Word of the Year 2020 - Balance

Well it's that time of year again, when we find ourselves reflecting and setting goals.

Last year my word of the year was "Grit" - see here for the blog post about what grit is and some links to great resources.

This year, I will admit to having struggled.  Hope is too banal and immeasurable.  If I'm honest, I wanted "grit" again - one year surely isn't enough to perfect something is it?  I know it isn't for me.  But then I hit upon it:  balance.

For more than a decade I have struggled with balance.  As a dancer, my physical balance is excellent, provided my eyes are open (if they're closed I tend to just topple over backwards).  But as an adult?  Forget it.  The constant juggling and plate spinning of trying to manage work and life and a relationship and taking care of myself physically and mentally and squeezing some sleep in there occasionally is a skill I've yet to master.  I tend to be an all-or-nothing kinda gal, generally giving work and others my all and my own wellbeing nothing.  This is a problem in two ways: firstly, it leads to burnout.  I've spoken openly about my breakdown and that came from exhaustion.  Secondly, it means you don't have the physical or mental reserves to heal or to cope when things come flying at you.  It also makes you resentful - an ugly thing to admit, but it is what it is.

So this year I've decided to make "balance" my word of the year - to be mindful (ugh I hate that word now it's become "vogue" - all meaning seems to be dragged from it, but that's another rant for another day) of what I am giving myself to and what I am neglecting.

As ever, here's a TED Talk on work life balance.  I think the most important line is here:
"too important to leave in the hands of your employer". 

We have to take responsibility for ourselves, for our time, for our own balance.

Let me give you an example from my teaching days.  I was in the office having my breakfast at 8am, having arrived at 7am to do my photocopying and rearrange the tables for the classes I had that day, and cram in some marking.  A good friend and colleague of mine walked in, and proceeded to put the kettle on for a coffee.  As she was waiting for it to boil, we chatted.  The door of the office swung open and with barely a good morning, our head of department started asking my colleague about her response to an email she had been sent the night before.

"I'm afraid I haven't seen it yet," said my friend.
"Oh, I sent it last night," explained the HOD.
"Ah well if it was after 6pm I'm afraid I won't see it until the next morning at 8.30, I stop looking at work emails after 6pm."

The HOD said nothing, just looked at my friend.  You could see the realisation dawn on her that actually what my friend was saying was totally reasonable - let me be clear here, she was a very good HOD but again an all or nothing kinda gal and work got her all. When presented with this explanation, she realised that actually she wouldn't consciously ask her department members to check their work emails at 7.30pm at night, and instead had just assumed they'd been seen.  Are you with me?

"Ok, well when you get chance just ping me back and let me know what you want to do," she smiled, and accepted the coffee that my friend had made for her as well as herself while the exchange was taking place.

See how easy it is?  To slip into constant work mode?  To reach for your smartphone as you eat dinner to just check your emails?  Then when you stop to think about it - it's ridiculous isn't it?

There was one time when a school had to send out a parent communication explaining that emails would be acknowledged within a 48 hour window, during the working week, and not at weekends.  Why was this necessary?  A parent had emailed a teacher at 9pm at night, then rung the school at 7.30am to lodge a formal complaint that she had had no response to her email.

Now, is this parent a piece of work?  Perhaps, but I think it's more likely that in the world of "instant" messaging, and "blue ticks" to show someone's read a message, it changes our social expectations of others without us consciously realising it.  Technology is a wonderful thing: it can be a really useful tool - but it can also be dangerous for our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.

I was one of these - I still am!  At the time of writing I am officially on holiday - taking two weeks off from running the yarn store, and taking a month off from The Project Bag.  Yet in that time I've had two conversations with my boss (I called her, not the other way around) and listed my Sketchbook Boxes on the website. See?  Old habits die hard.  Switching off is not easy for me because I am passionate.  And passion isn't a bad thing, but everything in moderation.    It's quarter to eleven at night and instead of kicking back on the sofa with my knitting or crochet, husband and puppy to watch some TV, I am writing this.

Ok - you know what?  I'm going to finish this tomorrow!  Time to get some balance and not be working at 11pm!

I'll be back when I'm back from my journey to Scotland.

In the meantime, let's get this conversation started:  how do you maintain a work/life/rest balance?  Do you struggle?  Tell me I'm not alone in this!


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