Achieving the Ever Effervescent Work-Life Balance

How can one strike a healthy work-life balance? Is it possible to be successful both in your professional life and your personal life? These are questions that we all ask ourselves at one or more points in our lives. The fact that you are asking yourself these questions is good. It means you have slowed down enough to evaluate where you are now and where you would like to be heading.

Defining success is a good place to start. Each one of us defines it differently. A good general definition that can apply to anyone is that success is what gives you a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Success depends on what your objectives are. Imagine yourself after retirement looking back on the past 40 years. Do you feel you’ve accomplished something with your life? Do you feel you lived your life to the fullest? Do you feel you’ve left a positive lasting mark on society…on someone…anyone? Is your life now – at retirement – as satisfying as it was before you retired? Have you structured your life so that satisfaction lasts a lifetime?

If your answer to one or more of the above questions is no, you need to re-think your life strategy.

Start by defining your priorities in life. Don’t look at the small picture while doing this. Look at your life as a whole. When you near the end of your life, what do you think will make you feel satisfied with how you lived it? More importantly, if you were to die today, in that brief moment between life and death, would you be able to tell yourself that you lived your life the way YOU wanted to?

What satisfies me and makes me feel successful may be very different from what makes you feel satisfied and successful. It all depends on our objectives in life and on our priorities.

The priority of some people in life is to raise one or more children to be healthy, productive members of society. The priority of others may be to make a name for themselves in their line of work. The priority of others may be to better society. And the priority of yet others may be to live a life of self-discovery. Many people, including myself, may want to achieve all of the above. What’s important is that you decide what your main priorities are, to order them according to importance, and to start working on achieving them.

Enough with the generalizing. I can rarely relate if general guidelines are given without examples. And since this is a blog – my blog – the easiest and most relatable thing for me to do is to tell you how I see things.

I have many objectives in life. But when I ask myself what is most important to me, if I could choose only one thing in life to focus on, it would without question be letting my children know that they were loved by their mother. There is absolutely nothing that is more important to me than that. That is the one most important thing that my father gave me and I want to be able to hand that down to my own children. As a result, I realize that much of my life and what I do must revolve around my children. Many of my important life decisions revolve around this main priority.

I also believe, though, that to be a loving mother, there are other aspects of my life that I need to attend to. There are other priorities in my life that I need to give time to. My children need to eat, be clothed, go to school, and all that costs money. So I must work. If I had to, I could deal with working for the singular objective of making just enough money to keep my children above the poverty line as long as they knew they were loved. When I am able to, I want my work to be meaningful and my definition of that is having a job where I feel I am giving to society. With this line of thinking, my first priority is loving my children. My second priority is giving to society. I’ll do both as long as the second does not take me away from my children to the extent that they do not feel loved. Once this happens, it is time for me to shift away from my second priority to focus on my first.

This line of thinking continues in all other aspects of my life. I prioritize spiritual fulfillment, having dreams and making them happen, being surrounded by family and friends, and many other things. I’ll do it all as long as I am able. But when one starts affecting the priority above it, I’ll shift my focus back to the more important. As long as I am able to make my first priority happen, I am a satisfied woman who feels successful.

I have also realized for many years now that we go through phases in life and each phase requires and allows us to focus on some priorities at the expense of others. When children are young, they need more time and attention from their parents than they do when they get older. It is easier to focus on our education at certain times of our lives than others. Career-building usually happens at particular phases in our lives as well. We decide what is more important for us at different phases.

I focused on my basic education when I was young. After I finished by bachelor’s degree, building my family was more important. When my children grew older I started focusing on my career and gave yet more time to continuing to build my education. And once I accomplished those I started giving more time to spiritual fulfillment and accomplishing other personal dreams I always had. While in one phase, I was not feeling sorry for myself because I was unable to fulfill some of my other goals right then and there. I knew that the time would come for that and that now was the time to focus on my current and most pressing priorities.

When I retire, I don’t want to find myself all alone because I focused too much on my career. I also don’t want to wait till I retire to do some things in life that I’d rather do while I’m younger and healthier. And I want to make sure that when I retire I’m as healthy as I possibly can be so that I can continue to live a full and satisfying life when work isn’t taking up a significant amount of my time. So I incorporate things into my life now that ensure I have a chance at a full post-career life. I have hobbies, I try to keep in touch with friends, I exercise as much as possible. I’m not perfect at any of those but when I reach retirement I can truthfully tell myself that I tried.

Your priorities and phases will be different from mine. You are not expected to live your life the way I have or to have my priorities. What you should expect from yourself is to live YOUR life based on YOUR priorities. You should be able to look at your life today and confidently say that you have a sense of self-satisfaction with what you are doing NOW. And you should be able to look at your life after retirement and know that you have something to look forward to.

Now sit down and prioritize. Work on your priorities and balance the time you give to each based on their order of importance. Do not dwell on what you cannot accomplish now. If you can’t accomplish it now it isn’t one of your priorities now so it’s not important now. The time for those things will come later.

I can truthfully say that I’ve lived life. I’ve done the things that are most important to me. And I have many things to look forward to when their time comes. This does not in any way mean that life or life’s choices have been easy. But I’ve tried to do as best I can. I’m satisfied. Alhamdulillah. Thanks be to God.

 

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4 comments

  1. “Do not dwell on what you cannot accomplish now. If you can’t accomplish it now it isn’t one of your priorities now so it’s not important now.”

    This quote was like a wake up call to me. You have no idea about the lengths I would go to just to make myself miserable. All I do is think about what I definitely neither have the ability nor the resources to do right now and contemplate on how much of a failure I’m turning out to be. Thanks for this!

  2. @Nadia: “I have also realized for many years now that we go through phases in life and each phase requires and allows us to focus on some priorities at the expense of others.” Definitely. One problem I’ve always struggled with is the thought that I have to focus on everything at the same time. Of course that’s impossible, so I end up with this huge guilt trip and self-doubt (ex. “maybe I’m not really cut out to be a writer?” when I’m not writing). Thank you for a thoughtful post, Nadia.

    @Arwa: I hear you…

  3. I desperately needed to read this post. Nadia you are for me one example of how anyone can be successful at both home and career. I am a father who has happened to have 3 kids (twin and a boy) within 3 years (2009-2011) and this has delayed my career progress to a large extent as I need to give more time for family responsibility and support my wife. many times I end up sleepless at nights thinking of the opportunities I lost because I cannot work until 6 pm or travel extensively. Sometimes I get to the point of blaming the kids but then I realise that this is a phase I will pass and my priorities must adapt. Thanks again for reinforcing my own ideas.

  4. Elaborative post but in a way it’s addressing the issue in general. I know I have to get my life organized and prioritized but the problem is that I have so much work that’s eating all my time. I have almost no social life to speak of, I rarely meet my friends. Maybe I am drowning myself in work to somehow make up the time I have lost. I think I have to sit and make a whole new evaluation of my life because as much as I am successful in work, I am not even close to being happy or satisfied with my life.

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