Balancing work and personal life during busy times—an honest look

Posted by Olena Mytruk

Sometimes you make plans, but the Universe has other plans for you. And then you are forced to use all the resources you have in order to successfully navigate challenges that your life throws at you.

This is exactly what happened to me a couple of weeks ago when we went on a family trip to LA. It was supposed to be a nice and relaxing trip and… well, let’s just say that reality turned out to be quite different.

It felt like everything that could go wrong went wrong.

And yet, I am truly grateful for this experience. Because it forced me to realize several very important things. I had no other choice but to stay laser-focused, set my priorities very carefully, use all the strengths I had and be extremely flexible in order to navigate it all.

Are you ready to learn how you can actually balance your work and family life during the craziest times? Then keep on reading.

When vacation turns into a disaster

A few weeks ago we took a family trip to LA. It was Dasha’s spring break, and Kevin’s mom lives in LA. Both me and Kevin had some minor work things that we wanted to take care of, and we also wanted to see our friends.

So we thought, why not combine all the things together? Why not just go there for a week?

We were planning to work a little bit Monday and Tuesday, see our friends, and then from Wednesday through Saturday we were going to rent a villa at the beachfront resort where we were planning to just enjoy ourselves, have a lot of family time, hang by the pool, and just relax.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

And then of course, we were hoping for the sunny Southern California weather and were getting ready for lots of sunshine.

Well, that’s what we planned, but the Universe had other plans for us. Pretty much everything on that trip went wrong.

To begin with, a few days before we were getting on a plane some big issue happened at work for me. There was a huge blow-up with one of the clients, and I had to really step in, get very hands-on and deal with this issue (for the record, I’m still dealing with it, it’s not resolved yet).

So I ended up working HARD until Thursday afternoon.

In addition to that, Kevin had to deal with some unexpected work issues as well. And not just issues but the unexpected volume of work – things were just piling on him constantly. He had to work not just throughout Thursday, but even when we finally took some time off and went to the theme park on Friday, he was taking client calls in between the rides.

To add onto that, the weather in Southern California (those of you who are from Southern California you know) was, let’s just be honest, terrible. It was cold and rainy pretty much all week. Nothing like what I remember the LA weather looks like!

And as a cherry on top of the cake, Dasha and Kevin’s mom were getting very frustrated with me and Kevin because it was supposed to be a family trip where we would be spending time together, and instead we were working.

So, as I said, pretty much everything that could go wrong went wrong on that trip.

Epic fail. Ultimate disaster.

How to navigate life challenges – in 3 steps

This is what a version of me from two years ago, or maybe even from a year ago, would think of this trip – that it was an ultimate disaster.

And really, at some point it was getting very overwhelming. I mean VERY.

But here is a thing – I am actually grateful for this experience.

And here is why.

It forced me to take a few very important steps and make a few very important decisions, which otherwise I wouldn’t have taken or made.

1 – Carefully choose your priority

As the first step, I had to choose my priority.

Usually, we think that we can do everything. We keep piling things on top of each other, we keep adding things to our plate and we believe like we can deal with this. We think that we have an unlimited number of hours in a day or number of days in a week. We convince ourselves that everything that we add to the list is just a tiny little thing, so we’ll be able to handle with it.

We’ll be fine. We’ll be okay. That’s what we think. Until we are proven wrong.

At some point, we realize that’s not the case – that we actually cannot handle it all. And that trip was a very good example of that.

It got very clear very soon that I wasn’t gonna handle everything.

So I had to pick work as my priority. And more importantly, I had to accept the fact that work had to take priority.

We often feel guilty for prioritizing work over family, because we are taught that family is more important. But last Monday, I had to make an intentional choice that work was more important that my family. And I had to be okay with that.

And in order to do that, I had to dive really deep into my core values and to find a good enough justification for that. And I discovered that two of my most important values are Honesty and Responsibility. And once I knew that, I was confident that prioritizing work at that specific moment, and helping my client to resolve that big issue was in fact in a complete alignment with my values.

That’s why it meant so much to me. That’s why it was so important.

2 – Use your strengths

Then I needed to use all the love, kindness and empathy that I have in order to explain to Dasha why her mom and dad had to work. I also needed to continue to cheer up Kevin while he was dealing with his own issues at work.

I needed to use my strengths.

The truth is – we all have strengths, love, kindness, courage, creativity are just just some examples of them. But usually we don’t recognize having these strengths, we don’t use them enough. And in a challenging situation, like I had two weeks ago, I had to make sure I maximize my strengths as a way to not only push my priorities forward, but to set anything else aside.

3 – Be flexible

And last but not least, I was forced to stay very flexible because things were changing not just daily, but hourly. Things were constantly getting on top of each other, all these destructions were happening all the time, and I had to stay very aware of what was going on at any point in time.

So that, at any point in time I could make an intentional decision about what am I going to focus on, as well as why and how I am going to put everything else aside.

It was hard.

Balancing your busy life

It was really, really hard, but also it was very insightful because it reminded me of the following:

We can’t have the perfect balance in life.

Anytime we focus on something, we automatically put something else aside. And we have to be okay with it. And the only way to do it is by knowing why we made this choice, why we choose this specific priority over others at this specific point in time. We also need to constantly be aware of the whole landscape of our life – what surrounds our current priority, what other things are important and will need to take priority next.

With my family, I had to tell them that I couldn’t be with them on Wednesday and Thursday (even though I had planned to), and I had to explain to them why that wasn’t the case anymore. But at the same time, I made a commitment, both to them and to myself, that on Friday I would be fully present. That I would not work. And I didn’t. And it also required alignment with values, focus and strength.

And this is what navigating a busy life really is.

It is about constantly balancing things, being flexible and aware, being focused and present, being mindful and strong.

And by the way, this is also why traditional goal setting methods don’t work anymore. Because what they teach us is that we need to sit down and to come up with a detailed plan – a plan that we are then supposed to follow.

But it all assumes that life is linear, that it’s like a train track – as long as you are the conductor on a train and you get the train moving, then you will come to the destination.

But that’s not true.

Our lives are much more complicated than that, and we have to be much more flexible. We are not train conductors. We’re more like racetrack drivers – we try to navigate toward that finish line, while trying to steer in between other cars that are constantly trying to bump into us.

And so it is time for a new approach to goal setting and living your life in general – a much more dynamic and flexible approach.

It is time to realize that our life is sophisticated and multifaceted. Time to recognize that there are many different areas in our life that are all important, and that at any point in time one or a few of them take priority – temporarily. And it is okay. We need to give ourselves permission to be flexible, to choose one priority over another, knowing that tomorrow it will change. We need to be ready for change.

It is not easy. But in our busy world, it is the only path forward.

How to find balance in life – a new way

In order to successfully navigate your busy life in today’s world, you need to follow the following five principles:

  1. Recognize the complexity for our life – instead of seeing only parts of it.
  2. Have vision – instead of a static plan.
  3. Focus on what is essential – instead of considering everything a priority.
  4. Maximize your strengths – instead of focusing on your weaknesses.
  5. Be flexible and ready to respond to change – instead of sticking to a defined path.

And then, and only then, you will be able to answer each of the questions below at any point in time:

What is my priority right now?
Why is that a priority?
What can I do to eliminate anything else?
What else is there around this priority that I will need to take care of later?

Which, in its turn, will allow you to not create the perfect balance in life, but rather successfully balance your life, really.

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