There's a lot of discussion these days about work / life balance. We all know what a challenge it is to juggle the often conflicting demands of approaching a living, fulfilling job responsibilities, making a home, looking after family or loved ones, and trying to stay healthy in the mid of it! So where is the "me" time in all of that? And how do you go about making some quality time for yourself?
The problem …
Often, taking time out for yourself is seen as the very lowest priority. There's a perception that it's somehow selfish or a luxury. But it's actually essential to your health and wellbeing – no matter what your "job" in life is. Making "me" time can be hard for everyone. Women may have been brought up with the belief that they must be selfless and always put the needs of their children, partner, parents or even their employer ahead of their own. And a common issue for men is falling into the trap of spending long hours at work, in order to excel in their profession profession, and then feeling guilty about not spending enough time at home.
My client, "Pete", was struggling with just this issue. In his early 40s, he had reached a major crossroads in his career and had come to me for coaching to get some clarity and make decisions about what direction to take. Pete was happily married, with a young family, and did his best to spend as much time as possible with them. He lived a busy but pretty healthy lifestyle, keeping fit and staying in touch with friends. So he had actually accomplished a lot of the things he thought he wanted in his life.
But, when we talked, it became apparent that Pete was secretly feeling empty and unfulfilled and he was doing some real soul searching to try and figure out why. He thought that finding the "right" job was going to solve things. Yet, as we delved a bit deeper, he realized that what was really missing in his life was a spiritual dimension. He was not a religious person – he simply meant for more depth and meaning in his life, more of an understanding of himself and his purpose.
The solution …
Now, what to do about this? Pete's dilemma is a common one. It's tempting to look for an external solution, yet this is actually about an internal journey we each need to make for ourselves. You may think that finding the perfect partner or home, approaching enough money or, as in Pete's case, taking the right job, is going to be the missing piece of the jigsaw that will make your life work. But it's the other way around. By tuning into yourself, and coming to understand your unique purpose, the elements of your life progressively come into alignment and start to gel in a deeply satisfying way. It's not necessarily about adding a whole lot of new stuff to your life.
Pete came to realize that he needed to regularly spend some time by himself. This was not something he'd previously thought was important. He became really drawn to the idea of meditation, but did not think he could fit one more thing into his life. I suggested he did the simple exercise of mapping his activities in a typical week. Was there any time in there that he spent on his own? Actually, yes there was. He took the dog for a walk most mornings. So, instead of trying to squeeze meditation in as a new activity, I suggested that he try using the existing activity of walking the dog as a form of meditation.
This had never occurred to him before – he thought that meditation required sitting or lying down in a quite formal practice. But it does not. Just getting out into nature is great. Meditation is about being by yourself, allowing your mind to settle, and getting into your own rhythm – the inflow and flow of your breath, feeling the warmth of the sun and the breeze on your face. Simply being present … and allowing yourself to simply BE.
After only a few weeks of doing this, Pete reported that he was feeling calmer and more centred, and he started following his inner guidance in shaping the direction of his career. His wife, noting the positive difference it was making for him, began to also take some time out for herself. They decided to create a corner in their house that was for "quiet time" – an armchair by the window, and a small sidetable next to it with a candle and a few other meaningful items placed on it. A simple thing to do, but one which made a difference difference to their whole family.
Try it for yourself …
Why not try this for yourself? Make a list of your normal activities across the week and see if there's time in there that you could use differently. Walking the dog is just one idea. When do you get to spend time on your own? Maybe you can go and sit in the park at lunchtime a couple of times a week, instead of always eating lunch on the run, going out with others or sitting at your desk. Or go and sit in the garden with a cup of tea when the baby's sleep, rather than putting through that load of washing. Make a quiet corner in your home … Remember, taking care of yourself is important too!
Copyright © 2006 Judith Waller