It starts at 6 a.m. Every morning, no matter what time I went to sleep the night before, weekday or weekend, it begins.
My brain starts up, my eyes pop open, and I'm awake. More than awake, I'm on. It's a persistent stream of ideas; To-Do lists; reminders; goals; aspirations; turns of phrase, working titles, dialogue, and deadlines; appointments; house errands; if the weather will be kind to me on my run; random thoughts about the world and how I'm moving through it; and also how I'm guiding the way for my son to do the same.
Photo Credit: Nicole Blades
Sometimes the mental calisthenics kick in a full hour earlier. I'm talking well before the sun unfurls over the dim skies, my mind, it's flooded with all of this ... stuff.
Over the last year, I've made a very specific effort to quiet that mad spill of thought and chatter in the morning before I even open my eyes. I take deep breaths. I speak my gratitude for waking up to a new day, for my health, for my family. I send out good wishes to those who I know need them. And I try to set my intention for the day, plus name three things that I want to get done.
(I know. This might sound a little woo-woo. And that's okay. It's been working for me.)
My three things are almost always about writing and work, so they will shift and change daily as my deadlines do. But often my intention for the day is the same: find balance.
I say it and mean it. I do. Still, there's a side of me -- a snarky, eye-rolling version tucked away behind my nerve -- that snorts each time I say it. Find balance. Heh. Yeah, right. Good luck with allll that, homey. (See what I mean? Just shady as hell, that one.)
My chuckles and skepticism come from the fact that I'm a writer and a mother. Both of these things are so stitched into the fabric of who I am; they gobble up a lot of space and time and attention. The notion of balance feels elusive to me. Hell, real talk? Balance sounds like some sort of fiction that a halfway convincing snake oil salesman talked me into.
But I keep the faith, keep believing that finding balance is a real thing. In fact, I've been looking, in earnest, for ways that I might actually brush up against something that feels like it. I've made adjustments to my routines: reading a book in bed first thing in the morning instead of checking my iPhone; shutting down all tech everything by 10 p.m.; swearing off running errands before lunchtime; and even writing items down on my To-Do list that I've already done just so I can have the thrill of literally crossing it off the agenda.
Most of these changes have helped me, acting as a sort of course correction, allowing me to feel more mindful and calm throughout the day. Steady, but not necessarily balanced.
The thing is, despite any gains that I've made with these upgraded systems and routines, there are two conflicting memes that are at the core of my imbalance:
- Work Hard. That's the only way to put a hand on success. Or as Alec Baldwin's balls-of-steel character in the classic Glengarry Glen Ross said, "A-B-C. Always be closing."
- Smell the Roses. Make time for self-care and living this life because, as we've often been told, you'll never hear anyone on their deathbed say that they wished they worked more. Or, as the iconic Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Trying to find the line between Work Hard and Making Time to Live, that's the challenge. It will always be a challenge. Maybe the secret sauce is knowing this, and accepting that some days you'll teeter and even lean more to one side, but if you keep your eyes fixed on forward, you won't fall.
Author of THE THUNDER BENEATH US. Journalist. Runner. Mother. Creator of Ms. Mary Mack. Living this life the best way I know how.
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