06 Oct

five nourishing things

I started this last week really, really tired. I was worn out physically after a busy week, lots of driving and several nights of only a few hours sleep, and I was worn out emotionally because last week was pretty tumultuous. I had an early morning chat with a friend who challenged me to do five nourishing things for myself during the day. So I’ve kind of taken this on as a challenge for every day. And I am really finding it helpful.

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing.

Little things

These are the little things that don’t take a lot of effort but have a lot of impact.

Starting the day with a green smoothie

For the last fortnight, I’ve been having a smoothie for breakfast every day (and one for a snack in the afternoon, too). This week I screwed up all my courage and graduated to green smoothies and surprisingly, I am loving them. They are refreshing and filling and satisfying, and (the biggest surprise of all!) delicious. Here’s the recipe for my current favourite.

Breakfast banana blueberry smoothie

  • 200ml almond milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla protein powder
  • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1 tablespoon shredded coconut
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 8-10 pieces of ice

Drinking lots of water

When I work at the office, I drink heaps of water. When I work from home, I don’t. Lately I’ve been making a concerted effort to drink lots of water. This week I switched back to having a bottle of water on my desk so I remember to drink up big.

Stretching

It’s not actually normal to have aching hands or a bit of a dead feeling in your arm. Who would’ve thought? This week I went looking for some hand stretches and worked through them a couple of times.

Going to bed really early

I went to bed at 8.30pm one night and my light was out by 9pm. Unheard of! Unfortunately I couldn’t back this up with another early night the next night, but I did get a couple of early nights during the week.

Listening to new music

I’m not sure how this is possible, but I didn’t know about Spotify until this week. Well, I knew about it, I just didn’t give it much thought. When I’m having an average day or I need a productivity boost I usually go and buy some new tracks on iTunes. But now I know about Spotify, I can have new music all day long.

Knocking off at normal o’clock

Since I’ve been on sabbatical, I have noticed I can’t work as many hours in a day as I do when I have all my usual work commitments. Working on one concentrated task – particularly when that task is analysis – needs to be confined to a certain amount of hours each day. I have learned that I can put in about six hours on analysis in a day, as long as I use the Pomodoro Technique to break the work up and take regular breaks. So this week I knocked off at 6pm a couple of days – completely, not just from PhD.

Going out. At night. Like a grown up (or even just going out for coffee during the day)

One night last week I went out. At 8.30pm. And had a cocktail. Just one, and I was only out for about an hour. But it was kind of nice. While I was out, my sister called and she wanted me to check if I had something at my house. I had to say ‘I’m out’ three times before she understood and it wasn’t because she wasn’t listening. It’s just that I don’t go out. Which is a bit ridiculous, really. At 8.30pm I’m usually stuffed and staring mindlessly at the TV, or I’ve abandoned my desk in favour of sitting on the lounge with my laptop, or I’m teaching. So I’ve just gotten into the habit of hanging out at home. Normally this isn’t a problem, but at the moment I am climbing the walls at home because I haven’t been into the office for three weeks. Getting out of my PJs (because I was, of course, already in them) and leaving the house was really, really good for my sanity. I also made a point of getting out to get a coffee or pick up some fruit a couple of days this week too.

Whacking on a face mask

Pretty self explanatory! This isn’t a difficult thing – you’ve just got to think of it ten minutes before you have a shower and then you’re all set.

Bigger things

These things take a little bit more effort, time or money, but they make a big difference.

Having an extra massage

I have been having fortnightly massages since I’ve been on sabbatical, but this week I was really sore and pretty stressed, so I had an extra massage. This takes time, effort and money, and since it’s remedial massage, it involves some discomfort. But I always feel so much better the next day.

Cleaning up my online life

I was forced to do some long overdue website maintenance and I turned that into a prompt to clean up all my sites. I spent most of yesterday updating content management systems and plugins and just generally tidying up my sites and my server space. I plan to extend this to tidying up all of my online presences in the next little while – including changing passwords, because this whole project was prompted by a compromised password.

