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Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance

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I felt a little hand on my shoulder at 5am this morning and the breath of my son Josh’s voice in my ear.

“Wake up Mom, it is time to go downstairs!”

The morning sky was still dark. The birds were still snoring in their nests.

I dragged myself out of bed and headed straight for the coffee pot, brewing some fresh Peet’s.

I knew today was a doozy: a triple crown of school picture day, snack helper duty, and show and share. This was bound to bring up a whole host of issues for my wee ones, which of course it did:

  • agony over choosing the perfect thing to bring for show and share
  • agony over taking a bath first thing in the morning
  • agony over choosing the perfect clothes for the school picture
  • agony over getting the right socks/shoes/lunch boxes/bags of snacks out the door and into the car

Of course we had already talked about most of these things the night before, but nevertheless, we revisited everything in the morning dawn.

By 8:30, I was ready for a nap.

Then I got to the office, where there was a big stack of to-dos, that included book forwards to write, speaking gigs to negotiate, sales pages to create, emails to answer, clients to coach and press interviews to participate in.

All of it is juicy, and I feel privileged to do it.

And it overwhelms me sometimes.

No matter how much I parse, plan, purge, and prioritize, there always seems to be more to to do than I can possibly handle. My husband now travels for his business six days a week.

Sometimes I just want to rent a hotel room in town and sleep for two days straight.

But most days, despite glorious imperfection, occasional personal heartache and significant challenges, I really love my life.

If I measured my success by some mythological standard of perfectly balanced workload/perfectly prepared children and perfectly impressive work output, I would be miserable.

These are the questions I ask myself instead of “Do I have work-life balance?

Do I enjoy my life while I am living it?

When you step outside in the morning, do you take a deep breath and marvel at the wonder that the sun keeps coming up each day? Do you watch your kids (or pets!) intently and notice how perfect they are in their own quirky way? Do you ever look at your bank account and marvel that one person, let alone many, were motivated enough to give you some of their hard-earned money? Do you reflect on how amazing it is that the random thoughts in your mind can come out through your fingers, onto a magical virtual page that, when published, reaches tens of thousands of people, and is indexed by the Big Google God in the Sky so anyone, anywhere with access to the search box can find you?

If you hate most of what you are doing most of the time, and miss the beauty of a full moon or the smile of a stranger because you are so busy rushing around, you may want to slow down and pay attention.

As Josh told me the other day:

“You Anglos are always rushing.”

Do I have a very short list of people I make a priority, without exception?

The more our friend count stacks up on social media sites, and the more our client base grows, the harder it becomes to give sustained, quality support to those in your network. Emails linger in the inbox, and @ replies go unanswered on Twitter.

But some relationships need to be nurtured every day, without exception. Like with your main squeeze, your kids, your favorite animals, and your close crew of friends.

I will not go a day without talking with Desiree. She is my rock, my therapist, my co-conspirator and my best friend, and has been for 25 years.  My kids get my full-contact attention, even when I have a big pile of things to do. I will interrupt my schedule if my husband calls from the road and needs to talk. I make sure to connect with Michele and Charlie and Jonathan because they are so crucial to my mental health, and happiness, and business success. My parents are turning 76 this year. I make sure to call them regularly, and take trips to California to visit them. I want them to know I love and miss them dearly.

Do I “stay on my own yoga mat” as yoginis say, and not compare myself to others who are smarter, more productive, more witty, more sexy and more funny?

I am lucky enough to hang out with some pretty smart and accomplished people. At times, their level of productivity overwhelms me. They negotiate great book deals, furiously write blog posts, close new business deals, and make time to eat right and work out. When I have a moment of compare and despair, as my friend Martha Beck says, I immediately step back and revisit my own vision of success.

I read this quote on Facebook yesterday, attributed to the Buddhist antidote to jealousy:

“May your success and good fortune continue and increase. May your happiness never end.”

This is so simple, so pure, so elegant. May you, and those you admire, have never-ending success, good fortune and happiness. Ahhhh.

Do I wield a “No Axe” with great gusto, cutting unenergizing, unprofitable and unstrategic activities from my calendar?

Charlie Gilkey wrote a great post explaining the criteria of Opportunity, Visibility and Cash Flow. If your daily activities do not fall into these three areas (including nurturing critical relationships), it is time to raise your no axe and whack them off. Saying no is one of the best things you can do for your business, and your mental health. As Charlie tells me on a daily basis, when I learn to say no to activities that don’t serve my higher purpose, I say yes to things that do.

Can I see the meaning in the work I do and do I celebrate it?

