work life balance

What Does it Look Like

By Kristen Taylor 

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She asks. A stranger, at this point, since I was initially skeptical about therapy. It is a question dipped in concise innocence that cut so deeply into my vision of anxiety that I felt foolish that I hadn’t thought of such a simple phrase years ago. I spent so much time defining my anxiety, naming it, feeding it and letting it grow into a viable character in my life. I give it a space in my home and it sits next to me while I try to manage a cluster of tasks. It is the monster that lives inside of me. It sticks me into two corners of past and future distracting me from the present moment. The monster creates “to-do” lists and completion checks. Then it slides me into depression like the ocean waves hitting the sand it curls around me as I distantly get caught up in my own thoughts and worries. Everything becomes a reminder of the future – the things I should be doing- the mother, woman, and human that I should be. It reminds me, with past failure to shape my perspective on the future. It is downright exhausting to be in my head some days, making it impossible to visualize a life where the character called anxiety was not the constant antagonist. 


It seems easy enough, right. Create an altered narrative to this story. That phrase will echo over and over, what does it look like? What does a life of minimized anxiety feel like? My answer lately has been this: balanced. I was too afraid to admit what the unbalance looked like until I was laying on my kitchen floor gasping for my breath. I was unhappy in a job that was as equally demanding as figuring out how to be the mother of four. My phone chimed a meeting as I was putting away the dinner dishes and starting the bedtime process. I was going through motions of motherhood, as most of me was still sitting at my desk waiting for management to notice how much I had been slipping lately. I knew that meeting wasn’t exactly the promotion my stack of bills from another childbirth and partially unpaid maternity leave needed, for or the reduction of workload I had indicated in my secret meeting with HR. My work life was like the game of Jenga we played as an exercise in team building. I was the tower, and little by little pieces were being removed. I was toppling and they kept pushing pieces out. Some days it was the workload, or the declining relationships with management and almost always the craving to be present in that photo my husband sent of my children running around the zoo. Everything led up to this, the unbalance in my home life and the stress in my workload. I simply couldn’t handle it anymore; I lost my balance and fell. 

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It is a year and a half later. I am still picking myself off my kitchen floor. I always thought a breakthrough in managing my anxiety would be a sudden burst of clarity; as if the monster would just disappear the way they do in fairy tales. But balance, as I learned by practicing yoga, is built slowly and with focus. I am sitting outside on my patio surrounded by all the sounds of early summer – the soundtrack of birds with a baseline of a distant train and the vocals of neighborhood children. I am appreciative of this moment, it is one of the moments that I craved when sitting in a windowless cubicle. I get my work done in the morning. I tend to my favorite hobby, writing. I am hopeful for a sunset run. I focus on the good things of getting two toddlers to sleep, like tiny kisses and little hands holding my arm for comfort. Then, I can enjoy a glass of wine and finally start season 2 of the Handmaid’s tale. This is what a good tonight looks like. 


The day after I lost my job, I made my mental health a priority. I would never be useful in any job or relationship if was charged by the electricity of anxiety. I started a running routine. My brain is a full bottle of champagne just waiting to be corked and running allows me to pop the cork, no one else. I need an appointment with my own thoughts, but they were so busy they couldn’t fit me in. So it got clogged. I made mistakes, first little ones then much larger ones. Or was it a lot of little ones that made me look like one big failure? Either way, I didn’t have time to organize my (many) thoughts. And the cork blew on me. With running, I am alone in my head, letting it all go. All those analyses, those worries, the funny musings and the downright cliché; it all piled on top of each other, like the laundry I don’t have time to sort. This wasn’t just about something that happened last year or recently; this is a lifetime of bubbling anxiety. I need to get healthy and create my balance. What does that balance look like? A goal of four runs a week that resets every Sunday but understands when things get just so chaotic that routines are broken. It gave me bonus friendship for added accountability that rewards me with mini therapy sessions and sweaty hugs. It gave me legs that could stand an eight-hour bartending shift so that I wouldn’t have to feel financially guilty if I didn’t work a full-time office job any longer. 

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I am starting to accept my anxiety in all its various forms. It can be a burst of negative thoughts that isolate me to my home. It can be a fight with my husband that scares me into words I would rather not say. It is a pouring out of frustration over two toddlers that never seem to listen. It is a bad tip on a large check or a spreadsheet that doesn’t quite tie. It is a deadline that I didn’t plan adequately to meet or a phone call I dread making. It is finally getting the courage to open my credit card statement or asking my mom for help. I have come to know what anxiety looks like. With each of these toxic moments, I am trying to learn and find something pull me off of the floor, the balance I need to stand tall.  It can be a run or a yoga class. It is a long phone call with a good friend. It is actually getting time to hang out with my sister. It is a road trip, with my husband driving and Band of Horses playing. It is how happy my children get when we visit their grandparents. It is Friday night wine and watching true crime stories with my neighbor. It is listening to my favorite podcast “Beautiful Anonymous”, loudly and verbally agreeing with the caller as I clean an empty bar. It is the beautiful shade of dark blue that I painted my bedroom walls. It is the proud little smile I get when someone tells me I am actually a good accountant, or bartender, or Mom. It is an unexpected gift. It is reading a book that I can’t put down. It is writing a verbally eloquent essay. It is random and adolescent conversations with my teenage daughters. It is quoting every line of Spaceballs and still thinking it is the funniest movie ever made. It is realizing the little moments that make me happy, embracing them and using their light to keep the dark monsters quiet. At least that is what balance is starting to look like for me. 
 

