Balance

Take Care of You

May is a challenge.  So many things are tied to a school year that most of us, whether we work in schools or not, are somehow impacted by the craziness of May.

The time commitments in May are staggering.  The emotions as children graduate and as things come to an end, as they always do, can be over-whelming.  The work to wrap up school years or legislative sessions or college careers can exhaust you if you are not careful.

So I encourage you to be careful.  Now more than ever, you need to take care of yourself.  I have learned a real truth over time that I am not the best version of me when I do not take care of myself.  When I snap at people, when I am easily offended by people, when I am rude or scared or sad for little reason, I can almost always trace it back to not taking care of myself.

HALT is an acronym for hungry, angry, lonely, tired.  I like to add sick, so I usually refer to HALTS.  These are physical and emotional states that wreak havoc on our well-being.  We do not make our best decisions or behave in our best ways when we are experiencing any of these.  May is a great time to control what you can control.  And we can control much more than we realize.

Eat.  It sounds crazy to say that but there were two days this week when I did not eat lunch, and of course I was less effective in the afternoon.  Any advantage I gained getting work done (and I did get a lot done in that “extra time”) was offset by my mood in the afternoon.  Of course eating healthy is even better.  Avoiding the food coma and brain fog that come with bad choices at a meal or a snack is always a benefit.  But first, just eat.

Sleep.  Again the busier we get, the more tempting it is to knock out two or three extra hours of work at the expense of sleep.  Never a good idea!  There are times in our lives, having a newborn comes to mind, when sleep is a luxury we cannot afford.  But those times are rare.  Sleep is one of the most powerful tools for our well-being that is almost entirely in our control.  Go to bed an hour earlier tonight.  Your physical and mental state will thank you tomorrow.

Exercise.  You do not have to train for a marathon to be active.  Just move.  Will you feel better physically?  Of course!  But you will also feel better emotionally. There will be people right now saying that they are too busy to both sleep and exercise.  Something’s got to give.  But that’s not true.  You are entirely in control of your ability to do both.  Some of the busiest people I know find time to do both, and they are far more efficient and more effective because of it.

Angry and lonely are more powerful than hungry and tired, and they can feel harder to control.  But you can.  The greatest secret in life is that we are all in control of ourselves to a much greater level than we realize.

Take gratitude walks.  Practice mindfulness.  Cultivate friendships.  Volunteer to serve others.  See a movie by yourself.  Turn off your phone.  And for heaven’s sake, seek help when you need help.  There are amazing professionals trained to help us cope when we cannot do it ourselves.   Seek them out.  The strongest people I know ask for help when they need it.

May can overwhelm, but if it does, we miss out on all of the fun.  Life is crazy.  Take care of yourself, so you can enjoy it!

Slow Down

Last week was spring break, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to relax.  I hope you did as well.  But if you are anything like me, it was a long way down!  The pace of “the real world” is intense.  Slowing down is a challenge.  But every so often, we all need to slow down!  It helps our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

The first few days were the hardest.  My natural inclination is to go, go, go.  Letting go of work is hard for me.  I love what I do, and I feel an awesome responsibility to do it well.  Emails and phone calls and texts kept coming during the week.  It took a few days for me to put the phone down.  (It helps though when you are at sea and the wifi is crazy expensive.)

It was probably Wednesday before I truly felt disconnected, before I had actually changed my pace.  I set no alarm.  I used my phone only as a camera.  I took a nap.  It was wonderful.

The pace of our lives can take a toll on our bodies and our minds.  Intentional down time is critical.  I was lucky to carve out an entire week away.  Those are rare.  I encourage you to take a week if you can, but it does not take a week (or a cruise) to slow down.

I’ve written about this before.  We are at times too connected…to work, to email, to Facebook or Twitter.  Unplug.

We need long walks outside.

We need long breakfasts with our friends.

We need Blake Shelton concerts and free Saturday mornings at the art museum and musicals at the Orpheum.

We need time with our family and time with our friends and time alone.  Spend some time alone.  A game of solitaire or a movie or a night watching The West Wing on Netflix is not to be underestimated.  It can bring “balance” back to our lives.

I believe though that true balance is an illusion.  I’ve written about that before as well.  The best definition I’ve ever heard of balance is to have enough energy to enjoy all areas of your life.  Do what you need to in order to find that energy.  For me, work is energizing.  But so is down time.

