I am definitely NOT an expert when it comes to anything life balance related. In fact, it is, perhaps, one of the things I struggle most with in my day-to-day life. From a very young age I displayed this amazing ability to throw myself into whatever my passion was and commit myself 100% to being the best at that one thing. Little else mattered. As a kid it was sports. From an early age I lived and breathed running and alpine ski racing. When I wasn’t training or at practice I was watching videos of Tommy Moe or Picaboo Street flying down the slopes, or of Sebastian Coe offering tips on run drills. I immersed myself and was driven to be the best.
When I graduated from college my career dreams centered around finding a job that would challenge me intellectually and emotionally to my absolute limit. I LOVED high-pressure, high-risk, high-rate-of-attrition jobs. It called to me, as (like most other things in my life) I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong. I wanted to not only thrive in an environment few others could, but I wanted to be the best. Like my days in athletics, I lived and breathed work. This meant long hours in the office, frequent all-nighters, cancelled drinks, dinners and vacations with friends; holidays in the office; Christmas holidays spent on my laptop versus spending quality time with my family; 2 AM conference calls to China – it was LOT, but I loved it and I thrived in that environment.
When I stumbled upon triathlon and eventually made the transition to training and racing full time, my dedication and focus has resembled all that I’ve described above. My life revolves around being a student of the sport – training, eating, sleeping, recovering. And when these things aren’t going on, I’m working on activation with sponsors, business development and growing my side passion – this website…The Habit Project. And like my focus on my finance career, this often comes at the expense of time with my boyfriend, family, friends nor does it allow for any type of active or consistent social life.
In January this year my boyfriend, Michael, and I were eating dinner one night and he said to me, “During your time off from training you are so much more engaged, present and relaxed. Once the season begins and you start training again it is like a switch flicks and you are all business all the time – from the time you wake up to the moment you shut off the light at night. I think you are burning the work candle too much and not allowing yourself to shut off. I bet if you focused on this it would help your training and racing”.
His comment stung a bit, partially because I was proud of my strong work ethic and my commitment to getting it all done, but also partially because I knew he was right. I WAS working all the time and wasn’t leaving time for the two of us, for ME alone, or for other people important in my life. Yet despite sensing something had to change, I wasn’t sure HOW. I felt like I simply wasn’t wired as someone who does NOTHING. I’m the kind of person who when at the beach, can sit still for 5 minutes before becoming bored and needing to engage in some way – to be productive in some fashion. Relaxing simply doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.
Yet, beginning in March I started working towards a more balanced life. During weeknights (Sunday-Thursday) I strive to shut down the computer and turn off electronics (mostly) at 6:30 pm. I am forgoing work (outside of training) all day on Saturday and on Friday I have agreed to wrap up by 5 pm. Thus far this has been an INCREDIBLY hard challenge for me. It has proven to be a lesson/challenge in re-assessing and paring down my daily to-do lists, communicating deliverable dates later than I would typically like, and not always being on top of emails or correspondence. Shutting down when I often feel there is still so much to be done leaves me feeling stressed and like I am falling short of my responsibilities.
The upside to this, however, is that I’ve been reaping the benefits as well. This past Saturday Michael and I watched March Madness together, then strolled into town and sat outside a coffee shop for an hour while we people watched and talked. We went to a sports bar for dinner and watched the games and got lost in the excitement of being sports fans. It was quality time together that we have seldom had when I am in-season. And while at times I struggled with the feeling of being unproductive and wasting time, it was refreshing and rejuvenating to get away from all things work and just RELAX. During the weeknights my success at shutting down has fluctuated. I’ve made an concerted effort and most nights I’ve succeeded. Yet often I still need to pack my bags for the next day, prepare my foods (breakfast, snacks and and often lunch on the run) and it has left me little time to truly sit and decompress or spend time with Mike. The plus side, however, is that this adjustment has forced me to work hard at prioritizing my daily to do’s outside of training as well as be more realistic with myself on what CAN truly get done. I’ve also been more productive in order to achieve all I want before my shut down cut off arrives.
I recently read a newsletter from Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness that not giving yourself time and space to shut off from either work or passion can result in burn out, injury or adversely impact performance:
“stress—that is, some kind of stimulus or challenge—without rest is unsustainable. Whether your “stress” is miles run, words written, presentations given, games coached, hours spent studying, or canvases painted, if you don’t give yourself the time and space to recover, you’re liable to burnout and cause injury to yourself and perhaps even others.
Turning it off, however, is NOT easy—especially for people who are perpetual pushers: those who love their work and give it their everything.”
Recognizing that balance IS actually a key component to achieving the goals I have professionally and personally, it is something I am willing to work hard at. It may not come naturally, but hopefully with practice, I can make a habit out of it and yield something truly positive in return – Life Balance.