After reading this thoughtful post by Alyson of Kid Lit Frenzy, and having a follow-up conversation with her this morning on Twitter, it got me thinking about the idea of balance and the art of saying, “No,” to requests of your time. Parenting, work (paid or unpaid!), our relationships with family and friends, our health, our activities and passions all require our energy and attention. Can we keep it balanced, the way a teeter totter is balanced? Personally, I need to think of different way to see the teeter totter that is life.
My friend, and career counselor, Marcy argues that you shouldn’t really be striving for balance, but rather a manageable coexistence between the things that drain you and fill you up. I love that way of thinking about all these demands. In other words the components don’t have to be in constant balance with each other. There is going to be give and take between all of the elements. Life gets crazy, the house gets messy. In other words, there will always be something that isn’t quite perfect. The goal isn’t perfection, but rather finding out the level of chaos at which you’re comfortable. That level is uniquely personal. Maybe it’s means a less demanding work life. Maybe it is having a less busy family schedule. Maybe it means making sure you exercise everyday. I’m okay with the dishes piling up in the sink sometimes, but after a while, I can’t stand it. The important thing is that there are plenty of energizing moments from these demands on my time. Can I find ways for many of these moments to feel meaningful, significant, or even joyful? In reality, doing dishes will never be joyful but hopefully many of the other ways I spend my time and choose to contribute will energize me.
What I am learning is that less is more. I’m trying to do less in an effort to make room for those “filling up moments” with the people and things that energize me and bring happiness to my life. Less, might be the wrong word. Perhaps deliberate is better. I’m spending lots of times doing kid lit related things, but those activities energize me, and hopefully they’re making a difference to others. I’ve really cut back on my volunteer activities at my girls’ school because it was exhausting me and making me bitter. That means saying, no. It means watching programs I actually adore, like the PTA Reflections program, fizzle away because with no program chair in place, the program is eliminated. It means letting go. Letting go of expectations I have for myself and my perceptions of others expectations for me. Letting the guilt slide away, knowing that I’m making a difference in smaller, perhaps less bold ways. Certainly for me, this is easier said than done, but I’m trying. I’m spending time finding great books to share as the Book Fairy for a class of twenty-five, but I am filled up by the child pulling me aside to say how much they enjoyed a book or author that I shared with them. A new equilibrium, but one that will continue to evolve as I contemplate my return to work.
I still think we can use the analogy of a teeter totter, but for me it’s keeping in mind that the teeter totter is subject to wild swings. The fulcrum around which things pivot can change as priorities and demands shift. And everybody’s teeter totter looks a bit different. Let me know if you need a lift or push on your teeter totter.