When you hear the phrase work life balance, do you:
a. want to reach through the computer and strangle me for referencing lifestyle blog/self development cliches
b. imagine an Instagram photo of a thin blond woman doing yoga on the beach
c. think “WHAT IS THIS MYTHICAL BALANCE YOU SPEAK OF”
d. circle all of the above
Very few of us have lives that are perfectly divided into work and play. Maybe you work 60 hours a week and never see your partner. Maybe you’ve got an amazing social life but you’re working a dead-end job. Maybe you’re in perfect shape … but you spend so much time training for marathons you never see your non-running friends.
Work life balance isn’t necessarily easy and – honestly – it’s not for everyone! But if you’d like a bit more play than work (or a bit more work than play) read on for 4 epiphanies that have helped me find more balance in my life.
(entire internet rolls their eyes and groans “dur, ooooooobviously, von bargen.”)
Like almost every other human, I’ve spent most of my waking hours trying to feel good. And like every other human I’ve attempted to feel good by…
eating many, many bowls of noodles covered in butter and cheese
buying one million Target sundresses
binge watching Broad City
saying snarky things about other people
drinking $13 cocktails
And while many of those things made me feel good in the moment (#cheeseandcarbs4eva), they didn’t necessarily lead to long-term happiness. They also, despite my best efforts, didn’t lead to long-term feelings of connection, support, accomplishment, or peace.
Let’s take, for example, my propensity for drinking $13 cocktails with my girlfriends every Friday afternoon.
Do I love these Friday afternoon drinks because …
It feels good to catch up with my friends because I’m seeking connection?
I love doing things at a time of day/week/month when most people are at work; day-drinking makes me feel free?
Eating and drinking outside is The Actual Best?
Being able to buy a $13 cocktail makes me feel successful and accomplished?
All of the above?
When I understand what I’m seeking by spending $40 every Friday, I can find other things that will make me feel that way! Hopefully for less than $40! And if I do decide to continue my cocktail habit, at least I have a deeper understanding of myself, my needs, and the purchases and activities that meet those needs.
So in an effort to help me understand myself better – and maybe save you a lot of time and effort – I’ve compiled the following list of activities/behaviors/mindset shifts that can help us feel the way we want to feel … not matter what that feeling is.
How to feel connected
Go somewhere people are doing things you love to do – a climbing gym, a writing group, a dance studio, a cooking class. Do what you love in the vicinity of other people who love it, too. Talk to them.
Join Nextdoor, the social networking platform for your neighborhood.
Throw a barbecue and invite all your neighbors, even if you’ve never met them before.
Sit with someone new at lunch.
Invite your friends over for a potluck, a clothing swap, or just a marathon movie-viewing session.
Send an email to a friend you’ve been thinking about.
How to feel supported
Tell your partner/best friend/co-worker “I’ve really been struggling with _______, lately. Can I talk to you about it?”
Find an in-person support group. (I joined a MeetUp group for stepmoms and it’s been invaluable!)
Find a Facebook group, a blog, or an online forum for people who are experiencing what you’re experiencing.
Hire a coach or a therapist to guide you through this.
How to feel accomplished
Update your resume and LinkedIn.
Re-read old academic papers you wrote. Be amazed that you once used the term “brain plasticity” correctly and frequently.
Make a To-Done list, a list of all the things you’ve done in the past month or so. Include house projects, professional undertakings, social outings.
Finish one nagging task you’ve been putting off – making that phone call, paying that bill, finally painting the hall.
Think about where you were 10 years ago.
Clean your fridge, purge your closet, look at your bank account statement and cancel all those $7-a-month subscriptions you’re not using any more.
Unearth all those gift cards you haven’t used and spend them, preferably in a frivolous manner. Use the grocery store gift card to buy imported cheese and cloudberries. Use that Target gift card to buy cute underwear or overpriced skincare.
Put on your swankiest outfit and buy one cocktail at your city’s best bar.
Give yourself a great mani/pedi. Or pay someone to give you a great mani/pedi.
By yourself fresh flowers. Cliche? Yes. Effective? SUPER YES.
Get a blow out.
Spend the extra 30 seconds to make your meals beautiful; eat them at the table, on a placemat. Put ice in your water. Drizzle the sour cream prettily into your soup and sprinkle a few almonds on top.
How to feel peaceful
Turn off the radio when you’re driving. Look at the trees, the houses, the people around you.
Drink less caffeine.
Take off your shoes. Put your bare feet in a lake, in dirt, in grass.
Close your eyes. Take 15 deep breaths.
Refuse to argue about a topic that’s not important to you.
Refuse to argue with someone whose opinion you’re not going to change.
How to feel free
Take a different route to work.
Say no to one obligation or invitation that doesn’t interest you.