Slow down!  For a week, for a day, for an hour.  It can make all the difference!

School Zones 

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I drive past an elementary school every day on my way to work.  It sits on a very busy, four lane road.  For whatever reason, I hit the spot everyday this week when the school zone lights were flashing.  The traffic is supposed to slow down from its usual 45 miles per hour.  And what I noticed was that even in the rush hour craziness, people really were slowing down. There is a moment of realization when you see the five, six, seven years olds, this week bundled in coats and hats and mittens, hurrying down the sidewalk.  A realization that no meeting, no conference call, no presentation is worth the danger you pose if you are not safe.  There is nothing you need to do that is as important as their safety.  And people, for the most part, slowed down.

It’s not easy.  Life is fast-paced.  We go, go, go all the time.  But that go is not always good.  It does not always result in our best choices, our best work.

A friend reminded me this week of the importance of slowing down.  I was moving too fast, doing too much, making mistakes.  She said, “Slow down.”  And she was right.  It is important, especially in our craziest moments, to slow down.  Pause.  Take a deep breath.

I can multi-task with the best of them.  I move quickly.  I am fast on my feet.  But that is not always a good thing.  Time for reflection and time to really evaluate the situation is essential in order to make the best decisions.

What helps you slow down?

For me it’s always been movies and TV shows.  I lose myself in a great episode of The West Wing.  I refocus after two hours in a movie theatre.  Taking some time to play with the kittens, listen to music, or walk on the treadmill helps me slow down.

We are entering some of the busiest months of the school year.  We’re living in two school years, finishing the work of this year and planning for the work of the next.  It is exciting and energizing and exhausting.  It can be easy to move too fast, do too much, make mistakes.

Find what works to still your mind.  Pause and reflect and take some time to slow down.  Realize that work will always be busy.  There will always be too much going on in your life. But none of that is more important than your peace of mind.

Take Your Shot

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We are in the middle of the high school basketball season.  Last night I watched an outstanding and previously undefeated team fall.  No doubt the coaches and players will analyze the game period by period.  Technique will be studied.  Plays will be debated.  And the halftime correction will be praised.  So many things factor into the outcome of a basketball game, and no doubt each one of them will be evaluated.

But there is one thing that has intrigued me week after week in game after game.  All of the players miss free throws.

Are you kidding me?  There is nothing more fundamental to the game of basketball than a free throw.  If you allow a five year old onto a basketball court, they will almost without fail take the ball to the line and take a shot.  Every day in cafeterias all around the country, middle schoolers rush through their lunch to have just a few extra minutes at the free throw line in the gym before going back to class.  Every elementary team, every high school team, every select team expects players to drill on free throws.  College players and NBA players all know that at any given time they could be standing on the free throw line, the game at stake.  Yet even in the NBA, most players only make 70-80% of their attempts.

So how is it that all of the players miss free throws?  Not just some of them, all of them.

Well, it’s not as easy as it looks.  A little like life.

Free throws and life require practice.  It is not easy for anyone.

Free throws and life require a routine.  There is comfort and  predictability in routine.  Variety is the spice of life, but muscle memory gets most things done.

Free throws and life require an uncluttered mind.  Too much anxiety, too much worry, too much overthinking takes away from our best work.  Meditation, quiet walks, and time to just disconnect allow us to be our best selves.

Free throws and life require balance.  I’m on record as saying there is no such things as a perfect “balance” between work and life. But a balanced person is on solid footing and has time for the things that matter to them.

Free throws and life require keeping your eye on the target.

Free throws and life require follow-through.

Free throws and life require style, and “granny style” is a style.

Free throws and life require getting back to zero.  Absolutely everyone misses shots.  All of us!  Take your shot.  Make it or miss it, move forward.  The next shot is waiting.

And most importantly, free throws are unopposed.  This is perhaps the most interesting thing of them all. It is about you and the ball and the basket.  You are the one who makes it.  You are the one who makes you miss.  Most of the really important things in life are between you and you.  Know yourself.  Know your goals.  Know the work needed to get it done.

Then take your shot.

You will make shots.  You will miss shots.  Such is life!  Even Stephen Curry only makes 90% of his free throws.

