I’m trading in the scales for a new metaphor. Managing all the facets of who I am, my varying interests and commitments, the people who want and need my attention in various arenas, my own needs and interests – is just NOT simply a matter of breaking off a piece here and putting it on this side, and breaking off another piece there for the other side… and keeping it “in balance.”
I have to admit, I’ve struggled with this for a long time… this notion of “work-life balance.” I’ve long “preached”, often to new supervisors or managers, that there’s no such thing as “leave your personal life at the door,” just as it’s crazy to assume I can “leave work at work.” There’s no part of my brain (or heart) that contains my “home self,” and that I turn on or off at will – there’s no “work brain” that shuts down just because I leave a particular building or the clock strikes a certain chime. We are whole people… if I have a sick child, I can’t NOT think about that while I’m at work – if I’m able to be there. And while I may not tote home a bag of papers and files every night, that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about projects, upcoming commitments, to-do lists, and meeting preparations while I’m outside of my office. It also doesn’t mean I’m neglecting something.
So I’ve been exploring a new metaphor for managing these various parts of ourselves and our lives. They are not separate. They are all part of me, and I’m all too aware that there’s only one me. I’m starting to think about it as more akin to the weave of a fabric, or perhaps the way a single strand of yarn is woven in and out of itself, knitted into some larger piece – a scarf, or a sweater.
I took up knitting as a therapeutic, and largely social, hobby when it started coming back into vogue a few years ago. I appreciate that there’s an art to it, but also that a few relatively simple principles will see you to success – much like life management, if we’re paying attention.
So – here are lessons from knitting that are informing my approach to my “life-weave”:
- Start with a plan… In knitting, it’s “what are you making?” In life, it’s “where are your priorities?” Sometimes you have to think about this for a while – and sure, there may be adjustments to the plan along the way – but having a sense in life about your ultimate priorities and what-trumps-what allows for informed decision-making and less stress when things collide.
- Pay attention… In knitting, it’s about noticing what may or not be changing, making adjustments, following the plan. Are you keeping the right number of stitches, or is your scarf doubling in width? Or did you miss a stitch or two, and now have a hole? Coming to the end of your first skein of yarn? Better have another one ready… Making a sweater – are you working a sleeve, or the torso? In life, it’s about the same thing. What part of your piece are you working on, and what kind of attention does it need from you right now? Are you turning corners from one thing to another smoothly? Have something coming up for which you need a plan? Are you ready?
- Manage the tension… In knitting, it’s all about keeping things even – too tight, and you’ll lose the ability to make your new stitches, too loose, and it’s difficult to maintain consistency… back-and-forth from too tight to too loose – and you’ll end up with a crazy looking thing in the end. In life, it’s also about managing the tensions. It’s about keeping perspective between the things you can and can not control or influence, and being consistent in how you give attention, time and resources across the various things you do. Inconsistency means you spend a lot of time reacting to issues in one area or another… “Too tight” or “too loose” likely means you’re creating a lot of unnecessary stress for yourself or others.
I like this idea of thinking of myself as “whole” again, not trying to force myself into “parts.” People at work know I have four kids – and that my mind is on them at times while I’m at work, and sometimes I need to attend to their needs during a weekday. They also know that I’m thinking about work needs and priorities when I’m not sitting at my desk, that reports are sometimes distributed at night, and that when it really comes down to it – my family comes first. But it’s an exceedingly rare instance when I don’t also manage to have my work responsibilities woven in well-enough that something actually suffers for it. This – all of this – is who I am.
So – I challenge all of us to trade in that old, tired “scales” metaphor in favor of one that recognizes each of us as a single, well-incorporated entity. Maybe the knitting metaphor doesn’t work for you, I’m sure there are others! Let me know how you’re thinking about it… And in the ways in which we lead, interact with and support others, I challenge us to be thinking about how we relate and communicate our understanding of each other as “whole people.” How do you recognize others’ mix of priorities and commitments? How do you encourage them in the ways they weave themselves across spaces and roles? How can we continue to do so in more helpful and compassionate ways?