Caring for Your Whole Self: My Ongoing Attempts at Work/Life Balance

Saturday, March 30, 2019

"You don't have anything to give that you don't have." -Oprah Winfrey

I've never been a big Oprah person, but when I saw this video of her last week, I was completely struck by it - & it has stuck with me. It was the first part of the first presentation of the day at Engage! Cleveland's Next Generation of Women event, & it was one of the most moving parts of the day, especially when paired with a conversation with Jan Murphy, senior vice president of mission & ministry for Sisters of Charity Health System.

The session, titled "Caring for Your Whole Self," was about creating better balance & taking care of your mind, body, & spirit, while staying away from negativity, toxicity, & over-commitment. Murphy, a former nun with 40 years of health care experience, is a former COO for the Cleveland Clinic - which is to say, she probably knows a little something about staying calm, collected, & mentally sound while also being a career badass. (Is it OK to call a nun a badass...?)

One of my favorite pieces of advice of the day was such a straightforward one: "Make it simple for yourself so that you have a happy life." With Jan's & Oprah's words on my mind, I thought I'd share what stood out most to me & how I try to apply it to my own life.

1. Practice gratitude. 

"Write down what you're grateful for," Jan suggested, telling us about the time that, throughout the course of a week, she had her employees write down what they were grateful for (anonymously) on slips of paper. At the end of the week, they read the slips aloud, which inspired everyone to better recognize the little blessings in their life - even after a difficult work week.

While I am not in a position of leadership to institute such a practice at work, I do try to practice everyday gratitude in my personal life. I wrote about it in the blog post "5 Easy Ways I Practice Gratitude," paired with my convo on the podcast Get Well, Girl. It's an ongoing process!

2. Be compassionate toward your colleagues. 

Work is a large part of what we do, but it's not all we do. "People don't come to work & leave their family & all that behind when they walk through the door," Jan told us. Good leaders, she emphasized, recognize & have compassion for the outside lives of their employees.

It's so easy to get frustrated with coworkers - especially when you work remotely & don't often interface with coworkers on a casual, face-to-face basis. For the sake of my stress level, it's important for me to recognize that my coworkers are people, too, & they're dealing with other life stuff that has nothing to do with the job, even if it manifests itself there.

This helps me better have compassion for the people with whom I work - & ultimately, it keeps me from being annoyed or stressed or frustrated. Now that's self-care!

3. You can't do it all, but you can do what matters to you.

Do women stay away from leadership roles because it'll mean more time at work & less time with family? Sometimes, Jan said, but not always - & there are ways to do both. "If you want it, don't give that up," Jan said to women who want families. "There will always be career opportunities out there." You decide what matters to you, & then you figure out what configuration works for your life.

"Do your homework & understand what the demands are [of any job you're interested in]," she told us, saying that some jobs will simply not be the right fit for anyone who also wants a family or a strong work/life balance - but many employers are compassionate & flexible, allowing parents to work from home, to work odd hours in order to accommodate their family needs, etc.

As someone who loves my job & wants a family, this resonated with me. I want to continue to work & to maintain a career, but I don't necessarily need or ever want to be top dog. I just want to figure out a structure that will allow me to feel fulfilled at work and as a parent.

4. Book time for your mental health.

"I have to have some quiet time in the morning, or I'm like a hummingbird on crack for the rest of the day," Jan joked. She emphasized the importance of taking time for yourself - & scheduling that time for yourself.

This is something I'm still working on. I'm not a morning person, so I rarely have time to do much before jumping into the workday; at night, I keep working or start freelancing, which leaves very little "me time." I've started doing exactly what Jan suggested: scheduling non-negotiable time for myself in my calendar, when I need to unwind & just be.

5. Stay organized - but don't overdo it. 

"Design what is really going to work for you," Jan said of personal organizational systems. She has a personal assistant but also uses the Notes app, her Outlook calendar, notebooks, & journals to stay organized - & she works hard not to overbook. "If [the calendar] starts to look ridiculous, like it would take 10 of me to do it all, I step back," she said.

In the last year or so, I've gotten way more organized, & it's improved my quality of life so freaking much. Who knew?! Women like Jan knew, I guess. I'm still refining my organizational tactics & may share some of them here soon to crowd source ideas from readers. Any interest?!

6. Set technological boundaries.

"Keep private time sacred," Jan encouraged, speaking about the advances in technology that allow us - & sometimes require us - to be connected 24/7. She talked about the stress of 3am emails & always being "on-call" & how companies are going to have to figure out how to deal with these challenges if they value their employees' mental health - & not burning them out.

Again, because I work from home and in digital media, I do feel pressure to be on, literally - on the ball, work-wise, & online, generally. I check email on days off & before bed; I've been known to send 3am emails. "What big thing is going to happen that cannot wait?" Jan asked, & indeed, I ask myself this all the time. I need to ask it more often & really force myself to step awayyyy from the Internet.

7. Stop doing things you hate.

Jan spoke about this concept in a couple forms, starting with finding a job you like. She first became a nurse after her brother was badly burned in a fire, which led to her passion for health care. I am grateful to have a job I love, focused on a mission I believe in, so this rang true with me. It's easier to overlook the grunge work of any job when you feel positively toward it overall!

She also talked about trying to "do it all" when it comes to housework & the everyday stuff: "Figure out the things you like to do & the things you hate to do, then hire it out." This got a huge applause from the audience, myself included. I've started occasionally hiring cleaners when I feel overwhelmed by apartment mess, & I occasionally order pre-made meals from Raw Trainer so I can eat healthy without having to cook or meal-prep.

Why do we make money if not to occasionally spend it on making life easier for ourselves?!

8. Ignore your impostor syndrome.

As someone who frequently thinks, "How the heck did I get here?!" it can be overwhelming to delve too far into those thoughts & eventually wonder if I'm supposed to be here - or if I'm just faking it. It was reassuring to hear that so many other women - even those in positions of high-up leadership - feel this way, too, & none of us is actually an impostor (unless you're, like, a con artist & total scammer, but I'm assuming the best in people here!)

"No one can ever take your power away from you unless you give it to them," Jan said, closing out her presentation. To that I say: Amen.

What helps you stay sane, at work & in the rest of your life?

Disclosure: I was asked to promote Engage! Cleveland's Next Generation of Women event on social media, in exchange for a complimentary ticket to the event. As always, all opinions are my own. 

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