It was the perfect September evening. The weather was just slightly crisp and the tips of the trees just started to turn a rusty orange. My glass of wine was half full as we sat with friends … and toddlers.
That’s when a small miracle happened.
“Why don’t we take the kids home and you two sit and finish your wine?” Our husbands both proposed.
Was I drunk?
Was he going to stick me with the bill?
Was this some sort of trick and tomorrow he’ll tell me it’s his turn to hop a flight for a boy’s weekend away?
My friend Brooke and I probably looked confused as our husbands insisted, “go ahead and finish.”
I don’t think we believed them until the little tots teetered off beyond the trees and we didn’t hear “Mom? Mom? Mom? MOM?” for an entire 5 minutes.
Brooke and I sipped wine and talked about all the things we accomplished and didn’t accomplish that day. Laundry, cleaning, conference calls, work deadlines, etc. Like most working suburban moms, we sprinkled in the occasional “I don’t know how you do it.”
And then as the conversation got deeper, we delved into how we feel like we don’t do it all. How hard it is to keep all the balls in the air, plates spinning and everyone happy.
We started talking about how we’ve worked so hard at our careers, but with kids and life, certain goals take a back seat. And then came the familiar conversation path: our husbands don’t have the same pressure and naturally their careers don’t slow with the growth of families.
“I feel like I could do so much more, but I can’t let work know,” said Brooke as we talked about all the other responsibilities we take on, and the big projects we can’t volunteer for. She sighed … and then she said what we all feel.
“I’m just so sick of leaving so much of myself on the table.”
When I set out to create this blog, I was so tired of seeing so many articles telling us “Work life balance is impossible. Don’t try and have it all.” But in my heart of hearts, I knew that message was only partly true. Because as a working parent who also wants time to myself, there’s no other option other than to balance.
So, when Brooke said “leaving so much of myself on the table,” it stuck with me.
It’s not an epiphany that this is what we all struggle with. We know that we could be so much more. We could be more of a force at our jobs, we could be the Pinterest mom, we could start that business we always wanted, we could be the poster child of health and fitness. But there’s only so much time.
We can have it all. Just not everyday.
Maybe if we asked ourselves, what’s worth leaving on the table and what do I refuse to compromise is the secret to making it all work.
IT’S OK TO WALK AWAY ON THE DAILY
My friends who seem to have their act together are the best at deciding what’s best to leave on the table for that day. And more importantly be at peace with it.
And there in lies the rub.
Being at peace with the mess. Being at peace with frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. Being at peace with saying “no” to a project at work. Being at peace leaving the office at 5 a few days out of the week, but working late on occasion. Not forever. Just for today.
If you walk into my house right now, there’s a slimy pile of Honey Bunches of Oats under one kitchen stool. That stool belongs to my now 2 year old cereal monster. She’s a beast when it comes to eating.
My floors look like I hosted an entire marching band for breakfast and let them throw cereal confetti just for fun.
I could walk behind her with a dustpan and broom all day. But I’m not hosting any foreign ambassador or even close relative at my home for months. So, tonight I will go to bed and sleep well knowing that I was able to send a few work emails, write a blog post and do a little research for my future, all while sitting on a stool covered in Kellogg’s.
That’s the true balance.
It’s not about fitting it all in. It’s about being ok swinging the pendulum back and forth. And most importantly, it’s about not looking at your life saying “I never have time to cook.” Or “I never have time to workout.” Let’s instead say, “I’m willing to not cook today so that life works.”
“Yeah, no s&*!, Sherlock”
I know that’s what you’re thinking. You got this. But do you really? And do you ever apply this attitude to how you approach life?
IT’S NOT OK TO LEAVE THE VERY BEST OF YOU BEHIND FOR LIFE
Let’s flip that question: What part of you are you NOT willing to leave on the table?
I’m talking about the bigger picture here, the tremendously unique part of you that gets lost in the daily shuffle. The part of you that you thought you would be exceptional at being, that gets pushed further and further down the priority list.
Because when I think of my overall frustration with work/life balance, I’m irritated most about the person I pictured I would be, but I’m neglecting on a consistent basis.
And I would put money on the fact that there’s a little nagging voice deep inside that’s always reminding you about this amazing skill or passion you have that you’ve buried in a closet. Why? Because you need to wipe down your countertops? You need to prove to your boss you stayed one hour later than your co-workers?
Shoved inside my buffet drawer is a small binder. To anyone else, it’s filled with handwritten recipes. But to me, they are the recipes handcrafted, perfected and memorized by generations before me. They are the meals I remember making from scratch with my grandmother and my mother. These are the skills they wanted me to learn so that I could provide for my children and continue traditions.
It’s not just a recipe to follow, it’s part of who I am.
It’s also shoved in a drawer.
I’m waiting for more time.
Maybe that’s why when Brooke said “I’m so sick of leaving so much of myself on the table” I haven’t been able to shake that concept. There’s so much of me I always pictured I would be, but am I really putting the emphasis on living up to be that person? Am I fulfilling the right dreams?
“Having it all” isn’t about having the career, family and life everyone else has. It’s finding your own definition of what makes you happy and then balancing out how to make it happen.
Over the past year, I’ve been taking classes and courses. Photography, sewing, yoga and now business development. I’ve pitched ideas at work and put in extra time to finish those projects. I started writing, not caring if anyone else reads it. I’ve left my phone at home and run around a park with my kids undistracted and asked them lots of questions about their day. I realized those nagging voices don’t quiet down. They get louder.
I don’t have it figured out. But I’ve never been happier trying.