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The Boss of You

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The Balance Myth

September 23rd, 2009 by Lauren · 15 Comments

A friend of mine sent me an email today that contained 3 questions about Twitter. The first two were standard “how-to” questions (inquiring about such things as the simplest way to send a direct message), but the last one gave me pause for thought. Here’s what she asked me:

How the hell do you balance your workload at your design firm, constant tweeting, blogging, a personal life…..and all the multitude of other things you clearly have managed to balance?  I’m desperately trying to balance all of my work, personal, and web-based endeavours, and I’m not sure I’m really getting it all in balance just yet, so I’m curious!

Short answer: I don’t! Not even close.

The thing is, there are really two answers to this question. I’m gonna split them into two posts. This first one has to do with the implicit comparison in her question.

I read her question and nearly choked — because every day, all the time, I feel like I’m falling behind. My inner critic reads “constant tweeting” and chortles at how little time I carve out for Twitter. And blogging? I know dozens of bloggers who put my paltry output to shame.

As for the workload at our design firm… well, let’s just say I’ve been clocking a lot of overtime lately and there’s not much of an end in sight.

However, all is not bleak. In fact, none of this is bleak. It’s just completely and utterly normal. And the only time it doesn’t seem normal is when we read Other People’s blogs, tweets, portfolios, and so on and make the mistake of believing that their amazing and inspiring public output is the result of their attainment of some seventh level of perfection that we have not learned to access.

The big secret is that very few people feel even remotely balanced. We’re all being pushed and pulled in a thousand directions. I think the best we can hope for is to fall in love with the living of life and enjoy the ride.

I have to remind myself of this all the time. I read tweets from designers I admire and wonder how in the world they can afford to attend all the conferences they travel to, and produce such great work, while managing volunteer projects and creating art. There’s some part of my brain that wants to idealize everyone and imagine that they are doing all of this while still having fun and sleeping eight hours a night — even while I know damned well that they still have to put their hipster jeans on one leg at a time.

What I do know is that the people who are doing a lot of really cool stuff have two things in common:

  1. They are madly in love with what they do, so it doesn’t feel like work. (And that includes Twitter, Facebook, and the rest — if it isn’t fun for you, you’re unlikely to do it. That’s why I try and help my clients to find social media outlets that work well for them, whether it’s video blogging, tweeting, or organizing in-person meetups.)
  2. They have some kind of system for setting goals and meeting them. It might be a formal system like Getting Things Done, or working with a personal coach, or just a good friend who keeps them accountable — but whatever it is, they are clear on what they most want to do and how to make it happen.

The ironic thing is that the gal who asked me this question is herself a total overachiever: She sings, she writes, she does event planning and media relations, she’s a smart marketer, and she’s a mom. I mean, holy hell, this girl’s got skills. There are a thousand people who look at her and ask the same question she asked me. So it’s all about perspective.

But I feel like we all need to let go a little bit of the balance myth. It’s a lovely ideal, and a noble goal, but we rarely find ourselves in that perfect place where everything feels like it’s just as it should be. And that’s totally okay, because everyone is struggling with it just like you are. You’re still allowed to have heroes, but try and remember they’re all a little unbalanced, too.

I’ll post Part 2 tomorrow, in which I’ll try and answer the question in a more practical manner.

Tags: Business Advice · Our Story · Thoughts

15 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Angele Yanor // Sep 23, 2009 at 9:57 am

    Lauren: You have always been an overachiever. In high school, you almost achieved cold fusion at room temperature. So, I don’t buy that you are overwhelmed by Twitter… but I do believe that you love your job.

  • 2 Kimberly // Sep 23, 2009 at 10:17 am

    beautifully said!

  • 3 Jon Stahl // Sep 23, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I’m not sure I agree.

    I don’t think we should be redefining a constantly overcommitted, stressed-out, working-lots-of-overtime state as “acceptable,” “normal” and/or “what smart, successful people do.” (Not that you used these words.)

    To me that feels like we’re trying to normalize workaholism.

    Perhaps instead we should all slow down a little bit, and lose the fear that we’re not “keeping up” with people who are behaving in ultimately very unhealthy ways.

  • 4 Sara Ramsay // Sep 23, 2009 at 11:09 am

    Well, being the “overachiever” in question, it’s good to know that I’m not the only one feeling like I’m just barely managing to tread water! And you’re right – of course you’re right – it’s all relative. We all struggle with balancing our personal and professional lives, our creative and our food-on-the-table endeavours, our thirst for learning coupled with the necessity of staying on top of new technology, pitted mercilessly against the unrelenting limit of 24 hours in a day. Oh, and sleep. Right, I remember what that was….

    It is healthy to hold other women you admire in high esteem, but it is can become a grass-is-greener kind of trap if you’re not careful. “Other people are doing a much better job of life than I am!” I think we all need to be a little bit gentle with ourselves.

