I have a confession to make.
A few days ago I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the woman looking back at me for the first time ever.
This woman had dark circles under her eyes. Her unwashed hair was wild, unkept and hadn’t seen a dye job in eight months (grey hair is not a good look for me). Was that a layer of fat around her belly? What do people call those? Spare tire? Yes….it looked like the slow formation of a spare tire.
God, I looked so tired. I had cried for a week straight and couldn’t remember the last time I slept through the night. I made an emergency appointment with my hairstylist. “Just get this under control,” I begged.
To top it all off, I had stressed myself sick and was on another dose of antibiotics.
Yes, just one week ago I found myself at my breaking point, completely unrecognizable to myself and in a total panic. What have I done? I wondered.
Any person who has taken a massive risk in their life like starting a business, moving across country, or taking the plunge into fitness for the first time knows that finding balance at the start is difficult. There’s a high learning curve, a steep mountain to climb, and so much uncertainty that you start second-guessing yourself and praying for any semblance of balance. But as I’ve quickly learned, balance is complete and utter bullshit!
The notion of balance perpetuates the idea that we can have our cake, eat it and still have six-pack abs. The balance myth is more like a virus than a dream, and it’s particularly contagious among women. What I’ve come to find in my first 1.5 year in business is that “balance” sets the bar impossibly high for everyone – the woman who thinks she can balance it all, the men who expect her to be it all, and everyone else making demands on her time that require it all.
If you’re stepping into the unknown, hanging on to this notion that you can have balance across your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, career and relationships will turn you into head case…complete with under eye circles, crazy hair, and extreme anxiety.
Welcome to the last nine months of my life.
The Balance Myth
A recent talk from Chris Harder on his For The Love of Money podcast shed some light into the balance myth that all entrepreneurs face (P.S. this applies to everyone, not just entrepreneurs). Chris notes that when he’s working on a big project, he might go hard for about 120 days before he starts getting stressed out, anxious, and needs time for fun. He acknowledges the fact that he loves the hustle as much as play, creativity and exploration, and he respects that by allowing himself to focus on a big project for a short time and then going into a play period (like traveling or just doing something fun with his wife) for another period of time.
This is especially important for those that feel guilty for taking downtime or enjoying a little Netflix binge here and there. We can’t all be like Gary Vee and hustle our little bums off for years and years at a time, non-stop without suffering the consequences. Yet our culture makes us feel like downtime is the anti-thesis to success and balance is the Holy Grail we should all aspire to.
Let’s flip the balance myth on its head for a moment. What would happen if you gave up the notion that balance existed? Would your world implode? Could you breathe a little easier? Might you actually feel less guilty about saying “no” to another pointless work happy hour in exchange for hitting the gym and getting some “me” time?
True balance isn’t having it all in perfect equilibrium all the time. It’s quite the opposite. It’s being honest about where you are in your life right now and what you can realistically devote your time and attention towards right now. It requires being present. You can’t future-trip and expect balance to stick around six months from now, but what you can do is handle life like a boss by saying “F U” to the balance myth and following these three steps instead.
Step 1. Repeat after me….”Balance isn’t real”
You want a solution to the balance conundrum? Then acknowledge the fact that “balance” isn’t real. Heck, I’d go as far as to say the balance myth is a lot like Communism. It works well in theory but has a proven track record of being terrible in practice. So if you still believe in balance you’re basically a communist. Yup, I just went there.
All joking aside, balance isn’t the goal. Growth is the goal. Whatever is going to lead you to your actual goal is the goal. Don’t get sidetracked by a utopian concept like balance because you’ll always fall short.
Step 2. The rule of Big Rocks
In my first job out of college my manager and I would talk through something we called “Big Rocks.” These were the top most-critical projects I had to focus on in order to meet a certain deadline or goal each week. There was rarely more than three at a time.
You can benefit from the Big Rocks rule, too by picking the top 2-3 things you must focus on in order to feel happy, sane and on track to meet your goals right now. Or for the next month. Not five years from now, or a lifetime from now. Right now. What is the Big Rock you have to focus on?
This past month, my Big Rock has been on creating and launching my first digital program. I’m hustling hard for this, which is likely why my stress level is at an all time high. As a result, my health has been another Big Rock. If I’m not doing everything in my power to manage my stress and anxiety during this time, I’ll end up in the hospital. That’s it: My business and my health are my only Big Rocks during this hustle period in my life. That means that following a strict fitness program is completely out of the question. It means that I rarely see friends, I’m not dining out, dating or having any fun. I wouldn’t even know what fun looked like if it slapped me in the face with a feather boa and a margarita at this point.
Is this ideal? Of course not, but easy, breezy fun isn’t a Big Rock right now, and I have to respect this busy season in my life and stay focused on the Big Rocks to meet my goal.
Step 3. Give yourself permission to be unbalanced
This is the hardest part of debunking the balance myth. It’s allowing ourselves to feel off balance, to feel like we’re dropping the ball in some areas, to say “no” to people and activities that might interfere with the Big Rocks, or even ignoring friends for a bit while you go through your busy season.
As women, we naturally aim to people please and make everyone happy. But truly, what do we gain as individuals by saying “yes” to everything and everyone if it ends up destroying ourselves in the process? This is increasingly difficult for women who have children, have demanding bosses, or have other important relationships they want to nurture. I’m not saying you have to give up your kids, your spouse or your boss. But you do have to make a choice and draw a line in the sand for how much you’re willing to give to those around you. If you give everything away, what’s left over for yourself?
A perfect example of this was when my mother went back to school. I was in middle school at the time when she told my brother and me we’d have to help around the house more so she could attend night classes and study. We divided up the chores among us, everything from cooking dinner, to cleaning, to laundry. We left her alone when she needed to study (okay, maybe she made us leave the house so we’d stop nagging her). We were her teammates even though we didn’t realize it then because we were still kids and felt like whatever she asked of us we had to do anyway. Did my mother feel guilty that she was spending less time with her kids and husband? Probably. Did she get sick of our chicken nugget, rice and beans dinner? Most certainly. But in order to succeed, she let her life get a little unbalanced and you know what? It forced my brother and me to grow up quick and take care of business. By the time I entered college, I knew how to cook, clean, do laundry, balance my checkbook, and shop for groceries while my peers struggled to do anything on their own besides drink and party. All because my mother gave up the balance myth and decided to make her education a Big Rock instead of feeling guilty she couldn’t pamper her kids all day long. I wouldn’t change anything about that.
We struggle most when we aim to meet impossible standards that we or others have set up for ourselves. We all have seasons in our lives that feel wild and hectic, and other times that are romantic, carefree and fun. We can achieve it all by respecting the ebbs and flows of our lives, taking the busy season with the slow season, the good with the bad, the hustle with the play. Let these 3 steps serve as a reminder that an unbalanced life is still a good life, as long as we allow it to be so.