Do you ever remember going to a playground to ride a teeter totter as a child? If you do, you may have learned about balance at an early age.
My favorite teeter totter was at McManus Park. As I remember it was simply made of a large rectangle (wood in those days) that balanced in the middle by a central sphere. You would hop on one end and your friend on the other. The game was to take turns being elevated in the air while your friend touched the ground or pushed off and vice versa. Every now and then your friend might not balance well, or push off correctly, or prematurely exit their end to leave you crashing down hitting the earth abruptly. From this you kinesthetically learned that balance takes paying attention, and on that playground toy a bit of trust.
On carefree childhood days like those at McManus Park, there was not much to balance in life short of the teeter totter. But as we grow into working adults, raising families, contributing to our communities and churches and trying to continue to evolve as people, finding balance can seem as jolting as the crashing to the ground of the teeter totter. In fact, research tells us 61% of us worry about our work life balance, 70% of us have had our health affected by it, 59% of us feel it affects our interpersonal relationships in the form of stress and it is a leading cause of workplace violence and absenteeism! It often feels as if we have more to do than the time to do it in, and attempting to be responsible to diverse responsibilities can leave us feeling effective in none of them. How do we balance work and life in a way that everything receives it's due, and we feel successful in all of our roles?
We may be able to take some tips from athletes. This past summer in Des Moines, where the Tero headquarters are located, we became quite proud of Shawn Johnson, the Olympic gymnast who hails from none other than West Des Moines. Shawn exemplified the utmost professionalism and athletic prowess in her events at the Olympics. Watching her get ready to compete on the balance beam was telling. After Shawn would powder up her hands, the camera would focus in on a clear shot of her face. It was impossible not to see the combination of focus and determination in her eyes and countenance. It was evident that although she was in an arena with thousands of people and could have thoughts running through her mind about numerous details involved with her circumstances, she was clearly not in that noisy stressful space at all. Her look communicated there were only two things at that moment she was present with, the balance beam and herself. While we were able to watch and enjoy her talent, she was at one with herself and the task, and nothing else entered into that space.
A certain swimmer also gave us a glimpse of this same "presence". Michael Phelps stole the show in all of his events. There was one event where the newscasters were speculating whether he would win and if he was getting stressed. The newscaster said "Watch his face as he comes up for air. If his face shows any tension its over. His body will tense and he will not win." Sure enough, although the race was close, as Michael's head bobbed up for a breath before his turn, he looked calm. He is too savvy of a swimmer not to have known his challenges at that moment, but he did not let the challenge register in his body and affect his result.
What do the actions of these two Olympians tell us about balance? Work, life balance? Too often people picture success at balancing work and life to be perfect balance at all times. Always the right amount of time and equal time for family, work, community, church, etc. Like a teeter totter that stays constant in a parallel position. Not only impossible, this idea is impractical. Perfect balance is not possible or desirable. There are times in life we need to devote more to one aspect of our existence than another.
So what is desirable work life balance? What does it look like? Like the athlete, we have true work life balance when we can achieve a natural fluidity in moving from one necessary context of our lives to the next and being fully present in each. So if you are at home, you are not thinking about the details of your workday, or the pressures around it. Instead you focus like Shawn Johnson on the task or person right in front of you and are fully present. You give it your all in that space of time. Conversely if you are at work, you powder up, create the space for your task and expertise to combine and execute. If there are home issues, you check them at the door. You then are more effective in the work moment, which will get you back to the home context quicker and having achieved more. Like Michael Phelps, your body language never reflects tension or stress over an outcome. Instead it remains indicative of your calm focus and intent to do your best at that time in that moment.
Like most things in life, this sounds easier than it is. It is however a discipline, an agreement we make with ourselves, and it can be achieved. Only you know the contexts of your life that are vital for you to show up and be fully present in. They will change over the course of your life. The one thing that will not change is the fact that paying attention to what's in front of you and within you at any given time and being fully present in the moment will allow you to create a work life balance that is definitely medal worthy.
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