Work Life Balance – Journey or Destination?

Work-Life-Balance-Sign-post-by-Stuart-MilesThat elusive lifestyle where we devote equal amounts of energy on career and all of the other important areas of our lives – health, family, faith – is the balance that we women continually strive to strike. Imagine what our lives would look like if we actually found that balance? What would your day look like? Here is how I envision my balanced day:

Sleep: 8 hours; Work: 8 hours; Family: 3 hours; Self: 2 hours; Spirituality: 1 hour; Key relationships: 2 hours

It’s fun to fantasize about having a day like this! The fact that I might only get 6 hours of sleep, 1 hour with my husband and the rest is swallowed up by work and my commute does not discourage me from trying to carve time to exercise, to spend time with family or to meditate some time during the week. I learned to adjust my expectations knowing that what I have to deal with every day does not stay in discreet buckets. Work seeps into home time and home issues seep into work time. Allowing that interplay has helped me feel more balanced.

One of my colleagues is a master time manager. Her schedule is quite intimidating. She will admit that her calendar makes her unavailable for the random conversation at work. But, it is her way of achieving work-life balance. I share that to say that there is no right formula for how we try to achieve balance. We try different tactics until we find the one that works for us.

To better navigate the journey towards work-life balance, I found it’s best to leave behind all of that baggage! You know, the guilt baggage about not meeting our own unrealistic expectations of being super-Woman to all. The destination of work-life balance is not the utopia we believe it to be. I think work-life balance is a moving target and the state we seek changes according to our goals and priorities, which change at different stages of our lives. So, work-life balance is not a destination but rather a never ending journey of awareness of how we spend our time. Over a lifetime, the search for work-life balance is our way of questioning, testing and discovering our life’s purpose.

If you’re frustrated because you are feeling your life is unbalanced, try different tactics until you are devoting time to priority areas in your life. But then, let go of the guilt and the belief in a final destination. Focus on the journey you are on to discover your life’s purpose.

If you’re life were more balanced, what would it look like? I look forward to your comments!

Much Love,

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A Birthday Wish

Today my nephew turned six years old. He is growing up too fast and I feel the velocity of his maturing at much greater intensity because of the distance that separates us. I vaguely remember being his age but if he has inherited anything from me I hope it is my curiosity and desire to understand why things are the way they are. At his age, I wanted to understand the reasoning behind rules like having to eat everything on my plate when I was full, getting a boy’s hair cut so that my hair could grow long, or having to nap in the middle of the day when everyone else to be awake. My nephew is passionate about planes, cars, and anything on wheels, and he too is questioning why he has to go to bed when everyone else is up and about – so smart!

My beautiful nephew is growing up as an active, curious, inquisitive, courageous and confident little boy. His mom and dad get a lot of credit for creating an environment where their children feel safe, cared for and important. Today, my nephew and 17 of his closest friends enjoyed a fun celebration which I got to see in pictures. There were a lot of games, noise, toys and sugar, like any proper birthday celebration should be! I just wish I could have been there in person. In honor of his turning six, I think I will eat six chocolate kisses before the day is done.

For my nephew – I wish that the world will treat you kindly, that you will always have what you need, and more, and that you will forever be guided and protected by God’s love, peace and light.

Much Love

Making New Habits Stick

kitchenIn our constant quest to a better ourselves, we look to adopt new behaviors and habits. But new habits are hard to adopt especially when those new behaviors don’t feel all that rewarding for the amount of effort we’re putting into it. Take for example my goal to declutter my office by going to a paperless filing system. This was a habit I tried to adopt last year and it involved changing completely how I processed bills and accounts. The new habit involved different steps of scanning, shredding and saving vs. slipping the bill into a folder and filing by year and month – something I had done all my life. So, sticking to this habit was harder because it actually felt less satisfying and the reward for my new behavior was not immediately apparent. I still have folders filled with old files (my purging process is going slowly) so I wasn’t seeing a less cluttered filing cabinet – I just wasn’t adding to it. I am happy that I was able make this habit stick. I attribute my success in adopting this new habit to having created barriers to the old system. Basically, I made it almost impossible for me to revert to old ways by not setting up new folders. The only thing to do when a bill came it was to follow the new paperless procedures. I can see the reward now and it’s great to see that my files are not growing and bulging with paper!

 

Another new habit that was a bit easier to stick to was to have a clear and clean kitchen at all times. This meant that dishes were to be washed, dried, and put away – as soon as they were dirtied. This differed from my current habit of letting things pile up during the day and cleaning up at once, either in the evening or the next morning. This new habit required carving time every morning to clear breakfast dishes before heading off to work, and cleaning up right after dinner instead of watching television. But it wasn’t only dishes that cluttered the kitchen. The island had become the repository of the daily mail. By week’s end, half of the island surface was littered with mail. Sticking to my goal of a clear kitchen became especially challenging on long work days when all I wanted to do was to go to bed early and leave the dishes until morning and deal with the mail on the weekend. But, I would make myself stick to my new habit even when I had no desire to do it. Fortunately, for this new habit, the reward was pretty immediate – a clean uncluttered kitchen – aaah! An unexpected plus was that my husband began adopting the same behavior and is pitching in to keep the kitchen spotless.