Go for a wander around a part of the city you’ve never explored. Leave your phone at home.
Pack something new for lunch. Eat it somewhere different.
Take a half day off.
Tell someone what you really think.
Of course, these are things that would make me feel free/supported/accomplished. Your mileage may vary; only you know what’s right for you.
But I want to hear from you! Have you ever tried this approach? Do you understand what feeling you’re chasing when you make decisions with your time and money? What do you do when you want to feel luxurious/free/peaceful?
P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!
How often have you seen “This too shall pass” embroidered onto a throw pillow? It’s one of my family’s favorite sayings, something to be intoned after a layoff or a breakup and I find myself reciting it on the regular – usually while stuck in traffic. But realistically, ‘This too shall pass’ applies to the good stuff, too. This season of life when my friends and I have free time and discretionary income, when everyone in my family is healthy, when my husband and I like our jobs and home … it won’t last forever. That’s okay! Smooth seas never made for a skillful sailor. I’d like to make the argument for banking our happiness.
Let me begin by acknowledging that the internet probably doesn’t need another post about how to be happier. (If you do need one, here are 101 ways to cheer yourself up.) You’re smart. I bet you already own this book. I bet you’ve read eleventy listicles about exercise and journaling and self-care. You’ve read all the happiness tips from The Well-Intentioned Internet People. But, uh, what if you don’t actually know what makes you happy?
If you had to guess – how many times have you clicked on a headline that says something like 53 Ways To Organize Your Closet So You’ll Reach Nirvana? Or Meal Plan Your Way To Personal Enlightenment? Or maybe You’ll Love Your Life If You Can Just Outsource More Of It?
I probably clicked on all of those. I probably clicked on all of them and tucked them in my favorites folder and tried to implement them.
I’m sure I marched around my kitchen chopping vegetables and rifled through my closet, clutching every item of clothing to my chest, trying to decipher if it “sparked joy.” I’m sure I announced to my husband “So, I’ve got this new thing I’m doing.”
When I was 12 years old I convinced my parents to let me be a vegetarian.
I’d spent at least five years battling their two-bites-of-everything rule. If memory serves, my mom finally caved after I theatrically gagged some summer sausage back onto my dinner plate and worked up some crocodile tears + puppy eyes.
I remember her standing in our dining room, hands on hips, and sighing “You don’t have to eat meat anymore but I’m not fixing you anything special. There’s enough food on the table. You’re not going to starve.”
In our current state of helicopter parenting, this might sound overly harsh, but I think it’s completely legitimate. To this day, I’ll happily pick pepperoni off the pizza my friends ordered or dig the pork out of the soup. Being vegetarian is my deal. Which means I’m the one who has to deal with it.
Because I’m The Most Fun, I have plenty of other deals. Want to hear them?
I get really motion sick and I’ll puke if we’re driving through the mountains (even if I take Dramamine).
I don’t like it when people eat cocktail shrimp in my vicinity.
There are various exes I’d prefer not to run into.
I don’t like amusement parks or the State Fair.
Wearing cashmere or angora makes me feel like the walls are closing in.
I don’t like to be around large groups of drunk strangers.
After about four hours of conversation or group engagement, the light turns off inside me and I need to go sit in a quiet place by myself. And preferably read lady magazines or nap.
And there was a time (um, embarrassingly not-that-long-ago) when I thought it would be really, really lovely if everyone ever went out of their way to accommodate my various neuroses.
You know who likes constantly accommodating one person’s needs? Absolutely no one.
If I don’t like it when you eat cocktail shrimp next to me, maybe I should move.
Rather than asking you not to invite my ex to that party, maybe I should go early. Or late. Or go whenever I want and then not talk to them.
You’re having a birthday party at an amusement park? How about I buy you a drink the day before?
If I feel myself reaching my social quota I can just excuse myself and go the eff home.
And nobody’s going to hold me down and make me wear angora.Of course it’s nice when the people in our lives work around our stuff! When they take into consideration our gluten intolerance or our fear of snakes or the fact that we’re on a really tight budget!
But ultimately, I am the only person who is responsible for myself, my happiness, and dealing with my issues. And I imagine you’re in the same boat.
If reading fashion magazines makes you feel bad about your body, don’t read them.
If a specific friend always brings you down, stop hanging out with them.
If a friend invites you to a cabin weekend that you can’t afford, don’t go.
If you’re a vegetarian and your friends invite you to a steakhouse, either don’t go or go and order a baked potato and a martini.
If you’re gluten intolerant and you get invited to a potluck, bring a dish that you love so you’ll have something to eat.
If you’re having a rough, grumpy day, don’t take it out on your roommate/partner/parent. Go to the gym, go for a walk, write in your journal is a sulky, dramatic manner.
As harsh as it sounds, I find this approach really empowering.