On Saturday, I participated in Laid Off Camp Phoenix, a 100% volunteer un-conference for the laid off folk in Phoenix, Arizona.  My session was on developing a side hustle.  I asked for a few volunteers in the audience to do some brainstorming on potential side hustles. A woman named Kim shot her hand up right away. Kim is a laid off event planner who recently moved to the Phoenix area. She has a long history of success, and was looking for a way to do more of the work she loves. The other participants had all kinds of ideas to grow her business. She left the session overflowing with enthusiasm. I talked with her in the hall after the session.

“I kind of forgot who I was there for awhile,” she said. “Now I remember.”

These moments give me chills. They are exactly why I do the work that I do, despite the challenges.

Are things a bit better today than they were yesterday?

I have a lot of big personal and work development projects: a healthier and more fit body, improved and up-to-date administrative and financial processes, a new book, a new body of speaking work, a new library of educational products and services.

The big list is overwhelming. But each day, I take a small step toward completing it.

I am not going to the gym every day. But I am training mixed martial arts every Tuesday and Thursday night. I am trying to look at my 44-year old curvy body with love and not compare my soft abs to the washboard of my twenties. Zero body fat, while a lovely daydream, will not make me happy. Moving a little more, eating a little less and remembering the joy of sweating will ease my body into a state of better health.

And while I want to have my book sold, my products done and my administrative ends tied up right now, I am optimistic that they are one step closer today than they were yesterday.

When I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I will not reflect on all the things I am not, and all the things that I did not do.

I enjoyed living my life today while I lived it.

That is enough.

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50 Responses to “Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance”

  1. [...] if you’d rather justify the life side of the work/life balance, read read Pamela Slim’s Unicorns, rainbows, and work-life balance on her Escape From Cubicle Nation blog, and Chris Brogan’s Pay Yourself First. Both of those were [...]

  2. [...] opinions posted by three other bloggers that I respect and admire.  Check out Pam Slim‘s “Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance” post here and Chris Brogan‘s “Pay Yourself First” post [...]

  3. [...] where is that work/life balance that was advertised?” you think to [...]

  4. [...] now a couple years later and I won’t pretend that I’m a master at juggling it all, but I am a lot more forgiving of myself on days when I’m not as productive as I’d like [...]

  5. Eleanor says:

    Wow, Pam…this is one to bookmark!

  6. Kate says:

    Work-life balance is so important, and the ability to wield the “no axe” with some care is essential. In the end, you’re right about how to judge your progress. I’m a fan of the “am I better off now than I was when I started” measuring stick.

  7. Amen sister! I had a similar moment today, why are we so hard on ourselves??? I think our moments of struggle can be beneficial though, it helps re-inspire and re-focus our life balance efforts. Here’s a rundown of my rainbow cracking morning, http://glamalife.com/2011/03/the-power-of-a-promise/ , in the end it all worked out. (and I’m once again dreaming of unicorns!) ;)

    All the Best,

    Heather

  8. [...] Pamela Slim: Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance [...]

  9. [...] opinions posted by three other bloggers that I respect and admire.  Check out Pam Slim‘s “Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance” post here and Chris Brogan‘s “Pay Yourself First” post [...]

  10. Your blog and your post really made my day! I identify with everything you say and I will share this post in my blog with other Brazilian mothers out there that struggle to make ends meet.

    Will come back here for sure :-)

    Best
    Vanessa

  11. [...] I felt a little hand on my shoulder at 5am this morning and the breath of my son Josh’s voice in my ear.“Wake up Mom, it is time to go downstairs!”The morning sky was still dark. The birds were still snoring in their nests.I dragged myself out of bed and headed straight for the coffee [...] Original post [...]

  12. Monkey says:

    I’ve been practicing yoga for years, but have never thought of bringing the “stay on your yoga mat” concept into other areas of my life. Not only in the don’t compare yourself area, but also in the are you focused just on the task at hand at this moment. Love it!

  13. purposeful living – great post. excellent inspiration

  14. Zzzzz says:

    Wow, another post by someone who bit off more than they could chew when they hit their forties.

    Way too many words and another contribution to the web being filled with time wasting “information”.

    My grandma said it much shorter and to the point, “Work to live. Don’t live to work.”

    Easier to remember than your post and less flowery.

    She lived happily to the age of 87.

  15. Pam, this is exactly how I feel and live… wow.
    hugs,
    ~ A

  16. Pam, this is such an excellent post and a most welcome message. Another one for the wall!! Thanks again for your generosity, wisdom, and inspiration. Kindest, Helen

  17. [...] interesting post on what it takes to make it through a busy life on Unicorns, Rainbows and Work-Life Balance on Escape from Cubicle Nation. Related Diary EntriesWhat to Do When Your Client Doesn’t Pay [...]

