How I Achieve A Balanced Life

When I was younger, I had a very distinct vision of what my life would be like by the time I was 30. In this mental picture, I saw myself being a woman who juggled multiple challenging demands with ease: successful, fulfilling career, loving marriage, a couple of wonderful children, free time to pursue personal interests, etc. And me, easily navigating it all. Kicking butt and taking names, basically; having achieved that most elusive of things: work-life balance.

I am now 29. And while I wouldn’t say that I am kicking butt and taking names or some type of #bossbabe, for the first in my life I feel like I am getting close to having and successfully balancing all of the great things in my life that I described above.

Now, I know that the concepts of “having it all” and “work-life balance” are gendered in ways that are problematic. Men don’t frequently get asked how they balance work and family, or if it’s hard to find time to work and parent and spend time with their spouse and maintain a home. Only women get asked those questions, and judged on the basis of them. But the fact remains that work-life balance is an issue that many women do struggle with, so I wanted to explore how it’s working for me these days while acknowledging the problems that exist with it.

A few important things have changed since we moved to Atlanta that help make my work-life balance more possible: 1) support from my family that has resulted in a little breathing room financially and logistically, 2) a much happier work situation,  3) the fact that my school district actually pays teachers a living wage and 4) that I’ve been really trying to nurture my personal passions.

Living two doors down from my family has been amazing. Our normal weekday routine now involves my mom taking care of Jonah, as I’ve mentioned. And more than that, just the fact that there is always at least one backup person to help in case of an emergency feels very reassuring, especially to me, who tends to prepare for the worst-case scenario in all situations. I can breathe easier now.

As to work, I read a quote posted by some random person on Facebook the other day which said “It’s a lucky man or woman who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do, and thinks it still matters.” (I just looked this up and it turns out it’s a Joe Biden quote.) This is where I am about teaching. I know that what I do matters, and I’m happy to go to my school every day. It’s what I want to spend my days doing.

On the practical side, I feel better-treated than I ever have as a teacher. There are several responsibilities that our current school system helps its teachers with, such as lesson planning, so that makes life a little easier and less stressful than previous teaching jobs.

More importantly, for the first time I feel like my colleagues and I are being paid close to what we are worth. To illustrate: I am making $10,000 more than I would were I to be teaching now in North Carolina, with the same years of experience, same degrees, etc. I am making $20,000 more than I did last year at my non-school system job. THOUSAND. Not hundred.

All educators deserve to make this, and more. Making enough money allows a person to do a few things for themselves. My family can now afford a gym membership and some housecleaning help without feeling like we won’t make it to the end of the month, which is where we were in 2015-2016. Money being extremely tight led to me being both less healthy and more stressed, because there was always work that needed to be done at home once I got home from my day job, and because I knew I wasn’t taking care of myself.

It’s hard to practice self-care when you literally can’t afford any non-essentials, and when you can barely afford the essentials. To employers: want your employees to be happy at work and have a good work-life balance? Pay them a freaking decent amount of money.

Because I feel less stress in other areas of my life, I’ve had the freedom and space to devote to people and things that I love. When I am spending time with Jonah and Jonathan, I can be all there, not worrying about when I will have time to clean the house or do those hours of lessons plans or if we can afford to go to a museum.

It’s kind of a snowball effect: just like stress in one area tends to build up and spill over into other areas of your life, peace can be the same. Remove a tremendous stresser in one area, and everything else gets calmer and more peaceful. Serenity spreads.

I’m also devoting more time to my personal passions. Readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am writing more regularly than I used to, because I actually have time to do it. I am also getting to go to yoga and Pilates at the gym weekly, which I love but couldn’t afford in the past.

I know that I am tremendously lucky, and I am so thankful for how my family has been blessed over the last year. Is everything perfect now? Of course not. But I’m feeling better physically and emotionally than I have in a long time, maybe since Jonah was born and Jonathan and I took on the responsibilities of parenthood. I feel…balanced.

To sum up: in my experience the answer to the work-life balance question is the following: get outside help from family (or friends) if you can, do a job you find fulfilling and find an employer who will pay you what you’re worth, take care of yourself physically, and take time to nurture your inner life and do the things that you find meaningful.

 

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Advertisements

Why I Would Rather Be 28 than 18

Jonathan and I will have been together for 10 years this November. 10 years! That is over a third of my life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I have changed over the last 10 years, and I think I’ve changed quite a bit, in mainly good ways. Holly Love at 28 is a different person than Holly Gushee was at 18.

2007
Check out these babies! I was 19 here, but close enough.

People talk a lot about “the best years of your life,” as in, “enjoy college, those are the best years of your life.” I find statements like this problematic. If certain years really are the best of your life, what about the rest of your life? Is it just all downhill from there?

I like to take a different approach. Common sense says to me that there are good and not-so-good parts of each different life stage, and that we should appreciate the best parts of the stage that we are in. And I’ve realized the best parts of my current stage are pretty awesome. Adulting has some good things about it, amirite? Here’s what I’m enjoying about being an “older” young adult:

  1. I’m not afraid to ask for what I need.

If I want something–at home, at work, etc.–I’ve learned that it’s okay to say so. It’s fine to say at work that I have too much going on and that I can’t take on another project. It’s fine to tell Jonathan that for my mental and physical health I want to make going to yoga a priority, and that we should be able to spare the money for me to do it. If I need something, I’ve learned to verbalize it and to advocate for it. It sounds so simple, but this isn’t something that I did much as a “younger” young adult, and this is something I’ve also noticed in the younger people that I work with. It’s so much more effective to directly say what you need than to hint around it, keep it to yourself and then get upset when you don’t get it.

