Career woman. Involved mother. Loving partner. Is it really possible to have it all -- and not have a nervous breakdown from the stress?
We all have a friend who looks like she just has it altogether. She balances work, kids and husband effortlessly. She never looks harassed. And she is living the life you wish you were living.
My friend's name is Jo. She has three boys and they are beautifully behaved. Polite, nice, intelligent. She has a very successful career at a major multinational company. Her is happily married to a very supportive husband and they do amazing things together. And all over Facebook there are pictures of her and her fabulous family living the dream that every woman I know wants to achieve.
So one day, for the price of a coffee, I tried to extract all her secrets. Mothers constantly feel like they are on the back burner, I said. If we work, we feel we are bad parents. If we are stay-at-home moms, we miss our jobs and the adult interaction. If we do both of those well, chances are that our other relationships are suffering badly. And most of us rarely leave the house beyond swimming lessons and supermarket shopping trips. How can you manage to have everything? I asked. "Well it depends on how you define 'everything'," was her answer.
So like the nerd that I am, I have diligently spent the last two years plugging away at putting into practice the secrets Jo gave me. Am I perfect? Absolutely not. But I do feel a whole lot less stressed and more positive about myself and the life I am living. My online family travel magazine suitcases&strollers is thriving, I get to pick my kids up from school, my husband and I regularly set time aside for each other and I am doing my favourite sports again regularly for the first time in years. And now I have other women coming up to me asking, "How do you do it?"
Here is how to have it all, as I learnt it from Jo.
1. You Must Define What Is Your "Everything"
First, you need to know where you are going to direct your efforts. Pick and choose what your priorities are in life -- the things that you absolutely will not compromise. If you are having trouble deciding, it's good to try to force yourself to really articulate what it is about that thing in your life that means you are willing to sacrifice time elsewhere to do it. If you can't articulate it, maybe it's not as important as you think.
Jo suggests it's good to have up to four different areas that you nominate. After a couple of years at doing this, I agree. I can't imagine how anyone would manage more than four moving parts.
For me, these parts are my kids, my work, my husband and myself. (Not necessarily in that order.) These are the four balls I'm trying to keep up in the air. I want to have time to be an involved and engaged parent. I want to work and be intellectually stimulated as well as to contribute to the household expenses. I want to maintain a happy and healthy relationship with my husband beyond the children. And I want to have energy to do things I love for myself, whether it be exercise, see my friends or just do a mega box set marathon on front of the television.
2. Having "Everything" Doesn't Mean Doing It All At 100%
For Jo, having everything means scheduling her time so that she is able to achieve about 80% of what she wants in each area of her life. Trying to do everything at 100%, for her, usually leads to stress, misery and failure.
For example, if I set a list of all the work goals I want suitcases&strollers to achieve in one week, I usually hit about 80% of those. If I manage to hit 100%, it often means I've had to work through the weekend and most evenings and I've missed valuable family time. Or I've cancelled date night with my husband. Or I've skipped going to the gym. Which then means that while I feel great about work, I feel pretty bad about myself in that other area that I've missed.
The magic number might not be 80% for everyone. But the point is that it's about acknowledging your limitations and understanding that if you sacrifice a little everywhere, you will get to do a bit of everything.
3. You Need To Get Organized
Successfully juggling your four balls will not happen if you are not organized. To maintain balance and equilibrium in all the parts of your life, you need to set a plan and be really honest with yourself about sticking to it.
Again, being the nerd that I am, I have a family schedule on an Excel spreadsheet in my office that maps out who or what is getting my time when. It is ever shifting and changing, but I nearly always find that if we move one thing aside to do more of another without compensating elsewhere in the schedule, someone in the house is overtired or unhappy or disappointed. Often that person is me.
And in my head I have that same spreadsheet magnified down to the day. So when I have a choice of eating lunch versus chasing another client for suitcases&strollers versus playing LEGOs with one of my kids, I know which one I should be doing based on what else has been going on.
It sounds overly neurotic, but if you take the extra few seconds to think through why you are making the choice to finish a work presentation rather than sing nursery rhymes so that you can be more focused in the park with the kids later, the little guilt fairies are far less likely to haunt you later on.
4. Take All The Help You Can Get
We all have so little time. Why spend it doing the things you dislike? If you can afford it, delegate everything you don't like doing to someone else or find a way to stop doing it so much.
Perhaps it means you invest in a robot vacuum so you don't have to sweep daily. Or once a week the family enjoys a take away night so no one has to cook and wash up. Or you allow a little kids screen time when you need to take a conference call so that later you can devote your energy properly into playing hide-and-seek.
5. What Matters Is You
Ultimately what matters is not being the perfect superwoman, but living the perfect life that's true to who you are. So, for instance, if being an organic-only household is something you aspire to but it doesn't quite make your priority list as part of your ideal "everything," maybe it's time to let that one go.
In the beginning when no one had heard of suitcases&strollers it took my ego awhile to accept that I'd just walked away from a glamorous and prestigious magazine industry so I could work from home and be around for school pick ups and sports lessons. My old colleagues might be appalled that I sometimes spend all day working in my pajama pants (sorry Harper's BAZAAR) but now I love being able to hit the gym in the middle of the day when everyone else is at the office or have lunch with my husband when he has a spare hour mid week.
What matters is not how other people see your life, but how you feel about it. And if you're happy and doing the things you love that are important to you, then isn't that having it all?