  18. [...] work/life balance as is work/life balance a good thing in a startup, when I caught Pam Slim’s Unicorns, rainbows and work-life balance. Those are all good reading, and food for [...]

  19. Shae says:

    Phenomenal post, Pam. I’ve read quite a bit about the myth of work-life balance, but I believe this is one of the best I’ve seen….I love the questions that you ask yourself. Thanks for this.

  20. Avril says:

    This is a perfect post for my day of overwhelm today. You continue to amaze with your spot-on timing and honesty. I will happily lay my head on the pillow tonight knowing that I gave it my best and that spending an extra half hour tonight grooming the ponies was worth a few late email replies. Thanks Pam.

  21. gail says:

    Amen! Articulate, refreshing, connecting and oh so true.

  22. Pam, you write so beautifully and often say just what I want and/or need to hear. Thank you for this wonderful post.

  23. Hi Pam:
    What an awesome post. I often read w/o commenting (often just nodding my head in agreement), but felt compelled to add my thoughts today. I love message in this post; success is indeed very personal and there is no cookie cutter mold for it. We need to trash the outdated idea of balance…there isn’t one and it drives me crazy to see brilliant, capable, smart women feel like they are not enough because they haven’t achieved the ‘balance’ that society says we need to have!

    Shoo! OK, off that soapbox:-) Thank you for sharing~
    Warmly,
    Danielle

  24. It’s like you were in my head this morning! I am really going to think about these questions today because I have been really feeling overwhelmed with my life/work balance lately. I want to enjoy every part of my life so I need to start swinging that No Ax a bit more often I think. : )

  25. [...] Oct   Click here to read a beautiful and brilliant blog post by the wonderful Pam [...]

  26. Valerie says:

    This is so wonderful; I’m bookmarking so I can read regularly/every day. So many important things to remember, especially the “NO Axe” and the bit about staying on my own yoga mat. I really need to work on that one!

    Thanks for this.

  27. Pam,
    Thanks! Your post is just what I needed. I had a sick child at home yesterday who wanted me to build a paper doll house from magazines. I almost cracked. I’m swamped with work and felt torn. I stopped to cut out house fixtures and furniture for my daughter and I’m so glad I did. I sometimes forget that I need to shift my focus to what ultimately matters in the big picture.
    Best,
    Jill

  28. Mark Romney says:

    Pam,
    Great article. After doing a 6 hour round trip to visit one person and having a “pile” awaiting me upon my return, you helped put it into perspective. I really need to sharpen my axe and get hewing.

    As always your timing is impeccable.

    POWER ON–Mark

  29. Miranda says:

    Pam, this is a great way to reframe the work/life balance concept – that thing that’s had so many of us going crazy and feeling so inadequate. Thank you! We all need to hear that people we respect and imagine to be over the humps we’re facing actually have some of the same difficulties we do!

  30. karen gunton says:

    so many things in this post resonated with me – i am going to print it out and stick it in my handbag to remind myself of all of the things i am doing well, that i am living the life i really want to live, and that the reason i am trying to build this little home biz is so i can have quality relationships with my kids, my hubby and my friends…
    thanks for this!
    =)

  31. Peg Calvario says:

    Pam, a beautiful post written richly with inspiration spoken from both your heart and mind. Thanks for centering me back on my yoga mat as I find myself all too often in that place of “compare and despair.” Now is the time to appreciate the abundance of my small steps. A delightful way to live.

  32. I needed this, too. The moments of clarity and truth you bring to entrepreneurs, especially budding, eager ones like me, is amazing. Keep doing what you’re doing, there are scores of us out here who need and appreciate it! Thank you!

  33. David Wang says:

    I love reading your blog for posts like this Pam. You’re so honest and you share publicly the same issues that I’m wrestling with. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one going through these issues. And keep at it!

  34. Pam, what a terrific, heart-felt and heart-touching post! I especially liked the title — because just as unicorns are beautiful, appealing, and mythical, so is the concept of “work-life balance.” As you put it, measuring our success “by some mythological standard of perfectly balanced workload/perfectly prepared children and perfectly impressive work output” makes us miserable. As I tell my coaching clients, perhaps a more useful construct would be “work-life harmony.” And you have articulated that so well here, in the series of questions you posed (and answered). I will tuck those into my journal for reflection from time to time — plus share with stressed-out clients, relatives, and friends pursuing that elusive unicorn, and beating themselves up for not finding it.

  35. Wow. Said it better than I *ever* could and I say it all the time.

    The idea of ‘balance’ is a verbal trick that is as destructive as the concept of ‘time management’.

    Thank you for articulating this with such heart.

