Spring came unusually early this year in the South of France. I sat under my favorite hundred-year-old olive tree, called a “centenaire” in French and much revered by landscapers and homeowners alike. I had helped select it 15 years before for my friend’s garden, and watched as it was placed by a bobcat in precisely the right spot in the garden.
Legs crossed, hands facing upwards on my knees, I began my quieting process before meditation. But despite the ambiance, gentle sunshine, and relaxing grey-green leaves of the tree, all I could think about was that I hadn’t cleared my email in days.
I had been away from home for about a week, but had stayed up all night before traveling, being sure all bills were paid, all moneys transferred wherever they needed to be “just in case,” kitty-cat care arranged, enough Facebook and Twitter entries written in advance, articles submitted where promised, coaching clients settled into assignments, and everyone notified of my schedule and whereabouts. Everything in order, in case something happened and I didn’t return. The typical anal-compulsive drill before going on any trip, it’s something I’ve been doing for decades in my international consulting career.
As the days passed on the trip, I had been distracted first by resolving estate and family issues, and then by taking a few days to truly enjoy my friends in the French countryside.
And somehow I felt guilty about not reading my email. Guilty enough to not be able to settle in for a quiet meditation under my favorite tree.
I searched for the culprit.
“Balance,” I said. “It’s about balance again.”
Here I was, taking time for myself and feeling guilty about it.
You can’t win. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t take time for yourself, you’re called a workaholic. And if you do, your inner critic chastises you for being frivolous, and not moving your business forward “in these troubled times” as you should … especially in the 24/7 world we live in.
The more I thought about the concept of “balance,” the more I realized that it’s a vicious, illusive myth that’s been perpetrated upon us, especially us women.
It relates to being told we can juggle all our roles … income-earner, mother, daughter, good friend, employee or employer, political or social activist, financier, healthy eater, wise exerciser, and self-nurturer … for starters … and that once we get everything just right, we’ll feel great about ourselves.
Sounds like perfectionism to me. Sounds like B.S. … and a real stress generator.
Someone created the myth that we need balance in our lives.
Someone sitting outside my life, deciding what is best for me.
(As if I needed one more impossible goal.)
We only have 24 hours in a day, not 26 … or 32. That part’s not flexible.
Now, whether it’s about our finances or our diet or time dedicated to family and friends, life is a moving target. Each day will demand different time allocations to different things because they’ll scream loudest.
So I decided it was time for a truce. First of all, I’d banish the word “balance” from my vocabulary because it has an arbitrary, not-invented-here feel to it. Next, I’d acknowledge that we all know the rules, that is, we know what we truly need to do. And then I’d accept that, if something started feeling ignored or abandoned, or if something shot up red flares or caused raised eyebrows, it would automatically move itself to the head of the line.
Then I thought about the fourth Toltec agreement: Always Do Your Best. (It’s from a life-changing book, by the way, by Don Miguel Ruiz called The Four Agreements: “Be Impeccable with Your Word,” “Don’t Take Anything Personally,” “Don’t Make Assumptions,” and “Always Do Your Best.” And now there’s The Fifth Agreement written with his son Jose: “Be Skeptical but Learn to Listen.”)
So here’s my new commitment: balance be damned. As long as I feel things are generally moving in the right direction … and knowing that I’m a conscientious, caring person … I can let my life fall into whatever gentle ebb and flow generally gets things done.
How liberating is that? Think about how personal that concept is. Always do YOUR best. Not someone else’s. Yours.
And imagine: I reached that conclusion without ever having gotten into a meditative state. It must have been the wisdom flowing from the centenaire olive tree. Or maybe I was just learning to listen …
Sharon O’Day is an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret ‘weapon,’ if you will, behind many individuals in high places. At age 53, she lost everything: her home, her business, everything. Since then, Sharon has interviewed women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.
The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her focus is to show women how to reach financial security for the long term. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.