Un-balanced Living: The Poop Story

There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.

Lord Chesterfield

When my kids were small I worked full-time.

I felt like I was always running; trying to build a career, commuting an hour to and from work, coming home to take care of two kids, cook dinner, feed and walk the dogs etc. etc.

At the end of the day, my routine often left me feeling overwhelmed and incompetent.

At the time I bought into the concept of a balanced life, believing that other people had achieved a glorious work-life balance that let them float through the day. (OK, not literally, but close). I figured if everyone else was doing it, I should be able to as well. And when I didn’t live up to what I thought everyone else was achieving, I was upset with myself.

When my daughter was less than a year old, I read an article on how to live a balanced life that listed multitasking techniques for getting everything done. One of suggestions was to clean the bathroom while supervising your kids in the bath.

This made sense to me because the kids loved to play in the bath, and I could get one room cleaned while they played. Multitasking at its best. (Yes, I thought multitasking was a really, really good thing.)

I gathered all of my cleaning supplies, put my daughter in her safety seat in the tub, gave her bath toys and started scrubbing the counter, toilet and sink while listening to her play behind me.

I was pretty proud of myself for getting two chores done at once and figured with a few more ideas like this, I might get on top of everything.

I turned around a few minutes later to discover that my daughter had added a few more toys to play with in the tub.

Yup. She pooped. She, the tub, the bath toys — covered.

With a disheartened sigh I took my daughter out of the tub and wrapped her in the newly hung towel then I took the toys out of the tub and piled them in the newly scrubbed sink so I could scrub the newly soiled tub and restart the whole process.

Quite some time later I was not feeling so smug as I finished my daughter’s bath and turned to tackle the pile of toys; deciding which ones could be sanitized in the dish washer and which ones I should just toss in the trash.

What Does Balanced Living Mean?

I’d like to say that cleaning the bath tub and rebathing my daughter taught me a lesson about slowing down and enjoying the moment rather than multitasking to get one more thing done.  But it didn’t.

I’d like to say that I threw out the ideas I had about living a balanced life along with the tub toys. But I didn’t.

It’s taken a lot longer than that for my thoughts to change, and I still struggle with this most days.

It’s not that trying to achieve balance is wrong; it was my definition of balanced living that caused me to feel overwhelmed and a failure. To me balanced living meant succeed at being all things to all people all the time. I thought I had to balance all of my commitments at home and work and get everything done to everyone else’s satisfaction.

I’d never have said that at the time. But looking back, that’s what I was trying to do.

Viewing Tasks as Chores

Did you notice that earlier I referred to my daughter’s bath as a chore? That’s how I saw most things, one more task on a checklist of everything to be done in order to be successful and appear to have it all together.

One more thing to accomplish before I was allowed to do something I wanted.

I didn’t realize that since I was going to spend the time with the kids in the bath no matter what, I could choose to enjoy that time and see it as playful down time with my kids instead of worrying about how quickly I could get through the baths so I could move on to the next thing.

Even thought I spent a lot of time worrying about all the other things I needed to get done – that didn’t mean I did them. I was usually too tired, too overwhelmed, and too busy worrying about them to do them.

But here’s the funny thing — the world didn’t end. But I didn’t notice that everything was continuing along just fine because I was too busy worrying about it falling apart.

A New Type of Balance

I’ve learned a lot since then, and now I’d say balanced living means that I have to be in balance, centered, grounded or whatever words you want to use, before I can be present for my family and my work.

What I’ve learned is that the worry and the mental gymnastics of thinking about everything that I needed to do didn’t make me more productive.

When I give my all to a task without worrying about the next one, and then sit and read a book and enjoy the time doing nothing rather than feeling guilty for doing nothing, and the world stays the same – but I’m happier.

And sometimes (not always, but sometimes) when I save the energy I would have spent on worry and guilt, I find I feel like getting another task done. And when I’m in that frame of mind I tend to enjoy whatever task it is that I set out to do.

How do you define balance? What do you to center yourself when you feel out of balance? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Here are some other thoughts on centering yourself:

photo by Juliette Culver
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