Jane Haskell, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Blogs about work, life, and balance are a theme for me. A quest. I hear it is for others, too. I get asked to do workshops on work/life/balance. I wonder why since I feel like I am constantly struggling to make “it” work.
In my last “balance” blog, Balance: Moving toward? Status quo? Juggling?, I stated that moving toward personal balance constantly evolved. And, that I could “feel” balance in my heart. My heart felt a glow. And then, of course, there are the times that my heart does not get or have the feel good glow, but feels like a lump of, well, lead, making me paralyzed or wanting to bolt out of my skin.
And then I remember approaching the concept of balance in earlier blogs from a self-care platform. In Juggling? Or Balance? steps were outlined for creating a self-care plan. One person called this brilliant and wanted to pass it on. I hope he did. This was followed by Moving Toward Balance: Identifying Where You Are Spending Your Time, which outlined how to use your plan by reflecting, at four levels, on what the data reveals to you about you.
And now I feel I have evolved or shifted yet again. I can sense the glow in my heart, that is not overpowered, challenged or compromised my intellectual side.
I read a blog by Doug Silsbee who is a leader is presence-based leadership development. He talks openly about how we all experience frequent periods of overload and stress. Juggling? Or Balance? did not explicitly link the lack of self-care with personal health issues. However, the research certainly supports increased burnout, more negative health consequences and the lurking question (or statement) “what am I doing?” or “get me out of here!”
Silsbee points out that many of us turn to vacation to get back in balance, seeing it as the mythical Holy Grail for work/life balance… for the duration of the vacation. Then, back at work or home, the stressors jump out and ambush us – again! To make it worse, we know this will happen! Silsbee intimates that the restorative self-care we give ourselves has an amazingly short half-life.
There are problems, he says, with work/life balance – or in my case juggling/balance. He says the slash between the two words implies they are different, separate, or can be separated. If I look at my life spirit, work is only one part of my fully engaged life. It is not separated from home, family, volunteering, vacation, and so on. My life is an integrated whole, regardless how much I strive to compartmentalize it.
Then, balance begins to preoccupy my mulling about life. Silsbee says that balance implies stasis, an implication that there is a magic recipe to be figured out. How unrealistic is this? My life, as well as yours and everyone else’s, is filled with complexities that are shifting and changing as I write this blog. Consistency is not a component of a today’s world – at least not mine.
My heart is shifting (beginning to glow) due to a new perspective based on Barry Johnson’s life work in polarities. Silsbee says, let’s look at the life polarities of activity and rest. They are pretty much at opposite ends of my reality. He suggests they can replace work/life balance. He even states that activity and rest contradict each other. And are ever so crucial in a well-lived life. If I focus on one, say activity, then rest can suffer. If I go overboard and focus on rest, then I get all idgity with lack of activity. The interplay or integration of both poles leads to a dynamic individual who can feel and project positive energy in their community – whether it is the community of family, tourist, work, volunteerism, or whatever.
To compound this realization is the insight that whatever ‘solution’ appears today will subtly or monumentally change next week or year, or even tomorrow or later today. Just as we are a dynamic living system that has varying needs for activity and rest, so do all those other uniquely-positioned human systems or group systems (filled with human, relationships, rules, histories, circumstances, etc.).
What I can do for my unique, dynamic, living system (Me!) is to pay attention when I am pushing up against a pole. Where I have moved into that pole so dramatically, that the other pole (usually rest) seems a distant memory. Silsbee suggests it is not choosing one or the other, nor finding a static balance between the two. Rather, it’s a matter of being present to the dynamic tension between the poles, and learning to work skillfully with it.
As I move into this new perspective, I have questions for myself as a worker, volunteer, family member, trainer, coach, friend, mentor….
- What is leading me to be excessively in the activity pole?
- When do I begin to ignore that both activity and rest are important? Not equally important, but together-ly!
- Do I have warning signals or early warning signs of overuse of the Activity pole? Of the Rest pole?
- Who do I trust to help me recognize the warning signals if I am not paying attention to them?
- How do I make it safe to say, it really is not about the myth I call Balance, rather it is about the fluidity of moving between the poles of Activity and Rest?
During this next day, week, and month, I will take one minute to check in with my heart and ask, “Which pole am I in? Am I excessively located in a pole? Adjustment needed?” That moment of pause, builds my capacity and, consequently, the capacity of the community in which I work, volunteer and live.
For more information on effective facilitation techniques or training opportunities, go the UMaine Extension Strengthening Your Facilitation Skills website.