By Christine Marchesiello
“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls – family, health, friends, and integrity – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” -The One Thing
Have you dropped one of your glass balls? I have. I’ve essentially told this story to anyone who will listen. For me there’s power in reminding myself of the vulnerability I felt but more importantly every time I tell it I remind myself not to go back. It was about 10 years into my real estate business and I had a 3 and 6 year old when I started to literally think that I would not be surprised if I developed some sort of major illness because I was under so much stress. I could feel it in my stomach and thought about it often. At that time I was working easily 12 hour weekdays and 10 hour weekends essentially everyday (that doesn’t count the texts and emails that turn it into 16hours). I took days off yes but on average my weeks looked like that. I was squeezing in family time here and there and devoting almost all of my time to growing a business. It wasn’t lost on me that I was choosing the part of me that was driven to be the best for strangers rather than prioritizing spending time with my own family…but I couldn’t stop.
“It’s a flexible job” they said. “you can choose your own hours” they said.
Those things are true but when you have the addiction called drive, selling real estate can quickly turn into an all-consuming life. If you have this addiction you will understand this and if you don’t you’ll be confused on how I could possibly be choosing to do this to myself and my family.
Luckily the year my life started to feel like this was also my 10 year wedding anniversary and my husband and I had planned to go away for a week to celebrate. During that vacation is where everything changed. I can’t point to a specific thing or thought I only know that it became scarily apparent how my life was consumed by my work. I did enjoy the second half of that trip but the first trip was like a slow drug withdrawal and that drug was work. I had committed to only “working” 1 hour a day and literally had anxiety not being attached to my phone because “people needed me” and I was letting them down….let the irony of that sink in for a minute. I could not even relax and enjoy myself on an island in the middle of the Caribbean. It ended in a mini tantrum on about the 3rd day and ultimately, I made the decision to hire a full time assistant and that began a complete mindset shift about how I was going to work differently and still accomplish everything I wanted while accepting that I needed help getting there. Not doing it all myself wasn’t failing. People say to me All. The. Time. “I don’t know how you do it” and at that time I didn’t either. Now, I do know and it’s a combination of a lot of strategies including accepting help both at work and with my children but also its from some clarity that came from reading several books on the topic.
Around this time is when I read my favorite one, “The One Thing”, for the first time. One of the concepts in that book is that “Balance is a Myth”. Balance is not something to strive for as we all think. Instead what we are actually striving for is “counterbalance”. Understanding this concept was also a huge aha for me as it related to how I felt about my work/personal life. Maybe you saw my post on Facebook requesting what type of blog post you would be interested in reading about other than real estate and the overwhelming majority was “work/life balance”. Likely, you thought you’d get a post about multitasking strategies or a Good Housekeeping style article about the perfect working mother and my commitment to a bedtime routine….but that’s not what you got. Instead let me tell you about the concept that has changed how I look at my time, that of “counterbalance”. Instead of aiming to achieve a balanced life start thinking about achieving a counterbalanced life. Essentially what this means is its OK, yes OK to be out of balance. There are things at work that need your attention in an out of balance way at times just as there are times at home where you will have to let things at work go in order to attend to them property. For me this means things such as when I am home with my kids spending focused time playing a game or doing bedtime I’m no longer trying to catch up on email and text. What I used to see as multitasking was actually my glass ball being dropped. Some days I literally might only get 20-60 minutes of “focused” time with my kids and I have learned to be conscious of counterbalancing toward them in that time. When I’m on an appointment and I don’t check my phone for an hour everyone survives, and I’ve realized the same thing happens when I give an hour to my kids. It may be hard to understand this perspective if you’ve never had a job where when people need you they need you now and there’s very little room for understanding if a response takes longer than 5 minutes. I’ve been conditioned by this for 13 years. If you are in a job that doesn’t require and rely on immediate responsiveness consider yourself extremely lucky because this concept of counterbalance will likely not be so mind-blowing and challenging. If you can relate to this, I hope that this simple strategy, at the very least, will make you think twice if your phone comes in the room with you when you put your kids to bed at night. I’m still not perfect at this but as with anything awareness is the first step to getting better at it and I have definitely gotten better at finding the counterbalance in my life over the last few years. Go out of balance, it’s ok, but when you are attending to one of your glass balls stay there and be present.
If you want to read more on the topic of the myths surrounding balance and multitasking as well as many others about focus, I strongly recommend reading or listening to The One Thing by Jay Papasan and Gary Keller.