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Monday, November 18, 2013

Your mission: finding balance

marcus_jp1973, Flickr

If there's one thing I have come to realize in my thirty-something years of life, it's that you cannot have it all.

Thanks to the ubiquitous American Dream discourse and to parenting that focuses on empowering kids by boosting their self-esteem and telling them they can achieve anything if only they want it hard enough, we come of age persuaded that the sky is the limit.

Don't take me wrong: the sky IS the limit to those who are willing to work hard and consistently. Being an asthmatic who runs half-marathons, I know that for a fact. But the sky is the limit only in a few areas of our lives. Not in all of them. That would be just plain impossible.

Difficult choices have to be made along the way. An example: in my early twenties, I was very ambitious, career-wise. A yuppie wannabe. I had wild plans. I would wear a Rolex and drive an Audi or BMW. That was among my priorities. At some point, despite the fact that I have always loved children, I did not even want to have any of my own, for fear that motherhood would interfere with my climbing of the corporate ladder. If I had kids, I thought, I would hire a full-time nanny to look after them. I could already sense that if you want to do it right, it's one or the other: motherhood OR career. Not both. You cannot be there for your kids a lot and work a lot.

What I could NOT sense yet was that once I had children, I would want to be with them pretty much 24/7. There are different reasons for that, but from the moment I became a mom, I strongly felt that my place was beside my kids, and that their place was beside me. This is my experience, and I'm not saying all women feel that way; to some, it seems like staying home with the kids would be akin to be thrown in jail. But as far as my own choices go, I decided to put my career on ice for many years in order to be present for my kids. I knew right from the start that it would have repercussions on my whole adult life. Yet I did not hesitate. After almost 10 years of motherhood, I can say without hesitation that the benefits for my kids, myself, and the family as a whole were well worth it. I thought I would be back "on the market " long ago, yet I still work the bulk of my week from home (as a self-employed translator), spending only 10 hours a week teaching outside the home. I don't see when this is gonna change. It works for us. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice. I actually like it.

Again, this is my own, personal experience, and I understand and respect that other mothers have a different feeling and approach to the work-family reconciliation dilemmas. Honestly, I think we all look at each other wondering "What if she has it right, and I have it wrong?" I know I sometimes (often) wonder if I'm not wasting some of my career-related potential. But the truth is, none of us has it right and none of us has it wrong; we all do what works best for ourselves and our family in our own personal and unique situation!

I have also made the choice to prioritize my health and fitness. This takes time and energy away from other endeavors. But it's important to me, and so I "just do it". The rare times I had to interrupt my weekly routine of workouts because of sickness, I was amazed with how much time I gained... but nonetheless very aware that I am most happy when I spend a good 7 hours a week or more exercising (plus the inevitable stretching and showering that follow).

Another obstacle in the way to a full-fledged career is that - oh! surprise! - I also need free time. Time to read, time to write, time for my friends and family, time to just get lost in contemplation. It is a luxury I do not want to let go of.

I quite like the balance I have achieved in life. (To be exact and completely honest, I should say "I quite like the balance I struggle like crazy to maintain in my life"! But hey, no one said it would be easy.)

JerOmmm, Flickr

It's all about choices. Constant choices. My mother, who makes everything from scratch when it comes to food (she grows her own food in her garden to begin with), has offered to give me the same yogurt maker and bread machine she uses. My reaction was along the lines of "No thank you. If I start making my own yogurt and my own bread, I can pretty much say adios to my precarious life balance! Way too time consuming!" On the other hand, I have acquired a high-energy breed of dog, who needs long walks and runs every day. That, I was willing to do. It's all about putting your priorities in order.

There is no foolproof recipe in this world, so I never cease to reassess my life and my choices. I do NOT want to wake up at 65 feeling that I gave my time and energy to the wrong things. Sometimes, I have doubts. I question myself. But who doesn't?

Whenever you feel like you might have a "small", uninteresting life, remember that 1) you simply are choosing to prioritize different things; and 2) those who seem to have it all lined up don't necessarily fare better. One of the girls I went to high school with first became a lawyer, and is now a judge. Sounds impressive like that, but the first thing she adds after answering "I'm a judge" to the "What do you do?" question... is the very sincere "It was my dream job, and I thought I would love it, but in fact I do not enjoy it at all". A judge, but an unhappy one. Who wants that?

This post is NOT an apology of a simple, unambitious life that would solely focus on everyday domestic bliss, and I do NOT want to demonize big accomplishments. Not at all. What this post is is an inducement to look at your life honestly and to decide what your priorities are going to be, implementing them right now and with conviction.

If you still feel like you might not have lived up to your own expectations, remember this: we tend to forget our successes and take them for granted as we go. Sometimes, stating the facts by focusing on the positive can help make our life sound "impressive" again... bringing back a well-deserved sense of satisfaction and even pride.

I, for example, could say, and it would all be true, that I started my own translation/editing/writing business and that in said business, I have clients and/or associates all over North America, plus in Europe, and even in South America (e.g. Argentina) and Asia (e.g. Singapore, China, etc.). I could also mention that some (most) of my clients are among the biggest names in pharmaceuticals, nutrition and cosmetics. Makes it sound big, doesn't it? Yet in my everyday life, siting alone in front of the screen, painstakingly translating away hermetic medical terms, my career feels anything BUT big!