To read more of Kristen's writing, check out her blog cassidymarierose.com

Rethinking Life Balance

By Catherine Lang-Cline


You can find countless books and articles about how to achieve life balance. It seems like there are a number of ways people believe that this can be achieved but perhaps we need to rethink the concept. What if it wasn’t just a balance, what if it was just life as we choose it.


Being a person with a career; as well as, having a family does present some challenges in that I want to have time for everything. Ultimately it comes down to choice. Let’s think of life balance more as a juggling act. Everything that you treasure and find important is represented as one of those balls that you are trying to juggle. Some of those balls a fragile and some are a little more durable and can afford to be dropped. Regardless of their makeup, the balls that make up your life need to keep moving. That is unless you choose to put it down.


What I am trying to illustrate here is that all of it, all of it, is your life and you must choose the importance of each. Only you can choose how you will be spending your time. There is no magic formula to put more time into your day. So what gets priority?


You may be rocking that career ball 7 days a week knowing that the balls containing family, friends, wellness, or whatever will always be in slow circulation. That is until you or a family member gets ill. Maybe an accident occurs changing the entire performance you are trying to pull off. Now the game has changed and a different ball has just taken priority. What happened to the career ball? It might have to get put to the side for a while but just like everything else, it can’t get put aside for too long without the chance of losing it entirely. That goes for everything. Some days, your career is going to have to come first and get all of the attention. If that continues for too long, what suffers? Are you neglecting family, friends, or your health? All of these things need to rise up to the same level of importance knowing that some days that balance may be off.


Based on my own experience, I really try to keep the job between the hours of 9-5. Is that realistic? No. Some days I have an early meeting and other days I have an evening event. Those days the balance is off and I know that I have to make up time elsewhere. Which can mean, no work on the weekend as it is now reserved for family and a good run. How do you keep it straight and balanced? Schedule it. Every appointment you have for work you can counter with an appointment for working out or attending a family member’s event or painting or gardening. Maybe it is just a night out. Maybe you break for dinner with friends or family only to get back to work immediately after. Book it, move it around but don’t delete it. Give it the same priority as a work task. In the long run, you will not wish that you spent more time working, but rather spent more time with family or spent more time on yourself. 


In order to achieve any type of life balance, every aspect of your life needs the same weight. Or knowingly give it less? Which would have less importance; your health, your family, your job? It’s your choice. If these are all truly equal, treat them as all truly equal. Don’t work through the workout, don’t miss dinner with friends and family. Yes, on occasion, life may deal that card to you with a project that must be completed. Make that time up during the family vacation. 
 

Good News: Creative Jobs Rank High for Work-Life Balance

By Kristen Harris

Good news, creative people! According to a recent survey, our jobs rank pretty high on the work-life balance scale. 6 of the Top 10 jobs on the 25 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance (2015), list are in the marketing/creative space. 

Why is work-life balance so important? Research shows significant ties between work-life balance and job satisfaction. Workers who are able to not just juggle, but actually weave together, all parts of their life tend to be more satisfied. In fact, the millennial generation expects this. They anticipate finding work where they can contribute and feel valued, and don’t believe they should have to give up their social lives or personal interests to make that happen.

Often work-life balance is seen as a scale, with people striving to always be in perfect equilibrium. Although it feels more like a juggling act—just keep all the balls in the air, don’t drop anything important. I think of it as a seesaw…never perfectly balanced, always teeter-tottering between work and personal commitments. 

Why are people in creative roles more satisfied with their work-life balance? Consider some areas that lead to the feeling of a healthy work-life balance. A sense of control. Some degree of flexibility. Success related to results, solving problems, making customers happy. Less value is placed on traditional work hours and face time. Fun, interesting work environments. 

It makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider that nearly all of the marketing/creative roles on this list are digital or technology-driven roles. Because of the technology component, these roles often allow more flexibility in how and where the work gets done. Which means you might actually work more, or at different hours, but feel a greater sense of control. There is a feeling of freedom to make choices that lead to a balance between personal and work commitments.

Seeking better work-life balance in your role? 

Consider what’s important to you. Finding work-life balance can be elusive because the definition is very personal. The things I need to do to feel balanced may not be what you need. Be specific and identify what “balance” means to you. What would an ideally balanced day or week look like?

Assess your current role. Can you make changes that will bring you closer to your ideal? Sometimes it’s just deciding to do things a little differently. If a schedule tweak or a little more flexibility would make a huge difference in your life, talk to your manager. Be realistic, just because you ask doesn’t mean it can happen. But you may be able to find a solution that works for both of you.

Identify ideal roles. If your current role can’t be changed to bring you closer to balance, consider what positions would be a better fit for you. Is it a different role at your current company? The same role at a different company? Project-oriented work like freelancing or working with a staffing firm? Think about what type of role would help you find balance, then start taking steps in that direction. 

Remember the gap between your current role and a more ideal work-life balance may not be that wide. Sometimes all it takes are a few changes on your end, or finding a new arrangement that works for both you and your employer. Identify the gap and then start finding ways to bridge it. And, if you’re already exceptionally happy with your work-life balance, congratulations! Your job might be on this list.