Disconnect

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I was an English teacher.  I enjoy few things more than a spirited debate over language.  So I know we could go round and round about the difference between disorganized and unorganized, disinterested and uninterested.  I had just such a discussion this week with a friend who disconnected.  It was winter break, a time designed for celebration, relaxation, and rejuvenation.  He had decided to carve out some time away from other people and away from technology.  It was a smart decision.  Disconnect!  But do not be unconnected!

While seemingly having the same definition, there is a difference between disconnecting, intentionally or unintentionally separating, and being unconnected.

Choosing to disconnect is an action taken to temporarily step away from the craziness of life.  It allows you to think.  It allows you to get out of the minutia and focus on the big picture.  It is when people dream and imagine and invent.  Likely some of your greatest thoughts happen when you are disconnected.  If you do not take time away, you are likely not doing your best work or being the best version of yourself.  Disconnect!

See a movie on a random afternoon.  Have breakfast with a friend and leave your phone in the car.  Take a walk.  Allow yourself time and space.

But do not be unconnected.  It is our connection to other people, to nature, to the world that makes us human.  It is connection that makes us wiser, and stronger, and better.  Even while we are disconnecting, we can be connected.

My father may take issue with this blog.  He is the first person who taught me the importance of being precise with language.  He taught me the difference between affect and effect, obtuse and abstruse.  He will most definitely reach out if he disagrees with my definitions.  And that connection has made me better.

A Balanced Life

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April is a busy month.  And May is certainly not any slower.  There are choir concerts and Honors Nights and track and baseball and soccer.  There are the usual birthday parties and anniversaries.  And of course there’s graduation.

Spring is a busy time.  But so is summer…and fall…and winter.  Our lives are busy.  Between work and school and church and athletics, our families are running in many directions.  It is easy to get overwhelmed and feel like we are not living a balanced life.

I have had many discussions over the years with my friends about finding balance in our lives, finding that work/life balance, focusing on body/mind/spirit balance, achieving whatever that perfect balance is that keeps us healthy and happy.  Many of those conversations started with a well-meaning friend who was worried about my balance at a given time.

After much reading, many conversations, and some serious soul searching over the years, I have arrived at my own understanding of balance.  There is no such thing as balance, and I wouldn’t want it if it existed.

If I am going to be honest,  I have imagined a life where I workout every morning, read the paper, and make a real breakfast before heading to work.  Then I connect personally with all of my co-workers, clear all my emails, and check everything off my to do list.  I leave work a few minutes early, check in with my parents and my siblings and take a few minutes to catch up on Facebook and Twitter.  When I get home I take a quick look around the house to pick up any messes, go through the mail, stay on top of the bills, and play fetch with the dog.  Then I cook a delicious meal and set the table for dinner.  I clean up the kitchen, watch a few of my favorite shows on Netflix and login to do any evening emails and finish up my work from the day.  I read for fun every night before bed, pray, meditate, stretch and do yoga before turning early and getting 8 hours of sleep.

My meals are healthy.  My clothes ironed.  Everyone gets their birthday cards on time, and I never forget an important event in a friend’s life.

Obviously I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea.  Until there are 47 hours in a day and I become a much more perfect version of myself, it is unlikely even half of that ever becomes reality in a day.

And I am fine with that.  For years I wasn’t fine with that.  For years I thought if I read enough, reflected enough, or made enough to do lists that I would be able to find this perfect balance that would make my life complete.

Well guess what, my life is complete.

When I need to work more, I do.  When I need to go away on a cruise for a week, I do.  Are they balanced?  Not even close.  I think our lives are about finding the things that bring us joy and then doing them.

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So release yourself from the guilt that comes with working late at school or leaving school early to go to a soccer game.  Give yourself grace when you buy your contribution to the potluck or put your children in a store-bought Halloween costume.  Some years you sew Pooh and Piglet costumes in the basement, and some years you buy a ladybug costume at the store.  Your children will remember both years fondly, and they won’t love you any less because you bought their costume.

We each get to define what brings us joy.  Likely what makes my life complete is different from what makes your life complete.  Normal in my family is different from normal in my neighbor’s family.  We establish our own routines and traditions.  I am not advocating selfishness or wanton disregard for the needs of others; I am just suggesting that we stop beating ourselves up for not being balanced.