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The pursuit of balance...

Oh, the elusive yet promising search for work-life balance. I hear people say it's not possible. I listen to others proclaim it is absolutely possible.  Once I found a few different ways to view it – I learned I lean more toward the latter camp than the former.  I offer you the three ways of viewing it that have helped me.  Two of which appear in my brain as novel thoughts (though it's possible it's not original – my brain is funny that way) and one which I re-package from a thought-leader I heard at a conference. I'm not going to offer the work-life integration concept only because I couldn't fully grasp it personally. The lack of work-life balance is a commonly cited factor by physicians for job dissatisfaction, so I think it's worth the time to visualize it in a meaningful way for yourself.


None of us want to get caught in the never-ending fence-hopping in pursuit of greener pastures. There are several tweaks we can make to improve our experiences. Actual job circumstances indeed create extra obstacles to feeling fulfilled in our lives. However, today, I'm not tackling the numerous potential changes you may make in your current job setup to pursue balance. Instead, I want to offer three different conceptualizations that may make it easier to visualize a reasonable work-life balance. Choose the one that lands best for you (or create your own). And from there, with that as your goal, you will be able to better decide what changes will best facilitate the pursuit of that type of balance.


I'll start with the term balance as a concept, but I will adjust it a bit.  Balance often evokes a vision of a seesaw precariously suspended evenly with just the right amount on each side. And no one must move or even take a deep breath as it might shift. What if we look at it as a life-sized BOSU trainer? The more we live life on top of the BOSU trainer, the better we get at stability.  Yes, I mean, the struggle itself can hold value. You have clinical encounters, administrative duties, leadership or citizenship roles, nuclear and extended family relationships, community relationships, self-care, etc., all on the edges of the ball. And in the effort of keeping a semblance of stability - we build up our core, which makes the stability more and more achievable. You gain a sense of what's too heavy, what's too light. The frequency of sway (think Hertz) moves from coarse toward fine. What is that core for you - the critical anchor that keeps you grounded as you aim for stability? What is it, that when neglected too long, causes you to be ataxic? When I feel like I am being blown all over the place, I know there are two key areas I need to look into: Am I behind in sleep? Have I neglected my anchoring relationships? Maybe for you, it's when you've neglected your self-care, faith, presence, and/or rejuvenation time/activities. When we start to right-size those priorities in the struggle, they become more substantial and more beneficial. We are all different but when we start looking like our legs aren't seaworthy, we should check in with our core and give it the attention it needs to be bolstered, and; in return, we gain stability.


The next analogy I heard at a conference during the pandemic (I'd credit the author, but I honestly can't remember which one taught it). I have taken it and elaborated on it.  I refer to it as the "Four-seater car" approach.  You are in the driver's seat. You are allowed someone (or something) in the passenger seat and two in the back seat. By considering the gravity and urgency, you decide who gets what seat. It will change year to year, season to season, and maybe even day-to-day (or possibly even hour by hour). Say your kid hasn't eaten all day and is now doubled over with right lower quadrant pain and fever – you likely are going to put them in the front seat (figuratively and literally). Your other kid needs to be dropped off at practice. You're on call and have an after-hours call from a patient. Your neighbor wants you to help choose paint colors. Your running shoes are dusty. You want to prep for clinic tomorrow. And you're up against a deadline for submitting a proposal. The kid with appendicitis is occupying the front seat; you only have two seats left. You can't cram them all in – you do NOT own a clown car.  You get to choose – there is no right or wrong answer, but realizing, some of the want-to-be passengers may have to stand on the curb for a bit (again figurately and maybe literally). You can upgrade to a minivan if you want, but we all know a minivan isn't suitable for everyone. Most of us try to be a greyhound cross-country bus at some point. Check in with yourself about how many passengers in your vehicle you do best managing. Rotate the passengers as needed with drop-off and pick-up. Also, having too many people or tasks for your car doesn't have to be viewed as a problem. I'm sure Disney loves long lines at the rides. They just take them one set at a time. Remember, you are the owner of the vehicle; you are not an employed driver. You have agency inside that space. "Honey, I'll be back in a few, I promise."


The last concept, which has helped me the most, is harmony. I'm not a musical genius. I don't even think I remember my scales. But I know harmony when I hear it – it's peaceful and pleasant.  Music, like life, is dynamic. It moves. It changes. You can be the ultimate conductor by relating every person, situation, and hat to your personal orchestra. What orchestral instruments do you want, which are you missing, which are too loud, which need to start playing forte? Which are frankly out of tune? When do you want to quiet all of them and just immerse in the string instruments for a few bars? Wait, what is that? Dissonance? YES! Dissonance creates dramatic tension that eventually resolves, and the change back to harmony fills our souls. We aren't shocked, surprised, or think the sky is falling when we hit dissonance. So, when there's a bit of chaos, remember – this is how life happens. It's dynamic.  This is how a grand symphony is played. Anticipate the resolution of the dissonance, but don't stress – it will happen. Take your baton in hand, and move the instruments as needed to get back in harmony. 


I hope one of these concepts is relatable enough for you to have as a goal rather than the ever-steady seesaw remaining balanced. In each, you have agency – you're the athlete in training, the owner and driver of the vehicle, and the conductor. You don't have to view swaying on the BOSU ball, a line of passengers waiting, or dissonance as something that has gone wrong. Life is dynamic.  The movement can make you stronger and more centered and able to reflect on the bounty of your life. It can also signal for you to look closer at your core, the passengers, and the sections to adjust. You get to use your agency to trial what things work best for you – which people and tasks you prioritize differently at what times. I'd love to hear other helpful ways to view work-life balance that resonate with you.


Have a joy-filled and dynamic week!   - Tonya

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