Having a PhD free weekend

There’s a difference between taking a day off purposefully and having one accidentally (that is, as a product of procrastination). The main difference is that the latter never ends up feeling like a proper day off. Yesterday morning I realised I didn’t have any PhD energy in me, so I just did other work and I didn’t let the PhD guilt get a hold. That’s not an easy feat, but I did it. This morning I had to do some errands and when I got home I felt so tired it was distinctly possible that I was already asleep and just didn’t know it. So I didn’t do any PhD work today either. I also didn’t do the other work I should have done because it was also analysis and I just didn’t have it in me. And I think this break from thinky thinking was the very smartest thing I could do, because for the first time in many weeks, I actually *want* to dive back into my analysis and I’m looking forward to getting on with it tomorrow.

Getting my eyes tested

I caught myself leaning right into my monitor when I was working on a spreadsheet and it reminded me that my annual eye test was actually about four years overdue. So I made an appointment and got my eyes tested and ordered new glasses.

Future things

This week I’m going to extend the list and incorporate some new stuff into my five nurturing things. I might even blog them each day… Or at least compile them into a post at the end of the week.

Do you have any suggestions for nurturing things I should try?

17 Jun

balance, having it all, and the myth of the superwoman

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about life post PhD (I am way, way too far away from done to be doing that, but I have been indulging in it) and I’ve been reading a lot about the idea of balance. This post is a reflection on my own views on balance, views I think I’ve had for quite some time, but which I’ve really only made sense of by writing this post. It started out as a response to some other posts I’ve been reading through the #blogjune challenge. I’ve been working on it for at least a week, in various forms, and I think it’s done. Done, but not perfect. It reflects my views and my life and my reality, but it may not reflect yours. I should also note (for those who don’t know me) that I am pretty much a workaholic and that I have an unusual (but awesome) family situation. It’s probably worth keeping these things in mind because there is ultimately no way I could write a post like this that is not informed by how much I love my work and how much time I spend on it, and how much I love my family and how much time I invest in my people. So here goes.

[Update: I should add the disclaimer that I don’t have a partner and I don’t have kids, and I still struggle with the notion of balance. This post is not just a reflection on my life as it is right now but on the life I imagine in the future.]

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The phrase ‘work/life balance’ implies a divide. It also implies there’s a sweet spot at which work – at one side of the divide – and life – on the other side of the divide – sit at an equilibrium. It’s a precarious thing, this balance. It’s hard to maintain. You have to sit pretty still. Sneeze, and that seesaw is going to move out of alignment.

In fact, I think this balance is so hard to maintain that if we were to be really, truly honest with ourselves, we’d all fess up to the fact we have aspired to this thing, but we’ve never actually seen it in the flesh. At least, I haven’t.

I don’t know what balance looks like, but I do know what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like picket fences, perfect lawns and a gorgeous house; it doesn’t look like immaculately dressed and impeccably mannered kids who do great at school, play five sports and spend their evenings practicing piano; it doesn’t look like parents with rock star careers who spend an hour a day at the gym and pursue their respective hobbies on the weekends. It doesn’t look like these things because we are not perfect and life is messy.

A few months back, I saw a picture on Pinterest of a masking tape car track that some awesome mum had made in her lounge room. So I did it. I crawled around on the lounge room floor and taped out a massive mess of interconnecting roads complete with mountains (cushions with road taped over them) and driveways that lead to garages (in the book shelf). My nephew was in raptures. It was awesome. I put the picture somewhere online and a friend commented “Wow! I’ve seen this on Pinterest but I didn’t realise that *actual people* did this stuff” (or something along those lines).

