I’m struggling to balance my career and my health. Please advise!

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The question comes from one of our dear readers who’s struggling to balance her career – a night shift at work and day classes at school – and her health, where she’s feeling stressed and exhausted. She’s thinking of dropping her classes.

Although not many of you may be caught in this particular situation, how many of you are trying to figure out work life balance, or balancing your own well-being while raising little kids, or looking after your health and fitness while taking care of the demands at work?

If you are, here’s an exercise that’ll help:

Take a sheet of paper and divide it in 2 both vertically and horizontally, so you have 4 boxes. In the top 2, write down the positives of each of the 2 areas of your life that you’re struggling to balance. In each of the corresponding bottom 2, write down the negatives that ensue when you focus on that one area at the detriment of the other.

Now looking at the negatives in both columns, come up with an action plan that’ll help you take care of the negatives. For my reader above who wrote to me, here are some suggestions:

  • Maximize your energy, and make it a priority. Find ways to get adequate rest and sleep, and drop negative thoughts that drain you.
  • See what you can take away from your daily chores that’s not essential or that can’t be delegated. Keep the bare minimum.
  • Take out time for yourself – quiet moments of inner connection, reading or a new hobby that makes you feel alive or connects you with others.
  • Lessen your course load instead of dropping it completely, because doing so may make the career ‘area’ of your life feel stagnated.

One of the biggest hurdles in finding balance in life is the need for perfection. And this is especially so if we have low self-worth that’s dependent on any one (or both) the areas we’re struggling with. We push ourselves to the extreme in order to prove our worth, and fail to notice the negatives until our relationships or health or happiness and wellbeing begin to suffer.

Not only that. When any one area is pushed to the extreme, it begins to transform into the other. When our obsession with work drives us to exhaust ourselves, our central focus can become health. This happens at multiple levels. How many of you have been rigid about your diet, only to eventually put back all the pounds and more on brioche and brownies? Or hated a person with all your might only to have them consume your every thought and emotion?

The thing is, life is best lived in making peace with its paradoxical nature. Because these paradoxes need each other to make us whole. Work without play is drudgery, family without work is unfulfilled potential, happiness without meaning is self-obsession.

Its true that sometimes we may choose to focus more on one area for multiple reasons. A mother may stay home to raise her young family, but will feel at her best if she is also doing something to stay in touch with her work, even if its simply meeting her colleagues once in a while.

Our grandparents likely never experienced these opposing forces. I know that my grandmother lived a very fulfilling life looking after the home and family. But lives today are different and complex. We’re in touch with a lot more of our needs, both for autonomy and for belonging.

And so, the better we can balance ‘both-and” thinking over “either-or” thinking, the greater our chances of making the most of this one wild and wonderful life!

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