 

So I learned that to stick to our new behaviors and create new habits two things will definitely help: 1) eliminate access or create barriers to old behaviors and 2) focus on the rewards of the new behaviors. If the rewards are not immediately apparent, then create rewards! I want to gain muscle tone and maintain my cardiovascular fitness this year. I know it will take several months before I see results so I have created rewards for myself. For example, I listen to my favorite mystery books on my iPod when I go out for a run, and only when I got out for a run. My love for mysteries is a great motivator and reward that will get me closer to the real reward of working out.

 

Adopting a new habit is hard work and it takes time.  If you slipped up, don’t sweat it. Just keep at it and hang in there!

 

Much Love,

 

 

3 Life Lessons From 2013

questioningI know it is well into the new year and many of us are focused on working on our resolutions and looking ahead to lighter, richer, healthier, better version of ourselves. But, I’m not quite ready to close the book on lucky 13. Before I bid adieu to el Año Viejo, I feel it’s important to reflect on what life had to teach me last year. For me it was a great year with challenges, achievements, wins, and losses. Each small experience brought to me life lessons. Below are three of the big takeaways from 2013 that I wish to share with you:

 

Helping people make positive change should feel as good as spreading soft butter on warm toast

I love mentoring and coaching people to help them achieve their dreams. I mentored friends, colleagues, and students throughout my career as a natural byproduct of my work, but this year I was fortunate to have a job as a coach and work with people from all over the country. This summer I had a couple of coaching and mentoring experiences that were very challenging. The goals were not the issue, it was how I felt about the progress they were making. I felt frustrated and anxious at not being able to truly identify the best way to be helpful and have them move things along more quickly. I tried different tactics and continued to feel uneasy with my approach. I sometimes doubted my abilities as a coach and wondered if I was asking the right questions. Yet, other people I was coaching were making great progress and it was thrilling to see how each session was opening up new ways of thinking. In the end I learned this: people can only work on the things that that they are ready to face – and that goes for professional as well as for personal issues. It dawned on me that I have seen this kind of resistance to change in myself. When we are truly ready to deal with the barriers that hold us back then we become more open to help and more pliable to change. Those people who sailed ahead with a little bit of coaching were truly ready for it and helping them felt as good and easy as spreading soft butter on warm toast. For myself I learned that be most helpful to people I have to match their pace. If their pace is at a standstill, that’s as far as it will go and that is okay.

True friends are superheroes that show their superpowers in times of distress.

Some lessons come in the ways of do’s and don’ts. This is the case with this lesson. Throughout my life I have considered myself surrounded by lots of friends. The main reason for this is because I called everyone a friend. If I knew only a little bit about you then bam!, he or she was a friend. If we had done some work together or shared an experience, that meant we were automatically friends. You can see that I had set a pretty low bar to friendship and it came back to bite me. So the lesson for me here was don’t set the bar to friendship so low that I can trip on it and fall on my face 🙂  But, the real takeaway comes from the incredibly beautiful experience of seeing my true friends emerge by my side when I was facing difficult times. My friends (and I use that title very carefully now) have become larger than life superheroes in my life giving me their attention, support, love and constant reassurances. They have deflected negativity with one swoop  WOOSH!, crushed my self-doubt with a single blow CRASH!, and kicked fear right in the gut. POW! Their counsel, advice, and shoulders to lean on have been the most precious gift any one could receive. True friends, like Superheroes, are rare indeed.

Work towards what you want but let go of the outcome

I am a big believer in visioning. If you can envision what you want, I believe that you will get what you want. Where I get discouraged is when the path towards my vision seems to take me off course, or if it does not line up with the steps I thought it would take, or if it’s taking much longer than I thought. The frustration comes in when I feel I cannot control the steps or the speed with which I am making progress towards my vision. From the prior two takeaways I learned this: I cannot control the outcome. How things wrap up or end up are not for me to own because all who are involved share and contribute to that outcome. I can feel elated or disappointed about the result but it is not for me to own as if my actions alone were the catalyst. The best thing I did in 2013 was to surrender. To surrender is hard but also uplifting. To surrender does not mean giving up my power, rather it is a way to release my power from the box I had constructed around it. If you’re looking to feel lighter in 2014, try surrendering. It works!

If you would like to share your big takeaways from 2013, write them in the comments section and I will post them in a special page for all of us to read.

Feliz y Prospero 2014!

Much Love,

The holidays are coming – time to kick my butt into gear

plankI must have been a bear in a previous life because as soon as the temperatures drop, I want to cacoon myself in my down comforter and sleep through the winter. And like my bear ancestors, I also want to eat everything in front of me. My body craves hearty warm foods like spicy chili, butternut squash or chicken soup. And honey. It doesn’t help that my running routine also takes a dip in the fall as I am horribly allergic to sweating in the cold.

