Balance (noun): A word made up to make women feel bad about themselves. (See also: effortless and has-it-all).
I support the notion that it’s unhealthy to invest our entire selves into one facet of life—be it work or a single relationship, while other areas are left to wither—but I think balance is the wrong word for it. Balance suggests equal proportions, a 'TV dinner life' as Amelia Diamond of Man Repeller so eloquently describes. If I had to counter the TV dinner analogy, balance for me is pouring water into one glass until it overflows, then pouring it back into the empty glass, never-ending and very messy. I try hard to look after myself but running my business often takes priority (See burnout guide). Below is a snapshot of what balance means to a range of OKREAL Women I have interviewed. Balance is the theme for our May Mentor Circles—if you’re trying to take your career to the next level without killing yourself in the process, these circles are for you. Learn more and apply here.
“I don’t have any non-negotiables in terms of lifestyle—I’ve pretty much sacrificed most of those. I don’t exercise as much as I need to, I don’t get enough sleep, and I don’t pay enough attention to what I wear even though I work fashion. I have a lot of friends and I try to make new friends, but those things become very difficult with the addition of a family. I’m not complaining—I just recognize that you die trying to have it all. You have to pick the things that are most important to you, and work is one of the most important things to me, so I prioritize it. Balance is great if that’s what you’re into, but I also think it’s something that can trip you up. It sets another impossible standard. I’m probably really imbalanced, but I’m fine with it. I do my best. I think that some of the most interesting people are imbalanced. I don’t think you get really good results by trying to do everything. I think you have to focus on the things you want to get really good results from and that is the only way to get better at those things. Sacrifice is part of that. I think balance is an impossible, aspirational lie.” Read the full article.
“I need whisky and my couch and the TV going and I’m all spread out eating a huge plate of Indian food. A lot of self-soothing activity.” Read the full article.
Shannon Boodram, Sexologist and author
“My mornings have to be slow five/seven days of the week. I can manage a couple fast starts but omg how I LOVE waking up on my terms, laying in bed cuddling, reading my emails, getting up to make tea, then going back to bed for a bit. The whole ordeal takes about an hour but it gives me an amazing boost for my day. It’s how I started today, and by 9:30 this morning I found myself saying: ‘Today is such an amazing day, even though technically the day has just begun.” Read the full article.
Uli Beutter Cohen, OKREAL Mentor Circle Leader
"Balance means knowing my top priorities and what I need to get there. Making excuses is easy. Being honest is hard work. Often that means doing the boring/tedious/scary stuff first and moving though it quickly and gracefully. Checking in with myself and treating myself respectfully, especially during the boring/tedious/scary times, pays off. It helps me to keep things moving at a steady pace instead of being stop and go. That’s when I am the least stressed and see the most results. Maybe that’s balance or it’s my happy place, but either way, it’s worth it." Read the full article.
Amelia: “I read a lot of productivity books and I’m always trying to figure it out. The two best and only takeaways I’ve gotten are: Do the worst thing first and write down the three things you have to do that day. Write them down as if you will ruin someone else’s day or deadline if you do not get them done. I also try not to make plans that I have to cancel. I say yes to everything and I’m always, late, sweaty and stressed. I also think it’s important to have a few years in the beginning where you’re really hustling. You might not be sleeping, you’re eating very weird things, like a granola bar you find in your purse one night, dollar pizza the next night. Not to say that you should find yourself in a consistently unhealthy pattern, but I think that the real nose-to-the-grind is important in terms of getting something done. I used to think that balance meant a perfect TV dinner life—friends, family, etc. But think of it as: this week I’m going to get this report done, then next week I’m going to do better about being a non-cave person.”
Emma: “Those periods also can be long. It could be a year, two years, that you are an insane squirrel. But yes, in general it’s about shifting priorities. Sometimes I haven’t seen my friends in a hundred years so I go on a date-making spree. And that feels really satisfying, even if it means that I have not been able to do some of the other things. It can be fluid.” Read the full article.
“Exercise is my non-negotiable. Which for me usually means a 3-4 mile run around Brooklyn Bridge Park as soon as I wake up. I began my running habit a couple of years before we started the business as a way of helping me transition off of antidepressants. It was pivotal for me and completely transformed the way I manage my mental health. So when we were launching Of A Kind I said out loud to myself and everyone around me: “This is the one thing I will not sacrifice no matter what.” Part of making sure I kept to it was instituting a late-ish start time for our office, which has become an integral part of our culture—we encourage everyone to use it to do something for themselves whether it’s the gym, meditation, a nice long breakfast, or just getting to the dry cleaners." Read the full article.
