The Elusive Work-Life Balance – Stories from the Real World

Alycia’s avatar

The Introduction

You would think that the first day back to work after a lengthy yet rejuvenating vacation would have me singing the praises of work-life balance. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. We made a point to return from our vacation with a built-in buffer day before returning to work. Nevertheless, the reality of what lies ahead of us in our “real life” is intimidating.

As a Turbulent Mediator, I struggle to reconcile my desire to do great work and be a great spouse/parent/daughter/friend. I aim for perfection in every area and fall short, sometimes spectacularly so, on a regular basis. Work is not only the creative outlet I so desperately need, it helps me support my family in a meaningful way. As a mother of four children, however, every minute I spend working is time I’m not spending with my kids, and there is a certain amount of guilt and frustration that accompanies that reality.

How to Make It Bearable

It’s easy to tell myself that my work has value and meaning – for myself, my employer, the readers, and my family. What’s harder is reconciling that meaning, which I so deeply desire as a Mediator, with the relationships that it takes me away from. 

Working from home is a perk. However, being surrounded by four loud, brilliant, demanding, funny, needy children drains away much of the energy that my Introverted self needs to function in top form. Not to mention the massive amounts of laundry to be done, meals to be made, floors to be swept, bathrooms to be cleaned, and so on.

I spend time every day making tweaks to our routine, specifically my own, to make things easier and less overwhelming. Mediators aren’t known for being neat freaks, but clutter – both in terms of noise and stuff – can be extremely distracting for my personality type. I find having a daily rhythm helps me find balance between mental silence and creative stimulation. 

For example, cleaning up the kitchen as I make meals, having kids help with chores where they can, and making good use of nap time for uninterrupted work are key components of this rhythm. It’s not easy, but it helps me feel like I’m getting things done while also making my home and family a priority.

What Is Balance, Anyway?

So, I make the situation bearable, but is it ever truly balanced? Do I ever have a day where I feel like I’ve given my children the love and attention they need while also performing exceptional work and finding a bit of solitude to decompress and recharge? Not really. There are many days where one or two of those areas have been addressed, while the others have fallen by the wayside. I lose my patience with my kids more than I would like, and I find myself struggling to focus on my work completely. Decompressing and recharging often feel like mythical activities rather than something that I could ever reasonably achieve. 

Learning about the needs of my own personality type, however, has helped me realize the importance of finding at least a semblance of balance in these areas. As idealistic as it may seem (hey, I am a Mediator, after all), I do strive for a sense of balance, because it makes me feel like I am really living according to my values. 

Some may see balance as a myth, but I look at it as a map that I use in conjunction with my values-based compass. I want to be a loving mother and wife and an inspired, creative writer – so I point my compass in that direction. To balance those two things, I create a metaphorical map of things to do to achieve those goals.

It’s not easy, but I usually manage to get done what needs to get done. I do things like getting up at 5:45 a.m. to work out or do yoga to recharge and take care of my body, and writing in my journal with my morning coffee while having breakfast with my kids. I take regular evening walks with my husband so that we can chat about life and decompress together. I set aside time for work during the day and when my spouse is home so that I can get my writing done without excessive distractions.

Learning Lessons

The toughest lesson for me to learn throughout this attempt to find balance is that I cannot achieve perfection. The real myth is that balance itself is a sort of perfection. Balance requires taking away from some areas and adding to others to even them out, not giving 100% to every single thing all the time. That has been a difficult reality for me to swallow. 

My Turbulent trait, despite giving me a high dose of inspiration, can also keep me from taking the time I need to center myself, because it pushes me to get in a few more hours for work, read yet another story to the kids, or clean the bathroom (even though it’s clean enough). This is the dilemma that many working parents face – the feeling that we are not good enough if we don’t get everything done. 

Mediators such as myself are especially prone to putting our personal needs on the back burner to meet the needs of others. We want to be everything to everyone, potentially losing ourselves in the process. The sad reality is that this mentality ends up hurting everyone when burned-out Mediators lose their drive, creativity, and compassion in the process. 

Knowing that I am an Introvert with idealistic tendencies has helped me temper these unrealistic expectations I have of myself. I cannot be all things to all people, and I must make my own well-being a priority to be the wife/mother/employee that I want to be. That’s not selfishness, it’s a necessity. 

Final Thoughts

I also realize that spending nine days on a dream vacation and coming back refreshed and ready to go is sort of a myth as well. Transitioning from days of seeing extraordinary sights and having someone else clean the room and make the beds every day to doing endless loads of laundry and meeting work deadlines has been a wake-up call. 

For someone who would love all of life to feel like a magical vacation, the realities of daily life can be frustrating. But learning to embrace the magic and attempting to incorporate it into everyday life has helped. Writing about it, hanging up (or creating) inspirational artwork as a reminder, and even planning that next trip can keep the inspiration alive. 

Balance, as elusive as it may seem, is a valuable tool if it doesn’t evolve into perfectionism – which is truly unrealistic and unachievable. Being as gentle with yourself as you aspire to be with others is more valuable than a spotless home or even a big bank account in the long run. Burnout and bitterness do not make for a productive or happy person, and life is much too short to spend being perpetually dissatisfied. Practicing patience and grace for both yourself and others throughout your journey of work-life balance is necessary for navigating life in a sustainable way – for Mediators and other personality types alike.