 

Last year I managed to muster enough will power to get myself to run outside at least one day per week, as long as the temperatures were in the 40s. Fortunately, the season was mild enough to keep somewhat of a routine, but I still lost some of my endurance and gained a couple of pounds. The future weather tellers say that it’s going to be a rough winter so not wanting to slide back on my metabolism I signed up for bootcamp.

 

Bootcamp is kicking my butt. It has only been one week and the number of squats, push ups, burpies, and 2-minute holds of the plank are making muscles hurt that I didn’t even know I had. As my arms and shake uncontrollably and I take myself to a mental place that will allow me to hold the plank for the last 15 seconds, I wonder if running 3 miles wouldn’t be easier, even if it’s freezing outside. But, our trainer reassures me that all of this pain is going to help my body burn calories even when I’m sitting down.

 

My sore muscles are making me walk funny but I’m hoping that in a few weeks I will be a calorie-burning machine, even when I’m just snuggling deeper into my warm bed.

 

Much Love,

Dear Friend,

friendsHave I told you how much I treasure the gift that is you?
You, my true friend, came into my life, unexpectedly
And, from the moment we met, I knew there was something special about you.
Remember how much we laughed? So glad we still do!
I wish we would talk more often.

My friend, you are the sunshine that always lifts the fog and dissipates the clouds
You give me strength and courage when my steps are uncertain and shaky
You are my source of truth and wise counsel because you know my deepest fears, and have kept them secret.
And in those times when I was broken, you were there to gently put me back together.

You’ve taught me to be better, because I cannot BS with you.
In good times and in bad times, in all seriousness and in all silliness, you have made whatever was happening – much, much better.

Thank you, my true friend, for being ever present, ever kind, and ever loving. Even though many months may fill the space between our calls, I know we will pick up right where we left off.
Your friendship means the world to me and I hope to forever give to you
what you have given to me.

To you my friend, and to all who someone calls a true friend, I say
May God continue to bless you and, thank you.

Much Love,

May We Never Lose Hope

cloudsHope. What a wonderful human emotion. When life is troubling, when we cannot figure out which end is up or in which direction to go, hope is a beacon that cuts through the fog and gives us a reason not to quit, a reason to not despair, a reason to get up, dust ourselves off and keep going.

Several years ago I met a young lady, Lizette, who asked for guidance to deal with her situation. She was a high school student who had graduated with 3.8 GPA and was seeing her dreams of a Bachelor’s degree disintegrate before her eyes. She was undocumented. She had excelled academically and had a strong record in athletics and dedicated several hours per semester volunteering in the community. Lizette was offered scholarships at a couple of private institutions but even with the scholarships, her family could not afford the remaining cost to attend. After exhausting every possibility to receive additional scholarships, she made the choice to work at a restaurant, save as much as she could, and hope that one day she would have enough to attend college. I worried that she wouldn’t make it.

But, that’s what’s great about hope. I don’t know how many jobs Lizette worked, how many times she got discouraged by the passage of time when she felt she was not any closer to her goal. However many setbacks she faced, however many times she felt like giving up, it was hope that kept her going and striving for her dream. I was thrilled when she wrote me a couple of years later to tell me that she was enrolling in college that fall. Lizette and I kept in touch and as a college student, she faced other challenges, including a serious illness and the death of a parent, that would have discouraged even the strongest among us. Hope kept her going through illness, loss, classes and work. I cannot begin to imagine the enormous feeling of accomplishment and reward she was feeling on the day she graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in May 2013.

When hope pays off, like in the case of Lizette, it feels so good. But, not all of our hopes lead to the ending that we wish for. A year ago I came across a blog about hope. It was written by a woman, I’ll call her Elizabeth, who was battling cancer. Her writing combined humor and hard-core reality to depict her battle with cancer in a blow by blow account, akin to witnessing a boxing match. As Elizabeth’s postings became shorter and farther apart, I hoped that it was a temporary setback. The next and final post was written by her husband. Elizabeth had lost her battle to cancer. He wrote to thank all of her blog followers who had become another source of hope and encouragement for her. He said that she remained positive until the very end.

Some situations don’t end the way we wish. At some point we realize that our hope for a certain outcome needs to redirected. Certain outcomes are outside of our control and in those cases I still think it’s important to hope, to keep a positive outlook, and to be persistent. It’s just as important to know when to accept that some things are or happen for a reason and we must accept a different outcome. Accepting and letting go of the outcome frees us to redirect our hope and spend energy on other people or things in our lives that we may have overlooked.

I think of this beautiful soul who documented her fight with cancer. At some point she must have accepted that she would not live to celebrate her next birthday. As the treatments and disease weakened her body, it is likely that she redirected her hopes from beating cancer to hopes for her family and made the most of her time to tell them what she hoped for them.

May we never lose hope and know when we need to redirect it.

Much Love,