The past 10 months have been a squeeze. On the one hand we got so much done that we surprised ourselves on outcomes and positive results, on the other hand, we had to let go of quite a few things in order to keep our sanity and find some pockets of time available just for us to “decompress”.
Looking back, since last July, husband and I:
- Worked an average of 12 hours a day on workdays, across office hours, nursery school picks ups, dinners and bedtimes and hours in our office at home.
- Worked an average of min. 3 hours every weekend. (No, not proud of it but those in our shoes know only too well).
- Renovated our new place, moved into it, dealt with the impossible lack of organization and reliability of our decorators and builders (lost it a few times with a few of them, that costs energy too).
- Lived with said builders for nearly two months once moved in. Thankfully the place is fairly big. However that meant dust had a lot of surfaces to cover too.
- Went on an average of 8 business trips each, plus equivalent number of family trips (family birthdays, special occasions etc). Packing, unpacking and doing laundry for 4 is what comes with it, along with the happy memories of course.
- Tried to keep a minimum amount of social life, failing often.
- Dealt with family accidents, helping out those we love (broken legs, aging grandparents` sicknesses).
- Dealt with a variety of kids viruses, kids sick and home from nursery school, typically on the day when you have 8 meetings and some vital presentation, last minute rescheduling of packed days, trips, commitments.
- Have had daily very early starts and fairly late nights. Making hours of sleep up here and there on weekends.
- Pushed through patchy childcare, in that the earmarked or hired help/caretakers we regularly rely on had their own set of personal challenges or were simply not available.
- Managed to enjoy life, on most days, even on the days we were too tired to look at each other and could just yawn, pat each other on the shoulder, and type away.
- Organized events and family gatherings, we both share the same affection for our families.
- Raised our 4 and nearly 2 year olds. Fed them and their little brains. (Not as easy as non parents might think).
- Both received work gratifications (which means we get to work on very interesting projects but nearly had to work around the clock through some patches and through holidays).
- Saved a few occasional hours here and there to reconnect with each other and ourselves.
- Had the occasional “I might kill you” episode.
- Survived sleepless nights of kids sick, changes of bed-sheets and mopping of floors at 3am only to be up 2.5 hours later to get ready for work and deliver whatever it was we had committed to deliver. How fun to keep your brain productive and sharp after 3 nights in a row of these happy episodes.
- Dealt with exhausted brains that just would not cooperate to meet that deadline due to lack of sleep and exhaustion.
- Tried to avoid going crazy when pressure was on, crammed days of 12 hours straight were looming, kids fell sick, grandparents fell sick, little help was available, we were sick ourselves and still had to pull through. The proverbial fan being hit by you know what.
- Incredibly managed through all this with one single sick day each in 10 months.
- Carved as much time as possible out over the weekends to be able to fully focus on the kids, be with them, enjoy them, grow up with them. Paint stones and do hand-prints and clean paint off couches and tables. Laugh. Laugh some more and watch them watching us.
- Live and possibly be happy with the fact that in the past 4 years we aged 10 years on the outside, gained 10 years of experience on the inside.
- Decided we will never go through the above all at once ever again. If possible.
Ten months into this we know we managed decently and pushed through well enough, we know we will get through more if needed, we know this was a special 10 months and we will not renovate another house nor move into it nor (EVER!) deal again with renovators and builders. And we also well know that a lot of people, young families, parents, go through this hectic patches, and learn the same lessons. But this is not sustainable.
The amount of people diagnosed with “burn-outs” is increasing steadily year on year, the amount of mothers who leave the workforce and/or suffer burnout or extreme degrees of stress is also increasing, incredibly. If I look around us, probably only 20% of our network of friends and acquaintances share our exhausting set up, 2 young kids, 2 demanding jobs, no family living nearby. And that 20% is decreasing. Only last week two couples I know went through the exercise of decreasing pressure on their families. In both cases the mothers, passionate career women suffering from near burn out symptoms, decided to leave their jobs and stay at home. Sadly it is always the women who stay behind. First we are slowed down in our careers because of motherhood, then we are paid on average 23% less (UN data 2016) than our male counterparts and in the end we decide to leave our jobs due to simple mathematics that were forced on us.
I have no solution or way out, the only reason why at present I keep my sanity and check items off my list is probably due to a combination of DNA, strong will, self-taught patience, self-imposed resilience, hands-on husband, skill of using pockets of time whenever I spot them. Far from multi tasking, which we all must deny we do these days as apparently some new research says it is not very productive because what your brain really does is not multi-tasking rather switching from a task to the other, a more tiring exercise than focusing on one task at a time (breaking news, all women still do it and are pretty good at it). I focus on tasks my mind can carry out while my body is at rest. And the other way around. If I am sitting at the hairdresser for 2 hours on a Saturday, I use the first 30 minutes to wind down, the remaining precious 1.5 hours I will politely decline chit chat or gossip magazines and fire up my laptop or that research I want to read or that book I want to finish. If I am working at my desk or in a meeting while at it I try to focus on posture, tone of voice, non verbal communication. If I am commuting or driving I listen to podcasts, speak to the people I love, record a voicemail of to dos or ideas. If I am waiting for a doctor appointment I put together the album of pictures of the last 6 months and order it online (mind you I still have not ordered those of 3 years ago though). Once a month, if I have 30 minutes to wind down I write this blog and put thoughts black on white. Optimising and discipline are the key words. The only exception is playing with the kids. If I am playing with the kids then all I do is focus on them. And yes, maybe take a few pictures with my phone.
When the older generation tells me they have been through all this too I can`t help but smile. Did they enjoy emails at 5am and 12am and work laptops at home and were expected really to be available 24/7 30 years ago while raising young families? No. Not to my knowledge. They had other challenges for sure. Of course none of us is expected on paper to be available 24/7, but in reality, well, you know the answer. Sure, it is down to you to set limits, and you do, but some patches, some projects, simply do require your time and your brain, often many hours a day, no matter what. Is it down to you to let go or to scale down? Are you selfish because you don`t quit and decrease the pressure on yourself and on your family? Do you do it just for the money? Maybe not, or maybe some, but what if you actually like your job, have some skin in the game and actual real, precious interest or passion? And even if you do, how easy or time-efficient is it to look for a different job? And what jobs are available these days which require little effort and are still interesting or make an impact of some sort? What if you are actually in it because you want to make a change? Be it to the corporate world or with your own company or to the world out there?
I was only delighted to read this article that in a way took some pressure off our need to try and be on top of everything. We simply can`t.
“Endless ink (and pixel space) has been spent discussing the challenges of work-life balance for founders. Want to see your kids, keep fit, and keep your business going? Forget sleep, according to this formula. And you won't be spending much time with your friends, either. For many, - especially parents with demanding jobs and young kids - fitness and friends often fall by the wayside, a sad reality but one they are willing to level with the world about.
In order to kick ass and do big things, you have to be imbalanced. I'm sure there are exceptions, but every person I've seen riding on a rocket ship was imbalanced while that rocket ship was being built. You have to decide if you want it. If you want to spend a lot of time with your friends and see all the Oscar-nominated movies and get good sleep at night and exercise, then it's going to be hard.”
In a sort of natural progressive way, this is what most people with busy work and family schedules do too, let a few things fall by the sidelines. What I challenge to this principle is whether we can build up time for all 5 and stick to a timeline that a few times a year lets us have time for the rest, friends and fitness for example.
Would this be possible and sustainable? Share your stories, and I will report back in a few months time!