I have never been more at peace, more productive or worked harder than right now. It’s such a weird realization, after chasing that elusive work-life-balance unicorn for over twenty-five years!

Raising two kids while working 8–10-hour days and commuting for another two hours, makes a mockery of this work-life-balance vision that we are sold as “this is what success looks like” all our lives. Yet, we are bombarded with this vision of achievement throughout our careers. What a great sales job – to get you to work harder and harder, fueled by feeling less successful and closer to failure along the way.

Then Covid smacked us like an oncoming speed train and derailed everything we thought we had under control. My flawed perspective of balance was placed center stage. The dictionary tells us that balance is “an even distribution of weight… in which different elements are equal or in correct proportions”.

After the initial weeks of shock and chaos that accompanied the hard lockdown, it soon become clear that managing endless remote calls stuck to a chair in your kitchen while trying to manage your household, only brought anxiety, exhaustion, and a complete sense of desperation for the familiarity of what you’d lost. In that dark moment it dawns on you that you didn’t lose greatness, you only lost a familiar routine. The way out was to find new emotional tools and to make selfish choices about “what I need”. Being a woman (and a mother) in the male dominated world of technology where you must work harder, prove your competence, fight for your voice to be heard – it’s hard to make these selfish choices. Your DNA is programmed to make sacrifices, see the bigger picture, and look after others.

This period forced me – and helped me – to re-think what I really need to fuel MY batteries, give ME energy, move ME forward. It also allowed me to recognize the things and people that drain me, that suck my energy and oxygen dry. A good place to start is to ask for feedback from trusted people, at work and at home – where do they see you shine, see you disappear, see you behave without intent and focus, see you not stepping up, see you not giving up. A picture emerges that I call my “Fuelers” and my” Suckers”. This realization is a growth journey in itself.

Estelle de Beer
Estelle de Beer

“Embracing chaos might be the journey you have to take to finding peace.”

That’s the easy part. The hard part is to do something about it, to make some life changes – lasting changes. To re-establish your energy balance, not work-life-balance, you instinctively want to remove things from the “heavy side” of the imbalance. I found this to be ineffective and a new sucker. I shifted my focus to the other side – to add things to my “lighter” side, my fuelers. Being in hard lockdown with your partner, or family, for 24-hours a day makes this an interesting experiment which presents many challenges, but mostly wonderful opportunities for change. “Small steps, consistently,” became something we tackled both jointly and individually. It started with something very simple – boardgames. Immersing yourself in something completely unknown, with new rules and structures became a wonderful outlet for our competitive natures. We acquired new skills, lost track of time, engaged in a physical challenge, improved our strategic thinking to outsmart each other and ended up having a lot of fun! This became the start of our weekend routine and soon we collected and mastered at least ten of the top global board games. My “lighter” side started filling up, with ease. The key is not simply adding new things but maintaining consistency in what you add. I kept adding new, deliberate activities, which became new habits, which became new life choices. For me, the real achievement of balance is about the energy being in balance, not the separation of work and “life”.

The interesting thing about feeding your fuelers is that you don’t have to remove all the suckers. I still have days filled with nine back-to-back meetings, hard conversations, difficult people and situations to deal with. With a consistent library of fuelers to use, I have more perspective to approach these challenges with a calm clarity, leaving me with a feeling of control and inner peace, and less guilt about not living up to others’ expectations and demands.

Embracing chaos might be the journey you have to take to finding peace.

The dictionary tells us that balance is “an even distribution of weight… in which different elements are equal or in correct proportions”. Don’t make the wrong assumptions of what these elements should be.

This article first appeared here: Identify your Suckers and Feed your Fuelers – Aspioneer