“When I was doing public affairs work and politics, I pushed myself too hard sometimes, and am still trying to be more realistic with my expectations. ‘Easy does it,’ is a really important slogan that I’m trying to live by a little bit more now. It’s not an admission of weakness at all. I think that sometimes I trick myself into thinking I can do anything, and then I face plant. It’s important to know your limits and respect them.” Read the full article.
“I’m learning that life is seasonal—that there are going to be moments when my family life is going well but romance is in the shitter. It’s the situation I’m in now, where work has become this very central thing, but I’m trying to be less hard on myself and to chill out. Constant sacrifice is hard. In order to do one thing, there are other parts of my life that must drop. I haven’t been to birthdays or weddings for at least a year—I’m still trying to figure that part out. Things aren’t going to get less crazy, so I need to start prioritizing. I’m also learning that sacrifice is not always worth it. I don’t want to be constantly missing out on a ‘life moment,’ as Mariah Carey would say.” Read the full article.
“I am really terrible at work / life balance, but once thing I am pretty adamant about is my sleep. If I don’t get at least six hours I am useless.” Read the full article.
Rebecca Minkoff, Designer and Co-Founder, Rebecca Minkoff
“Some moms come back and they’re tigers! But for me, I was like, ‘Why does this matter? I just want to be home.’ I was very lucky to have my brother who kept the business going, especially through that time when I wasn’t sleeping at all. I think trying to do both kids and business by myself would have been far more challenging. Now that I have two kids, I’ve definitely pushed boundaries both with feeling like I’m not seeing them enough, and times when I’ll take a morning off to be with them, and all I’ll think about is work. I now know where my boundaries are, but I still have FOMO! What I’ve learned is that it’s better to have FOMO than to have guilt.” Read the full article.
Jen Sincero, Author and Life Coach
“The balance of driving things forward and letting things happen is life mastery as far as I’m concerned. When I was starting my online business, my big money maker was a course on how to write a non-fiction book proposal. I was working around the clock, bleary eyed, figuring out how to work out the technicalities and programming while trying to get clients—I was spread pretty thin. Striving for balance is good, but we also need to be in touch with reality. I was giving my life such a major overhaul that I needed to be that way. There’s a period of hauling ass in the beginning—they say that a plane uses 70% of its fuel during take off. However, in that space, I was still meditating, breathing and pausing and making sure I was getting out of my head and staying centered. I would stop, take my face out of the computer and look at the sky, lean back and reconnect with my joy, sense of purpose the excitement of making money—as opposed to the exhaustion and the overwhelming ‘holy fuck is this even going to work?’” Read the full article.
"I think what helps us a lot is being able to find small ways to stay grounded every day. We have a lot of personal rituals. When you’re running a business on your own, there’s always something to do or another email to write. So we decompress in our own ways… like making our beds in the morning or brewing a pot of coffee before rushing out. Things that you shouldn’t even think about—but become important when you get so wrapped up in doing, doing, doing all the time. You want to create a lifestyle that supports the mentality you want to give to others. If we were rigid, crazy frenetic yoga teachers, the studio would have such a different vibe. While we do work seven days a week, we also do things like host a talent show once a month where students can come and do weird things. And Krissy and I have a dinner night where we don’t talk about yoga. But I think that’s how we keep our laid-back-ness while maintaining our determination and goals. It’s about how you keep yourself real during all of it." Read the full article.
“I think that time management is very important. If you don’t have 10 minutes or an hour to yourself, that’s not really a life. We all have the same amount of time. If you’re always telling people how busy you are, that means you think the person you’re talking to is not busy. Everyone is busy, we live in New York, it’s a happening thing. Busy is like you in the future. But if you’re speaking with someone, chill and have a human connection. I try to keep that in mind and manage my time well. That’s where I’m focusing my energy this year. Making sure my schedule feels good and I still have time to go to my teachers class, and that I have one day where I don’t see clients. I make sure my life is full, but I’m still having a good time. Because to me, that’s the whole of it. I’m doing this to have a good life and to help other people have good lives.” Read the full article.
Yasmine Ganley, writer and curator, AnyOne Girl
“From a work perspective, I get to work from home two days a week, which is wonderful. It’s so quiet out here, so calm. We get a lot of natural light which is something I missed when I lived in the city. We potter around after work until the sun goes down. It’s an opportunity for me to shut off my computer and have a few hours to mark the end of my day. It’s given me a sense of peace and really allows me to be present. As much as I would like to be organized and look forward, there’s something to be said about enjoying what’s happening now. To take in the view. Otherwise, you’re really missing the point.” Read the full article.