  36. Irishfan says:

    Great article and you continue to force me to examine my life and what I am doing. Sounds like you have been doing some thinking about your own recent success and what this means in your life. Even after we find our ‘entrepreneurial dreams’ we need to take stock or we will fall into the same old habits – or ‘framework’ – that guides so many of us to dispair and anxiety.

    I have been reading some different angles on the ‘work-life’ balance including the idea of unity and the constructs we create by dividing our activities in the ways we typically have. This has got me thinking about my own life flow and engaging in activities that are in line with my values.

    Anyway, enjoy your thoughts and relevancy to how many people feel.

    Chris

  37. Molly Mahar says:

    This is gorgeous and just what I wanted (needed) to hear. Thank you Pam. I’m sharing this with those I love, work with, and adore. XOXO

  38. Hey Pam, this is a wonderfully honest post… it reads very much like unedited (but well written) *thoughts* fresh from Pam’s head. That’s what makes it valuable.

    I’ve got a question for you:

    Sometimes people get caught up in busyness and become starved of opportunities to remember “why they do the work they do”, like your experience at the un-conference. What advice would you give to those folks who are in a (temporary) validation-drought?

  39. First time reader, and I’m glad I did. I’m a 42 year old family man, stuck in a career that is exciting, challenging and more than someone could dream of… I help enable the future… well, that is the way I sell it to myself… the reality is, I work in a cube farm (a room full of cubicles), I have a big fany title, lots of responsibility and it’s slowly killing me… I have been working towards a life change by reading, trying new things (began cycling this past summer) and bascially realizing that I no longer “step outside in the morning, take a deep breath and marvel at the wonder that the sun keeps coming up each day”… I grumble, I wish I had more time with my family, more time to be creative, more time to enjoy the things I thought I worked so hard to gain…. I have more to share, but today was my first read of this site… I’ll save some for the future..

    Great site! I’m following you on twitter now and look forward to reading, learning and contributing to your site..

    Best Regards,

    Steve

    • Irishfan says:

      Steve, Understand where you are coming from as I fit your current life arc. I am taking baby steps at changing my current status. I find it is very hard due to life’s inertia that I am now caught in – i.e., debt, fancy title, social status, etc. but feel I will regret my life if I do not take some chances. Anyway, I am working on taking these chances and wish you luck on your journey.

      Chris

      • Hi Chris,

        thanks for the response! My wife and I have been fortunate to keep debt under control… “by the numbers” I’m in really great shape, but the way I see it is; if I can’t stop working and have my time back for family and creativity – well, then the numbers just don’t add up to enough. :)

        Stay in touch – maybe one of us will stumble upon something that gets us out of the rut.

        Ciao,

        Steve

  40. This post made my day Pam. Thank you.

  41. Wow! Such great insight Pamela! Learning to love life while you’re living it is THE only way to be happy. So often, I get focused on results – writing my next post, finishing a project, returning emails – that I forget how awesome this life is.

    It makes me happy to see other people being content and realizing they already have everything they need to be happy. Thanks for sharing :)

    Mike

  42. Natalie says:

    Wow Pam. And you think your friends are impressive with all that they accomplish. You are one outstanding lady juggling and managing your many projects with aplomb and impacting other peoples’ lives with all you do every day.

    It also makes me realise why you may not have seen my Facebook message yet – I’m glad you’re prioritising with all the many requests you do have on your plate. Mine can wait…just a little :)

    I’m so glad to pop back here, I’ve missed your blog as it’s got scooped up in my ever extensive reading list of great blogs.

    Like you I also feel I’m making more progress than ever and at the same time feeling a little overwhelmed.

    But each day I look at all I’ve achieved on my to do list, important stuff and I marvel at the full moon, the roses on a walk, the warm breeze, and realise that I can still enjoy the beauty of the world and be progressive.

    I couldn’t ask for more

    Big hug
    Natalie

  43. I love this! “If I measured my success by some mythological standard of perfectly balanced workload/perfectly prepared children and perfectly impressive work output, I would be miserable.”

    I’ve been feeling exactly the same way and just posted about it today. Trying to find balance will tear you up inside. Thank you so much Pam for sharing these pieces of you!

  44. Kelly says:

    This is absolutely what I needed to read today and every day for awhile. I need to wield my no axe more, and remember to revel in what I am doing, not what needs to be done.
    For someone who I admire so much, who in my opinion does SO much, it’s wonderful to hear how you find it all so difficultly wonderful.

    I am completely with you on renting a hotel room to sleep. In fact I’ve been pondering creating a conference for moms where we go somewhere lovely, and peaceful and soak it in with lovely wine, great conversation, and maybe spa treatments. There would also be an abundance of sleep.

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