I found the secret to work-life balance completely by accident.
As a goal-oriented workaholic, I was mystified how other people seemed to be able to “find the time” to fit everything in when I seemed to be running full steam ahead and barely had time to pee. I never scheduled lunch (that was email reading time as I shoveled in salad). I took care of emails at the red light, in the bathroom, and whenever I was waiting for the elevator. My “to-do” list (house, bills, kids, parents, husband, work, car, dog, anyone who needed me immediately) was never “to-done”. I listened to conference calls as I climbed the stairs for exercise, paid bills in the bathtub (yes…this is sad), and sometimes answered the phone “what do you need now” when my adult kids were just calling to say hello.
I was burnt toast.
My accidental epiphany happened when I was scrambling for the elevator in the parking garage while lugging home a briefcase full of work. It was way too late to really be taking anything home. I bumped into a colleague I hadn’t seen in awhile and he asked “How are you”? I immediately went to my standard response of “Crazy busy.” I began to rattle off the ridiculous list of responsibilities that I was responsible for he shrugged and said “Well you always liked to be busy” and then paused “I think that is what makes you happy.”
I stared at him for a moment as I pondered his assessment. Well of course, I thought, I was busy. Busy was good. Busy was productive. Busy meant I was doing what I should be doing which is working….all…the…time. But happy? One wasn’t supposed to be happy, by being busy. Being busy was just a factor of being responsible. A good worker. Someone who had a good work ethic and could be trusted to do what needed to be done. Happy was not the first adjective I would have chosen. Or the second. Or the third. Successful? Maybe. Driven? Definitely. But happy?
His words found me at a time when I was truly exhausted, worn out, and tired. But because I was always so “busy” I hadn’t noticed. Being the super-competitive, goal oriented person that I was, I became determined that I was going to figure out how to be happy right away. I was challenged by his words. I could be happy, couldn’t I? In fact, I could be THE HAPPIEST person if that was what I chose. (You get the picture…I was a little off balance in regards to my need to compete).
So how does one become happier?
Well, I determined, I would learn. And so I did (what I do) when I want to learn something. I read. I googled “How to be happier” and found Gretchen Rubin’s Book “The Happiness Project.” This was something I could definitely get excited about. Here was a woman, a writer, who had devoted a year of her life to figure out just what being happy meant and dove in on a year long quest to try it out. She was my kind of hero. Go big or go home. I ordered the book and planned to read it during my two week vacation that my husband and I planned for our 25th wedding anniversary to Spain.
I was going to have to wait to find out how to be happy until I took some time off.
Three hours into our 8 hour flight I was hooked. Completely fascinated by the research that Gretchen had discovered and how she had committed 12 months of her life (one happiness project each month) to try out what research pointed made us complex human beings “happiest.” My husband shook his head a the cover title and said “Only you would need a textbook on how to become happier, can’t you just be happier?”
“Of course!” I thought. I just needed to learn how.
Gretchen shared her wisdom during each months focus and how she applied it to her life. January was Boost Energy. February, Remember Love. March, Aim Higher. You get the picture. What resonated with me was that Gretchen had a perfectly wonderful career in Law when her desire to be happier led her to pivot to a writer (something she had always wanted to be). She started her writing journey by blogging her happiness project recognizing that people teach what it is they need to learn . (I found that so prophetic). After creating her 12 personal commandments (with number one being “Be Gretchen”) she set upon dedicating each month to adopting a new habit or way of thinking that is grounded in evidence that makes people feel happier.
I kept coming back to the Blog.
What in the world was a blog anyway and why would anyone read one? As a voracious reader and lover of books, I knew that readers love to read whatever speaks to them but the concept of putting your thoughts out to the universe to critique sounded horrifying.
One did not simply decide to be a writer after all.
There are dues to be paid. Only the special few somehow leap into that auspicious world of creating content that others find worthy of publishing…and most importantly worthy of reading. I realized this was a sensitive, personal subject to me. You see, when I was a child and was asked the question about what I wanted to “be” when I grew up the answer was always the same “A Writer.” I was that kid that coveted a blank journal book in which to write the next great novel. I would pull it out on the school bus, taking special pains to letter and number by chapter headings.
After all, I was being serious about this.
Someday, someone might want to publish me. I wrote creatively all through middle school, and high school but began to get the message that maybe being a writer wasn’t a safe career choice as I grew older. I did declare myself a Journalism major during my first undergraduate degree , which somehow morphed into English major. I was happy immersing myself in the world of literature but was quickly realizing that I was unsure of how to turn this into an actual paying job now that I was off the parents payroll.
It didn’t, of course.
Several jobs, 2 kids later, and a complete about-face career change, found me in the healthcare field first as a nurse and later as Healthcare Administrator. I loved working with patients and I loved growing teams into their full potential. But something was still missing. As I read Gretchen’s pages, I felt a strong call to action. I was going to start writing again. I was going to take all of the passion and learnings about leadership and create a blog where I would have a platform to teach what I have learned. If she could pivot, so could I.
A funny thing happened the first time I clicked “Publish” on my first blog.
Not much happened.
The earth didn’t’ shift.
I didn’t find my inbox full of fans saying “thank goodness you are finally taking this writing thing seriously.” Quite the opposite. It sat in oblivion. However, I felt giddily happy! I was proud of the first post, and there I was, a PUBLISHED author. Never mind that anyone with a domain name could do the same. I had a place to share my thoughts and felt the pleasure of creating content, my content. Looking back at that first post (and you can read it here) it was pretty average. However, it served its purpose ,which was to build my confidence and give me something to focus on OTHER THAN WORK.
Here is where the Work+Life Balance epiphany happened.
When you are focused only on work, you have no balance. When you focus on something else, it forces you to leave work at work, and do other things. My other “Aha” was that I chose this balance. No one suddenly bestowed on me the ability to suddenly feel free to have work/life balance. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz at the moment that Glenda the Good Witch tells her “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas.” Dorothy, she explained to the Scarecrow, wouldn’t have believed her. She had to learn it for herself.
I had to learn this for myself.
So here I am. Almost 2 years later a bonafide author with a blog. I am also due to complete my first non-fiction book by the end of the year. On weekends you can find me learning more about my craft, talking with other wannabe authors online, and coming up with content for my blog and social media sites. I know what you are thinking. “Why are you doing all of this for free? It’s like having a second job with no pay”? You would be right. As of yet, I have made ZERO dollars off my writing. What I have gained, however, is priceless. I have found work/life balance. I have found happiness. I hope that I find that I have impacted someone’s life and perspective as much as Gretchen Rubin has impacted mine. Words can be the most powerful motivators. They can impact civilizations, they can impact lives. As the saying goes “There are two important days in your life. The day you were born, and the day you figure out why.”
I have found out my why.