2. I appreciate my body more for what it can do than for how it looks.

Having a child has fundamentally changed the way I feel about my body, for the better. Carrying, giving birth to and nurturing Jonah with my own body has helped me appreciate my body for the amazing things that it can do, and has helped me to cut myself a little slack for my body’s imperfections. Case in point: I am currently trying to lose about 8-10 pounds. Four years ago, I would have been pretty obsessed about this and upset that I was having a hard time fitting into my size 4 jeans. Now, it’s something that I’m working on, but it’s nowhere near my main concern.

3. I know the true value of money and material blessings.

Nothing will teach you the true value of money than going through a time in your life where you don’t have much of it. I had a very blessed childhood and young adulthood. This past year money was kind of tight for Jonathan and me, and it’s increased my feelings of thankfulness for what we have.

4. Some of my ideals have died. 

I planned to be a teacher forever. I wanted to change the world. But I’ve learned that my family and my mental health are more important. I don’t have to be involved in direct service to make a difference in the world.

5. I’ve learned that not everyone is just like me.

This is a big one. The first step to empathy is realizing that many, many people have a difference experience of life than you do. Since being out in the world, I have been exposed to many different kinds of people, and I’ve realized 1) my privilege and 2) that not everyone experiences life in exactly the same way as an upper middle-class Southern Christian white girl. Once you really get a glimpse of what life is like for others, it is much easier to love, and much harder to judge. (Many politicians need to learn this! *cough* *Donald Trump* *cough*)

11898917_10204683820124485_5111868144437507872_n
Present-day Holly, Jonathan and Jonah

What have you learned as you have gotten older? How has growing older changed you for the better?

7 reasons 2016 will be better than 2015

Thank the Lord 2015 is over. For realz, I have never been so happy to see New Year’s Eve. 2015 was very, very tough for Jonathan and me. A new baby and unemployment simultaneously will do that to you.

BUT! 2015 is over! Hooray! Here are 7 reasons I have decided that 2016, and since it’s about to be my birthday, my 28th year, will be better, in the arenas of marriage, work, family and my personal life.

greenleaf2

  1. I will do my part to argue productively. 

Hubs and I got into some bad patterns this past year that we’re working hard to break. We fought more than ever before, and not usually productively. We pushed and pulled and raged and drove each other crazy. But we got through it and now I think we’re on the other side.

2.  I will choose joy.

Joy is my word of the year. In 2016 I’ll do my best to look for the good in all situations, and respond from a place of joy rather than worry, anger or bitterness.

    3.   I will advocate for myself and my ideas.

One thing I love about my new job is that I’m getting the opportunity to lead for the first time. When I was teaching I always felt that I knew less and was less experienced than everyone around me, so I stayed pretty quiet and didn’t speak out much. I was a leader in my classroom but not with other adults. In my new position, I get to be the expert, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence. In 2016 I will continue to believe in my own ideas.

Along the lines of advocating for myself, I also need to make more money in 2016. Money isn’t everything, but it is something.

   4.  When I am with Jonah, I will be 100% present.

I will be the master of my phone rather than the other way around.

   5.  My family will be in church every Sunday and community group most weeks.

When things get difficult, church activities can be one of the first things to go. Barring sickness or being out of town, we’ll be there every week.

   6.  I will make/keep my home a beautiful, functional, restful place.

I’ve realized that I feel amazingly better when I can come home and like what I see around me.

 7.  I will read more. I will write more.

The Grapes of Wrath, among other books. I’m on a Steinbeck kick!

I’m really looking forward to this year. What are your goals/resolutions for 2016?

Life essentials and self-care

I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks. I’ve just been really happy recently, after not being so happy for a while. Nothing special has happened, so it’s taken me a little while to figure out why this is.

I’ve realized that I’m happy because I have been reading and writing every day. Jonathan and I have been doing better about maintaining a clean house. We’ve been cooking regularly instead of eating fast food and take-out. I’m spending time outside. I’m getting enough sleep.

These are the essentials of my happy life. I feel content because I am reading great literature, writing and creating on a regular basis. A lot of these things boil down to picking what is right for me versus what is easy. It’s easier to binge-watch tv at night after Jonah is in bed rather than make time to write. It’s easier to get Chick-Fil-A for dinner every night instead of cook. These things may be easy, but they don’t make me happy. Instead, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and focus on the things that I know are good for me.

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote recently about the challenge of self-care for busy people, particularly busy moms, and that really resonated with me. I realize that self-care is what this is all about. For women especially, it can be so easy to push ourselves and our own emotional needs to the side in trying to fit it all in and take care of everyone else. But I’ve learned that choosing the easy option is not what is best for me or for the people who depend on me. My goal is to choose a life that is simple, that prioritizes physical and emotional health, and that involves time for myself and the things that wake me up inside.

take time

What are your life essentials? Do you feel that self-care is a challenge to fit into your life?