When I went back to work after I had my son, I was absolutely clear that my family was my priority. It was a no-brainer for me. Nothing is more precious to me than my family, and there was no way I would let my job get in the way of my responsibilities as a mom and a wife. No way, no how.
Fast-forward 2 months: I was logging 60-70-hour workweeks. I saw my baby 45 minutes a day, usually at the end of the day when he was exhausted and cranky. I had no time for my husband or myself. I felt completely controlled by my job. I quickly began to feel trapped, stressed out, and resentful. I had identified my priorities, but I had not yet committed to my priorities.
Aligning Your Actions with Your Priorities
It took me a while to recognize and that there was a discrepancy between what I said was my priority, and what my actions reflected. My job had been my main priority for most of my adult life, and becoming a parent didn't automatically shift how I operated. My job continued to take most of my energy as I returned from maternity leave, mainly because that's all I had ever really known. It honestly didn't even occur to me to say no. I just tried to become as efficient as possible so I could finish up my work and re-focus on my family. I became VERY efficient, but I still couldn't catch up.
As I grew into my role as a mom, I knew I needed to make some changes. I couldn't be all things to all people anymore. My time was precious to me now, and all of my time was getting eaten up by my job. It was heartbreaking to me that my little baby and my husband were the ones who were getting shortchanged by my inability to really commit to my true priorities.
It couldn't go on.
My Old Pattern
My pattern up until that point in my life was to hustle. I was an incredibly hard worker, and as new demands arose in my life I just worked harder and harder, and faster and faster to meet expectations… until I burned out and completely disengaged from everything. Feeling refreshed after a week or two, I would jump back into my old routine. This very quickly led to being back at maximum capacity and feeling stressed and overwhelmed again. I was stuck in a vicious cycle: one month billing record hours, and then the next month completely checked out. It was an unhealthy roller coaster, but I didn't know how to stop it.
What I Did Differently This Time
I eventually realized that following through on my commitment to my family was going to be harder than I thought. I was used to being the “go-to” person with my colleagues, family, and friends. A huge part of my identity was wrapped up in being that resource for people in my life. It wasn't going to be easy to permanently escape the trap I had spent two decades creating for myself. It would require making a lot of small but significant changes in the way I approached my life.
When I finally decided to really commit to my family (which included taking time for myself, so I could be healthy and present with them), I realized that this time had to be different. I had to put into place behaviors that would become habits. I had to establish a practice that could be sustained over the long-term (since, hopefully, my family would stick around for a while). I had to make changes that would become a new way of being, not just some short-term band-aid approach to reacting to stress or maximizing my time.
The Key to Following Through on my Commitment
One of the biggest turning points in my life was admitting that as a working parent, I simply didn't have unlimited time. If I was going to be more engaged with my family and have a more balanced life, I needed to learn how to be more discerning in what I agreed to spend my energy, attention, and time on. I needed to begin to create new habits that did not include saying “yes” whenever someone needed something from me.
Taking this step, really committing to my priorities, was crucial to actually creating a more balanced life as a working parent. Once I committed to my priorities, I didn't second-guess myself when I had to “let someone down.” I didn't automatically say yes. I asked myself one simple question when someone threw something at me: “Is this in line with my priorities?” If the answer was no, I said no. I didn't feel bad about it. I didn't apologize for it. I just drew the line and stuck with it.
Becoming committed to my priorities created a north star that I still follow to this day.
I still fall into the “yes” trap from time to time, but just taking the step of making that commitment to my family started me down the path of at least questioning how I spent my time. It took me out of auto-pilot mode, which led to making more conscious choices.
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