    Not only does this call to mind the eternal struggle 21st Century women face: balance career, mother, partner, other family, cooking, cleaning, kids’ taxi driver, friends, and hobbies…all in heels and a push-up bra, with a smile on your face; but it sheds a little light on the unrealistic expectations that we put on ourselves. Yes, sometimes they come from other people. But most damaging of all, we put them on ourselves. And we are unquestionably our own harshest critics.

    How to start breaking down the expectations into something more manageable? I think talking about it is the first step. (That sounds kind of 12-step cheesy, but what the hell.) Having a dialogue that turns on the light of realization: “I’m not the only one!” is invaluable. That’s what this has been for me, Lauren, so thank you. I do admire you and all you accomplish, and that hasn’t changed, nor will it. However, it’s also very freeing to realize that someone you admire is fighting the same battles, and struggling with the same issues that you are – sometimes winning, sometimes losing.

    I think knowing that nobody is Superwoman is a big win. For all of us. So thanks.

  • 5 Lauren // Sep 23, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks, all, for your comments.

    @Jon, I don’t think we disagree (and in fact I think we’ve already sorted this out via Twitter, but I wanted to flesh it out here as well). The last thing I want is to contribute to the normalization of workaholism — in fact, a lot of The Boss of You (both the book and the blog) is about how to stay true to your values and honour your life away from work, while building a business.

    However, I also find that when I’m working long hours, the stress of the overwork is compounded by the way I beat myself up psychologically for not living up to my “work less” ideals. And I know I’m not alone in this. So my goal is to work less, and my Plan B is to make peace with the fact that sometimes I can’t meet that goal while keeping all the other balls in the air that are important to me.

    My intent with this post was more about letting go of the “doing it all” ideal, as well as reducing the amount of energy I spend comparing my output to other people’s.

    Hope that clears things up a bit. And thanks again for your comment!

  • 6 Krista - Urbanite Jewelry // Sep 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Long time reader, first time commenter;)

    This is a brilliant post. If contains so much insight on so many levels, and it really hit home. I’m trying to balance just finishing graduate school, searching for my first grown-up job, and starting up a jewelry design business (which is completely unrelated to that graduate degree, by the way). So often I’m fighting to achieve perfection.

    And in general, I just want you to know that I L-O-V-E this quote: “…fall in love with the living of life and enjoy the ride.” It’s exactly what I’m seeking to do right now, and it might just become a personal mantra!

  • 7 Lauren // Sep 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    Also, for those of you who liked this post, you might be interested in checking out a similarly-flavoured piece by the fabulous Alexandra Samuel: “Don’t Keep Up With Social Technology“. More fuel for the “stop keeping up” fire.

  • 8 mjb // Sep 23, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Great post! So true that when you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. The trick for me is to somehow also get done the stuff that I have to do that I don’t love :).

  • 9 Brandi U. // Sep 23, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Thanks for posting this! It made me feel a lot better to read that everyone goes through this.

  • 10 Anna Allen // Sep 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    This is exactly what I needed to hear today. Thank you!!

  • 11 Brenda // Sep 23, 2009 at 5:50 pm

    OK, this is just scary, because I posted on my own blog about this last night, referring to your book! Guess that goes to show we’re all dealing with this. :) I look forward to the continuing discussion and new viewpoints – and hopefully even some new ideas to try out!

  • 12 Lindsey // Sep 25, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Thank you so much for this post – it is wise and thoughtful and right on. I think about this all the time. I hope it’s okay that I linked to you in my blog, and wrote a post on the same topic:
    http://www.adesignsovast.com/2009/09/myth-of-balance.html

    Lindsey

  • 13 Lauren // Sep 25, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    @Lindsey – Of course, I’m deeply flattered you saw fit to share my post with your readers. Thank you. :) And I enjoyed yours, too. Thanks for sharing it!

    I also want to note here that there is a Part 2 to the above post, in case anyone is interested. Here it is.

  • 14 balance | Lorissa Shepstone // Sep 28, 2009 at 6:34 am

    […] trust me, most days are packed with wobbles. Lauren, of The Boss of You, recently posted about the Balance Myth and I couldn’t agree with her more. Aiming to balance your life is a good thing. Actually, […]

  • 15 Karilee // Oct 26, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    I do agree that sometimes we have to let go of some of our expectations for ourselves. Also, you can always get help.

    Sometimes, particularly when you’re busy with a project or a life event, you need to take time off Twitter and other social media. If it’s essential to your business and your business image that you remain a consistent presence there, you hire someone like me to “sub” for you.

    Finally, sometimes the right tool makes the job a lot easier. If you need to take a week away, you can always preschedule your social media posts with a tool like Socialoomph (which used to be TweetLater). While it’s not always the most intuitive tool out there, it’s not bad, and very powerful. There’s a free trial at socialoomph.com.