eventually I force myself to roll up my sleeves and knock it out. I am far from living a balanced life, but I can say that using some of the tactics listed above I feel a tad more relaxed and I take that to mean I am heading one step at a time in the right direction.

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