Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How Do You Balance Self-Care With Compassion?

I’m still working my way through the September crunch. Do you get this in your life too? With the summer over, and school starting for the kids, there are schedule disruptions as we try to piece together the kids schedules. when I was in corporate, summer ended and everyone realized they had to make the Q3 numbers all at once. I know traffic here has exploded too as everyone comes back online. Yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. Today, I’m looking to find the good in all this stuff.
Ok, I admit it – being overwhelmed by scheduling extra-curricular activities for my kids seems very much a first world problem, and not a particularly big one at that. In a time when the world is in a refugee crisis, #blacklivesmatter, and Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed is arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, should this trivial stuff even register? It should, and I’ll get to why in a moment.
First I want to comment on what happened with Ahmed. He is an inventive 14 year old 9th grader, who brought a clock to school, assembled with circuit boards and chunks of metal, to his Texas High School. The school panicked, thought it was a bomb, called the police, and escorted him out of the building in handcuffs. Shamefully, even after they learned it was not a bomb, he was suspended, and admonished for bringing something dangerous to school. This was abysmal treatment of a young creative mind, and fortunately he was not physically harmed. This negative situation opened the door to something amazing: people noticed, and acted.
First, there was outrage on social media as ordinary people spoke out. Soon, Ahmed was invited to
  • the White House to meet the President
  • Google’s science fair
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Box by their CEOs
Suddenly, Ahmed has amazing opportunities because people took action when something bad happened. Each person said to him or herself, “What can I do to make this better?” Collectively, they did a lot.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another opportunity to do good. Here again, some people are stepping up, donating money or opening their homes to help people in need.  I have come to believe that the bigger the crisis, the larger the opportunity to do good. If you would like to donate to help Syrian refugees, Google is matching individual donations. Click here if you’d like to donate.
But what about the garden variety day-to-day crisis, like the September crunch? It is tempting to focus our giving and kindness on “those truly in need.” Yet each of us has needs as well. They may seem trivial compared to the life or death situations faced by millions around the world, but they are the problems we are confronted with. Until we take care of ourselves, we cannot properly care for others.
The same formulation can apply to the trivial: What good can I see in this situation, and what action can I take to make a difference? Today I’m remembering how fortunate to live in an area with such choices for kids growing up. And, it is an opportunity to think about what is truly important to me. Where can I cut back for a few weeks until the schedule settles into a routine? Where can I add some exercise or stress relieving activities? How can I incorporate them into my life on an ongoing basis? If I am getting stressed, is it just me, or do the kids feel it too, and if so, perhaps they have too much on their plates.
And the action I’m taking? The Dr. Who marathon of course!
Tell me what you think. Do you feel the September crunch? How do you balance self-care with compassion?

The Spiritual Side of Going to the Bathroom

spiritual side of going to the bathroom

Don’t float your ears

I had an interesting experience recently with one of my study partners. We were reading a 15th century Rabbinic text about the Mussar soul trait Enthusiasm, and the author wrote the following:

“One must be especially zealous not to delay evacuation, both defecation and urination, even one moment”

This sentence was amidst the discussion about rushing to do good, and working to remain positive even in the face of difficult situations. HMMM
Like many such teachings, at first it seems a bit out there. But then I remembered that when I get very focused on my work, I delay using the bathroom, sometimes until it is quite urgent. Later, my daughter told me about a Tumbler post saying “To all my followers, stop holding your pee for so long.” Then I remember countless times when I was in corporate of people saying “I was so busy I haven’t had time to use the bathroom all day.” More than once a woman I knew would run out of the room when it was time for a bio break.
What is so important that we can’t take a two minute break for personal relief? We have a duty to take care of ourselves. It is also counterproductive to wait. I admit it, more than once I’ve been on a phone call when I really have to use the loo. It is distracting. It is hard to be my best self when I really have to take a leak. When  we don’t take time to take care of our basic needs, how much harder it will be to get to the gym, eat right, sleep, and all of these other more time consuming and less convenient ways of self care.
What do you think? Is there a spiritual side to going to the bathroom? Should we rush to use the bathroom as soon as we have to go? I can’t see myself going there (no pun intended.) But, I will try to be more mindful about my bodily needs, and take care of them in a timely way.
If you are interested, you can read the original text from Orchot Tzaddikim, The Fifteenth Gate: The Gate of Zeal here. It is on the bottom of the second page.

The Secret Flaw In Work Life Balance

work like effectiveness by Mike Kline via Flickr ccI’ve never liked the phrase work/life balance. I’m just not comfortable saying it. I like the sentiment, but the phrase is somehow wrong. I now understand why, but it will take me a while to get there.

Cali Williams Yost makes a significant improvement when she writes about work+life fit. In her book Tweak It, Yost explains the origin of the idea. She was meeting with a senior executive, explaining the benefits to the company of offering employees better work/life balance. But as soon as she said “work/life balance”, his eyes glazed over. Yost asked him to explain why.

“Every time you [Cali] say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?”[i]

Yost explained that is wasn’t about working less, but about having the flexibility to choose when and where you work. Yost invented the phrase “work+life fit” on the spot. The executive got it immediately, recounting how he plays tennis twice a week, and tries to fit his son’s soccer games into his overall schedule. Work+life fit is about giving individuals the flexibility to make work fit into their unique circumstances.[ii] For Yost, this was a key breakthrough that has enabled her to open dialog with business leaders about increasing workplace flexibility.

I loved work+life fit when I first heard about it. It made sense to me, because flexibility is a significant improvement over inflexible work hours.  People are happier and less stressed if they have flexibility.

But, there remained a niggling doubt in my gut, which is captured by the image I chose for the post. Our heroine has work+life fit of a sort, but it is not a happy picture. Flexibility is a plus, but if one it merely moving around the ninety hours, there still is not enough time to have a balanced life.

The problem I am trying to solve is chronic overwork, and increased flexibility doesn’t help if the overall hours remain the same.

Continued … the Real Goal Is Life Balance


[i] Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Williams Yost. p xiv More

[ii] Ibid p xiv-xv