The 9th definition

office

office

 This summer, I gave two talks on work/life balance. And since the second speaking engagement was just last week, I think it's only fair to show you a photo my desk. (I should probably put some tea lights in those candle holders.)

Until a few days ago, this is how it looked. If you're a neat freak, relax. I'm typing this post on a now-tidy surface. I don't thrive in this type of environment. And in fact, this picture is a good illustration of my tipping point — when I've neglected a particular area of my life long enough.

As I prepared my most recent presentation, it became crystal clear why balance is so important to me. I came to the conclusion by first defining what balance is not. A balanced life, in my opinion, is not the Hollywood standard of a perfect body. It's not wishing you were a size zero, forgetting the star — who's already beautiful — has been airbrushed.

A balanced life is not a magazine cover life. Not even the latest issue of Real Simple or Martha Stewart Living.

Trying to define balance is tricky. Wikipedia (my first go-to source, because it's always at the top of my Google search) calls balance a "broad concept." And Merriam-Webster has nine definitions of balance -- most describing an equal distribution of weight. Not one definition refers to time and how we spend it, which I found interesting because I'm always comparing my to-do list with the number of hours in my day. And it doesn't add up.

But the 9th definition of balance, according to madam dictionary is the clincher: Mental and emotional steadiness. Think about that.

I'll admit, working at a messy desk does not create a feeling of mental and emotional steadiness. Which is why for the last few weeks of summer, I stopped working there. Never underestimate the power of avoidance. The stuff strewn across the glass surface needed my attention, but it was not necessarily "work" (at least not work that serves my ultimate big picture), and it was definitely not anything I considered a top priority.

Here's why I let the mess pile up:

About midway through summer break I realized I was exhausted and stressed. A big red flag. And you might think it's because I have two little boys. Well, yes. And no. I was not feeling my best, because I have a habit of thinking I have to respond to everyone and everything at the very second the request comes in. That I have to tackle every goal right now. All at once.

But finally, I remembered something important. The struggle I was feeling was self-inflicted. It wasn't coming from anyplace good. Call it the big giant "yes" demon that aspires to take us away from our main purpose. Our higher calling.

As I let some things pile up on my desk, here are some things I didn't neglect:

  • sleep
  • exercise
  • my children
  • my husband (hubs may disagree, but I was a lot more present at the end of summer than I was at the beginning)
  • my real work, which involves a column, this blog and the book. (Full disclosure: The book got the short end of the work stick, when I decided to make sleep a priority. But I saw this as a short-term "problem," knowing I'd gain daytime office hours next month when both kids are in school.)

I could still give myself more quiet/meditation/prayer time, but I'm pretty sure God listens even when I'm moving about my day... which has been my typical method of communication lately.

It's hard to believe and trust that less = more. That shaving away the less important things makes us more efficient and productive in our most important work, our top priorities and values. Letting stuff go is difficult. Being polite as I say "no" is tough.

But, here's what I noticed when I returned to my overflowing inbox: After giving it some breathing room, I came back to the mess with a better frame of mind. And I was able to quickly determine one of two things:

  1. Deal with it
  2. Delete

Guess how many times I hit delete?  Or scored two points when I tossed something in the trash?

How do you create "mental and emotional steadiness" in your life?