I promise this is not another jab at Miley Cyrus and her infamous VMA performance. It's much more significant than that, especially for me. As we mark the 10th anniversary of National Work and Family Month this October, I began the month (for the first time in my life) without work. Hundreds of thousands of my fellow federal employees who serve the nation also found themselves no longer working. They didn't request leave or scheduled time off, there simply was no choice in the matter. I can't begin to tell you what that feels like after dedicating 15 years of service to America, as a United States veteran and civilian public servant.
At first I have to admit that I was a bit eager to have a break. As a single working mother of two, life is busy. Without the ability to access my work phone, email or network access, it almost sounded like a welcomed opportunity for me to reset and refocus. Now, as I end my second week not working, I've begun to overwhelmingly feel extraordinarily unsettled. My rhythm is off, my routine out of sorts. Normally, my life is a not-so-perfectly orchestrated concert of responsibilities, priorities and commitments that my life as a parent, employee, daughter, sister, co-worker, friend, neighbor, volunteer and community member all blend together.
My days, weeks and months are carefully planned around my work calendar, accounting for mandatory meetings, upcoming deadlines and non-negotiable obligations. I check my calendar nightly before I go to bed and update it daily, so that I can remain on track with what each day has in store. I harmonize my professional priorities with my personal priorities. Always careful not to overlap things like medical and dental appointments, parent/teacher conferences, team practices, haircuts, birthday parties, dance recitals, fitness classes, dinners out with friends, or vacation with my family. As best I can, I work hard to make it all fit for my life: career, self, family.
But as a "Work/Life" practitioner, it wasn't until this very year, during this very month when we celebrate #WAWNWFM, that I have finally recognized something so incredibly important about the category of my line of work. The very phrase "Work/Life" is usually always separated by a hyphen, a dash or the word "and" (i.e. work-life, work/life or work and life). Throw the word "balance" in the mix and you've got two distinctly separate concepts. But as I now am experiencing life without work, even if only temporarily, I finally understand that there really is no clear division between work and life at all. At least for me, work is such a very big part of my life and it is a part of who I am. It's in my DNA. And likely, it is in yours too.
From the moment we enter elementary school we are preparing for the skills, knowledge and ability to secure a good job or enter into a profession. We blend our talents with passion and experience in hopes of applying it towards achieving a successful life, which includes a successful career and meaningful work. My earliest memories are of older and wiser family members asking me what I want to be when I grow up. By the time I was fifteen years old, I had a work permit. I have worked my whole life since. When I enlisted in the United States Army, I even took an extra job on the weekends. I worked while in college. And while pregnant with both my children, and then again after having them, I worked. I worked while dodging the curve balls life threw at me: divorce, medical issues, car accidents, single parenthood and more.
I am proud of what I've accomplished throughout my career. It defines who I am. I am good at what I do and I enjoy it. And although I'd rather be working right now rather than not, this time away has helped me realize that maybe we've lost the true meaning of "work-life balance" in our efforts to achieve it. Perhaps instead we should simply strive for achieving a balanced life.