Wednesday, February 05, 2014

3 Things My SIL And I Learnt About Work-Life Balance Today

My work station, where all the planning and writing happens
Work-life balance is hard work.

I wanted to use a French word in the first sentence, because I wanted to express more strongly how much hard work achieving work-life balance is.

But we chat about children and parenting here and I was afraid it would be highly inappropriate to use that word.Still, consider the French word used:-)

So. I struggle with the work-life balance thing. A lot! I always have. It seems to me that when I'm focussed on writing for clients, which is my primary way to earn a buck, it's reinforced in my mind that I'm not doing any fiction writing or blogging, which are very important to me. So I have to tell the advocate for those jobs to be quiet.

When I'm doing either blogging or fiction writing, then the client work is left behind, so is the housekeeping, gardening...

The only thing I can't ever neglect is Mma's care, because a person's life is involved there and certain tasks just have to be done. Still all the associated tasks also need time, of which I'm always short.

This is not a woe is me post. Or an "I'm so frantically busy it's insane" post, because that would be a lie. I'm learning to be very ruthless about my time and there are people I've hurt, ignored, angered etc, because it was just hard to add them or what they want/need to the mix, and well, I have to live with the consequences.

I am also very sensitive to the fact that some people add 8-5pm jobs to their own life demands (In South Africa, there is no 9-5. The bosses want you a whole hour earlier and they don't pay you overtime for the priviledge:-) and well, they don't have the luxury of being able to work from home like I do, though "luxury" may be an exaggeration.

It's just that I was chatting with my younger SIL, the one who runs her chicken business from our house, and she has her own mix that she's barely keeping up with - a small business which needs needs her to be production manager, HR manager, bookkeeper, marketer and administrator.

It would be lovely if she could hire someone to do the day to day admin of the business, so she could focus on managing and growing the business, but that requires money she doesn't have. What she does have is a husband and two kids aged 6 and 2 and a home 7km from my house, so there's duties associated with wife/parent/homemaker gig.

We bumped into each other in my kitchen midmorning (we have different offices in the premises) and ended up chatting a bit and she was stressed about something,  and we ended up wondering: we're both self-employed, and in theory, in a position to better control how we spend our time and achieve the fabled work-life balance. So why are we not succeeding?

Rivers of coffee accompanying a lot of laughter later, we agreed on some things:

1. You need to have a clear understanding of what your priorities are, to achieve work-life balance

Source: womenonthefence
Did you just think "we know THAT!" That's what went through my mind even as I was typing the sentence.

However, sometimes our stated priorities and the priorities that our  actions imply are different.

Sometimes we need to compare the tasks that do get our attention versus what we said was important to make sure we are investing our limited time where it counts.

It's also important to consider whether the priorities implied by the way we live supercede what's on paper.

It could be that your daily life is telling you something that your head needs to listen to.

2. Work-life balance is about the choices we make

Sometimes we feel like we don't have a choice but to take on a certain task. This is very true when the issue involves the needs of family/loved ones/our need to make money to pay bills.

For example, I could argue that I had no choice but to  move to Phokeng to be care-giver for Mma when she fell sick. But the reality is, there were/are other options. I have four siblings, three of whom live nearby/in the same village, so they could have taken on the task, leaving my life relatively unchanged beyond making more frequent visits to check on Mma.

Culturally/traditionally, and I don't know if this applies to all Black South African communities or just mine,  it is my designated job as eldest daughter to take care of Mma.

But we live in modern times, right? I'm an educated, assertive woman, I like to think, highly versed in my rights and how to enforce them. So I could have passed on that job, put Mma in an old age home or hired a care-giver to come stay with her and care for her ( with regular visits from me and my siblings) or moved her to Joburg to live with me where I could still care for her without moving or disrupting my living situation.

My reasons to handle the issue by moving to Phokeng are personal, emotional and complicated, and I don't fully understand them all and they're not always comfortable to live with. But life is messy like that and the fact of the matter is, the choice to be care-giver affects every aspect of my life.

So do the choices that we all make, whether it's to home-school our kids, to write fiction while managing a non-fiction career, starting a small business while also employed or enrolling our kids in extra-curricular actitivities requiring us to moonlight as taxi drivers.

(Edit: I just thought I should add that my idea of having a choice excludes people/women who live in societies where they can't choose because of legal, socio-political or economic reasons  I understand only vaguely but can't pretend to "get" and don't have to live through. But I could just see someone come across this post and then argue that not everyone has the luxury of choice)

Acknowledging that we chose our lives and all the elements involved in it, and living with that realisation, is hard. Because I can't cry "woe is me" when I chose my life situation, can I? I find it oddly empowering though, because taking ownership of the choices means that I can also choose to take out activities that are not critical to my overall qualilty of life. Or I can park them to be dealt with later, if they are important, but not life and death important right now.

3. Sometimes you have to be resolute to make the work-life balance attainable

Basically SIL was saying that moving forward, she was going to have to be more assertive to achieve her work-life balance goals.

She runs a small business, with employees, customers and service providers. Some of her stress comes from other people not doing their job/allowing their own life choices to impact on the work and then asking for sympathy because "X happened and it made it hard/impossible for me to do what I promised."

Being resolute like that is not comfortable for her. Sometimes it also strays into the territory of being "rude" or "lacking humanity,"  culturally speaking.

Yep, the fabled Ubuntu (not the Linux operating system) that is exalted as the cornerstone of African life can be used as a weapon to manipulate you, when it's not just an admirable philosophy to you but something that you live everyday.

Sometimes you just have to be "rude" to get things done, because usually, the person who is suffering your lack of humility knows they are out of line. They just counted on your letting it slide.

Anyhoo, I'm hoping we can have a nice little discussion about work/life balance here. Specifically, what are some of the key things you do to work towards it Are you succeeding? Why/not? What do you want to do differently? What's your advice for people like me, who struggle with it so much?


Student Mommy said...

Funny... as I read this I am busy doing part time accounting work for a friend, having already worked all weekend on the tax deadline... Hubby is watching TV while I work at the dining room table. I think I may be getting the work life thing wrong...

Damaria Senne said...

I love it when a post hit the nail like that for a reader. Sounds like you might have some "work" to do. I suppose it depends on whether working into the night like this happens more often, or it's a seasonal thing or even a once-off thing, and whether you feel that it needs fixing. BTW, can we not comment on the fact that I'm responding to your comment right now? We're on the same time zone, so you know what it means:-)

Unknown said...

I've been thinking about this balance a LOT recently. Thinking about what my priorities are. What I really want to do and be. Aside from family and God (which should come first), my main focus is being a WRITER. A published AUTHOR. I want to write more books. I want to spend my non-writing time marketing them, learning more about the craft of writing, connecting with readers and other writers. So I made the decision last week to tell the publisher I work for that I can no longer work for them. I'm a bit sad about it, because I enjoy the work I do for them, but I'm also EXCITED at the prospect of going back to spending most of my time on my primary career - being an author :-)

I really admire people like you who fit even more in - another job, taking care of people, raising children ...

All the best with finding your balance!

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