I wasn’t quite sure how to move on from my last post. It seemed that whatever followed it was going to take away from the sentiment I had struggled so hard to put into words in the first place, and I certainly didn’t want to seem insincere by glossing over the issue within just days. Flicking through my notebook of ideas, I came across two words- “Just be”, and I thought it may be appropriate now, in light of all the trauma and difficulty we are seeing across the world, to send people a gentle reminder to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. (I do have to say, though, that I’m buoyed by the outpouring of generosity by the people of Europe in regards to the refugee crisis; please keep it going!)
There is no shame in relishing in your own success or happiness, particularly if that is borne through hard work and perseverance. Equally, though, you don’t need to feel guilty if you genuinely feel like your day is going so badly that you must have been cursed by a witch at birth and will continue to suffer the ever dismal consequences for the rest of your life. Life can throw curve balls at us that knock us clean off our feet and often we are led to feel guilty for reacting strongly either way. Perhaps in continental Europe strong emotions are more widely accepted but here in good old Blighty you are likely to be told to either “pipe down” or “cheer up”, and settle back into the inoffensive middle ground. Dwelling on anything is seen these days as a waste of vital “doing” time. I think it’s partly to do with this deliberate dampening down of our gut reactions to situations, as well as the fact we are increasingly time poor, that we don’t feel comfortable just “being”; we search out automation in any form, and we call it “Time Optimisation”.
I came across an article recently- though for the life of me I can’t find the source- where the author let readers in on the secrets of hyper-productivity. He was a CEO of some sort, a high achiever and consultant to those who want to reach the same dizzying heights but, alas, suffer from that terrible human affliction of needing to sleep…One suggestion in particular struck me; the author claimed he woke with the dawn (as all successful people seem to, groan) and headed straight to the gym, but still managed to read an awe inspiring number of books a year because he caught up, a few pages at a time, in between sets at the weights rack. Of course, there is the more high profile debate that has come to light recently in Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to head back to work after just two weeks when her little baby twins are born in December. We live in a fast moving, high pressure environment so you can hardly blame people for looking to squeeze the most out of their limited daylight hours, but does that have to be to the detriment of our emotional wellbeing?
I work full time and spend my evenings blogging/ chatting with you lovely blog folk over on Twitter/ researching ethical business practices and startups that I want to champion. Not a day goes by where I don’t look at the clock and wonder how on earth it is already 9pm; why do my 24 hours seem to go by twice as fast as everyone else?! I’m not against optimising time, and admit that I’m currently in the process of trying to force my body clock into an early bird routine (because everyone knows the golden hours are the most productive!), but I think it is really important that we don’t lost sight of the benefit of being “in the moment”. Mindfulness is teaching me that even in a day full of machine like productivity, there is always time for breathing space.
Here are a few ways I incorporate “being” into an otherwise chocka-block day.
- Start the day with some human contact. It has been scientifically proven that we need human contact in order to be healthy, so when my alarm goes off I make sure I don’t jump out from under the covers immediately, but go in for a big ole’ cuddle whenever I can. If- like me- your other half lives in a different house to you, or is away on holiday, or is actually just a full sized body pillow with Chris Hemsworth’s face drawn onto it in lipstick, then try some palming. Rubbing your hands briskly together for a few seconds and place them over your eyes. The contact will be enough to set you off on the right foot for the whole morning.
- Eat mindfully. Turn off the TV and put away your smartphone. Plate your food lovingly, recreating a desert island scene with your potato waffles and beans if that’s what makes you really smile. If you are alone, focus on the smells and textures, and if you have company then engage in some good old fashioned conversation. Audience dependent- get irate over matters that make you really passionate and fling said waffles and beans aggressively across the room (don’t, that’s a waste). I learned from my time in Italy that eating is an immersive experience that we are privileged to be able to take part in; it should not be done on autopilot.
- Allow yourself a break. Pick an activity that you love doing each day and do it with single focus: no multitasking, no guilt. It may be reading, (but please- for the love of the authors who have painstakingly crafted the book you hold in your hands- don’t hold it in one sweaty hand and half skim through it whilst you’re bicep curling). It may be playing a musical instrument, finger painting or watching absolute rubbish on the telly, it doesn’t matter. For me, it’s laying down. When I come home from work at 4:30 every day I allow myself to just lay face down with no interruption until 5. Then I get up and continue my day. No stock markets crash during my 30 minutes “me” time, I am able to catch up with the world with relative ease, and I feel re-balanced after even the busiest of days.
- Cry. If something upsets you, express that emotion rather than trying to bury it and carry on. It will come out and, if it isn’t in a healthy controlled way, it’s likely to be in a meeting room surrounded by colleagues, or in the supermarket when you find they’ve run out of your favourite shampoo… Go home and sob until you’re snotty and look like an extra from a zombie film, it’s natural.
- Ask people how they are. The more we try to optimise our time, the more selfish we become. It’s human nature. But the story of the teenage boy who saved a suicidal man’s life by asking “Are you okay?” shows that just the most basic of human connections can have an incredible power. Ask people how they are, and then really listen to what they say.
You don’t have to be a time-optimising robot to be successful in this life. Yes, unfortunately, you do have to get up early (this is a very painful realisation for me, can you tell?) but there is always time in every day that is worth just experiencing for what it is. Success in work requires long hours, carefully planned and briefed meetings, and an unquenchable thirst for progress; but success in life requires emotional intelligence and the balance that comes with regular, genuine, human connection. I’m only a few rungs up the career ladder but I hope as I scale to the top there is room for both, because I’m not willing to compromise (and I do hope Marissa Mayer finds some time to “just be” as well).
What do you think? What are your non-negotiables when it comes to work/life balance? Let me know!