(Photo credit: Michelle Meiklejohn, freeditigalphotos.net)
I couldn't decide where to put this post because I think the advice is useful for both moms and freelancers. So, I'm doing something I've never done before and cross-posting it at my other blog, The Expat Freelancer. Wherever you're reading it, I hope you find it helpful!
Last week, the Urban Muse posed the question: what is your biggest challenge as a freelance writer? Many of the responses, including my own, concerned finding a suitable work-life balance. Because we freelancers don’t have to punch the clock, it’s all too easy to allow one aspect of our life – usually work –to dominate the other
But you know what? One day, last September, I did it. For about, oh, four hours, I understood my life to be in perfect balance. Don’t laugh! As far as I'm concerned feeling that the world is perfectly aligned for four hours is an amazing achievement. As an expat, I am perpetually seeking – consciously or not – to find a balance between my own culture with that of my adopted country. Because I’m married to someone of a different nationality, I have to do the same in my marriage. Throw a couple of young kids and a new career into the mix and you’ve got one off-kilter lady.
But last September, for that brief period, it all worked. More than worked – it flowed.
That day was no less busy than any other. I had to drop my three-year old off at school and then pick him up three hours later. I had two big assignments due that I hadn’t yet begun. The baby had a doctor’s appointment later. My husband was out of town for the week, so, I’d have to handle the exhausting evening rituals (dinner, bath, bed) by myself and then pray that the kids would stay asleep so that I could work as late as I could, then get some sleep myself. Normally on days such as this, my mind is constantly abuzz, skipping ahead to the next task on my list before I’ve completed the first one. But on this day, as I picked up my son from school, my mind grew quiet.
As we walked down the street, I noticed that the sky was a deep, pure blue and that the leaves on the trees were beginning to turn yellow-brown. I became aware of the pressure of my son’s hand in mine, of the sweet, singing quality of his voice, and of the rush of pleasure these things gave me. I enjoyed the way the autumn breeze made my open trench coat flap slightly as we walked, and the tapping sound my boots made on the pavement. With every step we took, I grew more and more connected with everything around me, as if I were beginning to see my place in part of an enormous, smoothly functioning machine. For once, I wasn’t borrowing time from the future or the past. Every moment belonged to itself. I was wholly – in New Age parlance – “in the moment.”
This sense of connectedness lasted until we got on the metro, and then slowly began to dissipate. But I didn’t feel any panic or depression as the feeling left me. Instead, I felt both relaxed and empowered. I suddenly understood the key to having a balanced life: being truly present.
Riding the metro home, I had no urge to check my cell phone, check my to-do list, make notes on an article, send out a tweet, dwell on my crammed schedule or engage in any of my usual multi-tasking habits. I was simply happy to sit and listen to my son tell me how he “drew a picture of my belly” at school (no, I wasn’t pregnant – thanks kid.)
When I got home and turned my son over to the babysitter, I sat down to work without guilt and without anxiety for the tasks ahead. Time felt different to me; both more precious and more plentiful. It occurred to me that we generally view time as something that is forever slipping away from us, not as something that we always have. But we do always have time. Maybe not time enough to achieve every task on our list, but time enough to fully appreciate the things we can accomplish.
Since this revelation, can I now claim to always have a perfectly balanced life? God, no. But now, whenever I feel overwhelmed with work or life, I take a moment to recognize that it’s not necessarily my work-life balance that needs adjusting – but my attitude. Multi-tasking, letting my mind wander, worrying about anything except the matters in front of me can make my whole world spin.
Taking a good look at the advantages, opportunities and beauty of the moment sets it right again.
How about you? What helps you to find balance?