How to Find the Work-Life Balance You've Been Missing
When Your Life Becomes Unmanageable
I spent more than a decade working in the world of substance use disorder treatment. Translation: I worked with addicts whose lives were completely unmanageable. Unmanageable from top to bottom, left to right, and down the center. Not only did I work with addicts, I worked with addicts who were incarcerated, typically homeless, and often women with children. Life can't get much more unmanageable than that. As a professional, I was confident in my ability and I excelled in my everyday role. Ironically, I spoke daily of the importance of a balanced life. So how in the world did my OWN life become unmanageable? And completely imbalanced? Well, I will tell you. My life got thay way because I made it that way.
More Isn't Always More
Confession Alert! I never wanted to go back to work after I had my oldest child. Unfortunately, it was financially impossible for me to stay home, or even work part-time. So, I figured if I had to work, I better find fulfillment from my career and that meant climbing the ladder straight to head bitch in charge. In this quest, I became blind to the obvious imbalance by the desire to be more and achieve more. You best believe I got to where I had aspired, but I ignored the signs, hell even the sirens, that more was actually way less. Making more money, meant working more hours, which meant more stress. All those "mores" meant less, WAY LESS. Less time with my children and husband, less time staying in touch with friends, less time seeing my extended family, less quality time to spend even a second on myself.
Initially, I could fake my way through by masking the unmanageability and imbalance. However, as I dug myself deeper and deeper at work, spread myself thinner and thinner at home, it became apparent that there was no possibility for balance. Anywhere.
Less Isn't More Either
It was in 2015 that I began to feel the dreaded "burn-out" that is so prevalent in the social services. I was nine years deep in my career and was facing a professional plateau. My solution was to start graduate school full-time. Shortly after, I became pregnant with our third child and was working 50+ hours per week (with a four and two year old at home). I finished that degree in just 15 months, and graduated magna cum laude when my youngest was four months old.
Again, I thought more meant more. More education had to mean more money. If I had to work, I better get paid well, right? I believed that fancy graduate degree would catapult my career further upward, so I validated the sacrifices of any normalcy or sanity that we had left as a family unit. After a failed attempt at a promotion that was all but guaranteed, I finally realized I had created a life that was so unmanageable, it was beyond repair. I started to realize more wasn't more at all and maybe I actually needed way less.
Since there was no repairing the disaster I'd built, I decided to leave my incredibly demanding job instead. I accepted a job with less pay, with way less responsibility, in a professional niche that I had much less experience or genuine interest. Frankly, I was desperate, but I convinced myself I was being strategic. I thought if I swung the pendulum in the complete opposite direction toward a lifestyle of "less" I would somehow land in the middle, finding balance square in front of my face. Nope, screwed that up too. Instead I was sucked into the opposite end, where I felt "less" as I was pinned by regret and embarrassment. My poor beloved family felt it, too,
Finding Genuine Work-Life Balance
After about six months of feeling defeated, deflated, and annihilated by my impulsive career move, I started looking for jobs again. I was still looking at full-time positions, and back in a management role, but had confided in a friend that all I truly wanted was to work part-time. That was the first time I had verbalized that dream in years and years. I was slowly realizing that I owed it to my family to find something that was truly going to allow for genuine balance. And, I was willing to admit I even owed it to myself.
I found myself surveying our finances over and over and over and over to see just how much more of a pay cut I could take. I lost sleep, and had many an anxiety ridden day contemplating whether I should make a dramatic career decision, yet again. With some hefty sacrifices, and the continued blessing of my husband's support and great paying job, we decided that I could in fact work part-time. Working part-time would allow me to be the mom that my children needed, the wife that my husband deserved, and still find a career niche that was both fulfilling and a doorway for full-time work down the road. Part-time meant I wasn't sacrificing my hard earned (and expensive) degrees or the career/management experiences that I had sacrificed so much to obtain.
Alas, something that once seemed completely impossible and unfeasible was seemingly viable. There was so much superficial relief in knowing this possibility existed. However, actually making the decision when the time came was unequivocally one of the most stressful decisions of my life.
A Decision That Truly Is More: More Time
I now work part-time, making just over one-third of what I did at the highest salary of my career. Ironically, we have found ourselves happier and more cohesive as a family even with the dramatic financial realignment. Though I have to micromanage our spending, I don't have to micromanage our time. That has created a home void of stress and animosity regardless of income.
A very wise friend said to me when I was torn apart by fear when considering part-time work, "Brenna, you can always make more money, but you can never make more time." Those are words I plan to live by for years to come. I am proof that balance often rises from the trenches of complete unmanageability. Once I gained the courage to follow my true calling, I found the overall life balance that I had always been chasing. A life that is not more or less, but rather a life that is complete.
I realize that my solution for work-life balance is unlikely to work for everyone of even anyone, but me. But, if you find yourself wondering how to regain work-life balance in your life, I encourage you to ask yourself one question. Where do you find your mind wandering throughout the most stressful work day? My mind always went to my kids' faces, their little hands, their big hugs. Maybe your mind goes to that small business you've always dreamed of opening, or the long vacation to Europe you've never thought possible. The solution to imbalance is within you, but you have to gain the courage to accept the accountability that goes along with the journey to get there. These are words I used to say over and over to the addicts I tried to help for so many years. Yet, I never heard them myself. When I did, my life, our life, began to evolve into exactly what we needed-- balanced. May you find the courage to get there soon, too!