Life is not perfect and we do not live inside a Pinterest board. We can’t all plan menus a month in advance, drink fresh, unpasteurised milk from the house cow out the back, scrapbook every event from birthdays to barbecues, and tick off a major house cleaning task every day as we pursue a 365 day cleaning plan. Well actually, we probably *could* do all that (except for the cow; the cow may not work in suburbia or the city). But it’s when we try to do all of that *and* work 70 hours a week in a demanding job (or 20 hours a week in an undemanding job, or 40 hours a weeks in a whatever job, or whatever hours per week in an amazing job) *and* be a friend or a lover, a wife or a sister, an aunty or a mother, maybe all of these things… that things start to fall apart.

But we perpetuate this myth that it’s possible to strike a balance between work and all the other aspects of our lives.

Even if we don’t attempt to live by the Pinterest rules, it is really freaking hard, if not impossible, to find that elusive sweet spot that allows us to balance all of our priorities and all of the things we love.

You cannot separate work out from everything else that you are, everything else that you do, and everything else that you desire and expect to find some sort of equilibrium. You cannot put work on one end of a seesaw and lump all your other stuff on the other end without turning that seesaw into a catapult.

I do not believe there is such a thing as work/life balance. I do not believe it is possible to draw a line between work and life. And I do not believe that balance is either possible or necessarily worth pursuing.

I think there is just life, and life is a mix. A complex, gooey, sticky, amazing, terrifying, awesome mix of stuff.

In a mix, things are chopped up, beaten through, whisked together, pulled apart and reformed. Nothing exists in isolation; everything is part of the same mix. [Aside: I’m really sorry about the tortured baking metaphor. I’ve been baking a LOT of cakes lately and I can literally see the molten mix of this white chocolate mud cake as I write… And I really just want to go eat more cake.]

There are only two things about ‘the life mix’ that are constant. The first is that it’s messy, and the second is that it’s constantly in flux.

Whatever is important to you, whoever you want to be, whatever you want to achieve, however you want to live, making it all work is hard, and messy, and complicated, and exhausting. Once it’s all chucked in together, I don’t think it’s possible to separate it all out neatly. Not into a dozen piles, and certainly not into a single pile on either side of the work/life divide.

A little while back, I was having a discussion with someone who was on maternity leave after the birth of her child, and who was thinking about options for her career. She said to me, “It’s just not my season”. This conversation had a profound impact on me because in this short statement, I saw that it’s okay, that it’s possible, to let life unfold in seasons, in periods of time where we we focus on different aspects of ‘the mix’.

Which leads me to another myth. One that is perpetuated by the work/life balance myth. One that I think is potentially dangerous. The myth that says we can have it all.

The reality – maybe just my reality, but maybe it’s yours too – is that it’s never going to be possible to have it all. I know for certain that whatever ‘it all’ happens to be, we absolutely, definitely, cannot have it all at the same time.

Once upon a time, I thought it was possible to have everything, as long as I was patient, and willing to wait for some stuff to happen. Ultimately, I knew that everything I wanted to do and be could not be actualised at the same time, but I still thought it was possible to do All Of The Things over the course of my life.

I have recently had the realisation that I am now, in fact, a grown up and that I have been for quite some time, unbeknownst to me, and now all of a sudden I am years and years down the grown up path and I have wasted time. Before you all jump up: I know, I know, I’m young. But that does not mean the clock isn’t ticking and it does not make it any easier to reconcile myself to the fact I might have missed the boat on a few things (again, I know people are going to tell me that’s a crock, but in my reality, it is the truth; it is true that I won’t get to do some of the things I wanted to do in quite the same way I might have envisaged).

Luckily for me, these realisations coincided with another: the realisation that I actually do not want it all. Because ‘it all’ includes some things that are mutually exclusive, and ultimately, I have to prioritise one thing over another. Because ‘having it all’ means I would have to compromise to an unreasonable extent on some of the things. Because life is too short: it’s too short to do a half assed job of everything; too short to be jumping from one pursuit to the next without any time to stop and reflect and take stock and enjoy; too short to be focusing on the big picture and consequently missing out on the minutiae, skimming over the moments, and being present without being present.

Work/life balance is a myth. The idea that we can have it all is a lie. And superwoman is a fictional superhuman babe invented by a man.

30 posts in June: 14/30