More importantly, what I enjoy the most in my everyday life are those moments that bring about no money, no recognition and no prestige: I love chatting with friends or family members, I love cuddling with my kids or with my pets, and I love getting lost in my own existential thoughts. This won't get me to the top of the ladder, for sure. I does get me to a serene and happy life, however.

How do you reconcile all your goals, aspirations and needs?


  1. I relate completely to this post - I'm still trying to get the balanced part to the point where it becomes about maintaining. But, I do agree that often it is about choosing to focus on the things that are important to us and letting go of those that aren't (like making everything from scratch!!).

    1. As long as we pursue goals that are ours and not somebody else's, we're good to go! :-)

  2. So much truth in the post! Balance and not giving a crap what other people think about my priorities are both things I struggle with constantly!

    1. It's both reassuring and scary to hear YOU say that, Crabby! LOL :-)

  3. It's a tough one for sure, Julie! Even the Great Wallendas had a few falls along the way!

    Also, my dad once told me, "You could have been anything!"

    I'm still processing that one :-)

  4. Oxytocin --I think it makes our kids look like the most adorable creatures, likened to human puppies. I actually used to call my last two kids my puppies. And I used to rub their puppy tummies too. And I've never carried out my professional ambitions so far as I imagined due to, in part, the kids. :D

    1. Hormones! It's always hormones' fault! LOL Thank you for coming by, Marion.

  5. Just saw a news story that said 16 percent of US citizens hate their job. I think it must be higher than that, but the other point of the story is that we lead the world in job dissatisfaction. I finally achieved a modicum of balance when I retired early. Life is still very busy, but it at least feels productive for ME; for my health, mental and physical, for my family (my mom benefits from the time I can spend with her), for my spiritual pursuits. I would have loved to stay home when my daughter was little, but alas, could not make that work financially. She did all right, though, and has a great adult life. I pat myself on the back for that one.

    Balance: it is the grand pursuit and I think we'd be a happier nation if more people strived for it.

    1. Thank you for that insightful comment, Tara!

      Sometimes I wonder why exactly so many people don't like their jobs: is it because said jobs are so unpleasant, or is it because people expect too much from their job? I'm off to ponder that. :-)

  6. I was explaining to somebody recently that I live a very aesthetic life. I was corrected by this person to mean, I live an ascetic.

    In truth it's both, but I meant aesthetic. I view my life as something to be looked at -- to be viewed by others, in the same way they might view a pretty tree.

    But when I built my life... Worth repeating, When I built my life, I designed with a yin and yang of sacrifice vs. reward. If only more people could see that they are free to do this.

    My life involves freedoms, and commitments in equal portion. I am very lucky, and often feel I won the lottery of birth. In one sense I did, but in many others my aesthetic life has been planned, and earned -- with no complaints, and full acceptance the I draw the charts.

    With regard to the American dream, my American dream has little to do with the acquisition of things, and much more to do with personal responsibility.

    1. A life that is both aesthetic and ascetic would be the best! :-)

      I agree with your view of balance, and share your interpretation of the American dream.

  7. your post makes so much sense, I always make choices based on how happy I feel but sometimes I question my choices, I wonder if my friends made the right choices and I made a big mistake by doing what I choose to do. Usually I try not to compare I try to look at why I made those choices in the first place and would I really be willing to give up what I have???
    the most important thing to me is spending time with family. I had an option to work from home and I took that which lets me be there with my family whenever they need me, I am there at home when T gets back,I have time to try new classes, I have time to write..I don't waste time traveling but sometimes I miss getting dressed up,going out, meeting new people..that's when I question my choices...but again I am not willing to cut back on my family or my passion...not easy to find that balance, I am working on that everyday :)

    1. It's a work in progress for sure, Tanvee! Comparing ourselves to others might be the greatest obstacle. What do WE feel like doing with our life? is the question we ought to answer. Thank you for the great comment!

  8. I love your distinction that we can truly reach for the stars in some areas of our lives. But, we can't do this in every aspect of life. It's not humanly possible. And trying to achieve uncommon success in every area is a quick way to fail at everything and be miserable in the process. Great post!

    1. Yep, so better identify 3-4 areas in which we want to spend time and energy, and relax about the rest! :-)

  9. Julie

    I love your post and to quote you "Again, this is my own, personal experience" and "More importantly, what I enjoy the most in my everyday life are those moments that bring about no money, no recognition and no prestige: I love chatting with friends or family members,"

    All through life we have the choice, and we have to balance what is best for us.

    Reading others blogs, exchanging views, ideas and experiences help us to digest and decide what is best for us. With that we have to take account of circumstances. That may be where we live, health, money. Life is a precarious balance at times, which some of us ignore, and it isn't until it is taken away do we realise and appreciate it. Some would even say wouldn't it be boring if it was all plain sailing.

    At the risk of repeating myself ... love your post

    All the best Jan

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jan.

      I agree that reading other blogs gives us feedback and ideas; in some cases it is inspiring, in some other cases we will end up thinking "great for him/her, but it's not for me".

      I always, always remember how precarious life is. I think about it every single day.


  10. Hi
    Within the small life that we create for ourselves there is enormous potential for striking a balance in every small thing we do.The choice is always free before us to craft value through the moments that we live in. The peace you feel within at your core speaks to you ruthlessly yet softly about the quality your actions. And the best part is that you are always allowed to retrace your path to your origin.You can always commence to create balance right where you are.