Redefining Balance: It’s Possible Using Presence
Updated: Feb 2
Work-life balance is like a swear word to some people. There is often a lot of chatter about it being something mysterious and impossible and an unrealistic goal. I beg to differ. As a leader that promotes and teaches leaders how to #BePresent, it has become more tangible to those around me as they learn to redefine it. It requires a perspective adjustment from yourself and others.
In my experience, when we hear the word balance, we often think of image one on the top left. Two competing areas of our life that demand attention. We feel that if we give more to one area, the other will suffer. This is the case when defined according to that image. On the contrary, image two on the right also depicts balance. Here’s what I see in this one. The foundation is solid, and other things are added to it. The other things are of different weights and shapes, with heavier items on top of lighter ones. It’s highly counter-intuitive, but it works. Nothing’s falling. I associate the word cost with the first image and settled with the second one. The great news is that with intentionality and change in perspective, we can develop skills to find and create much-needed balance for ourselves and others.
To experience balance, we have to stop telling ourselves it’s impossible. Doing so is a maladaptive coping skill we have developed to keep ourselves from feeling guilty for not achieving it. Sometimes it feels easier to change the goal if it seems too out of reach. The alternative is to trust it, believe it, and pursue it until you see it in your life. When I started my therapy practice, people told me I would work 25 hours a day. My internal response was a strong “absolutely not.” That’s not what I want for myself or my life. Then one day, I noticed I had an attitude about going to work. It was because I was working 25 hours a day. I worked at work, went home, and “finished up a couple of things.” Before I knew it, it was taking a toll on me. Instead of hunkering down and just getting the work done, I reset back to my goal and figured out what needed to be adjusted to have the balance. I knew it was a healthy goal and what I truly wanted. Yes, I sometimes feel guilty or like I’m doing something bad or wrong for having and maintaining boundaries. However, I would rather push past temporary guilt than the alternative of burnout. Been there, done that, wasn’t fun, not signing up again. Remember your why, and make balance happen.
How did I reset? In short, presence. My first indication that something was off was how I felt. I recognized that I was not in a good place. I didn’t feel how I wanted to feel. Instead of finding a way to continue and make it work, I took a step back and permitted myself to achieve what I believed I could have. I was present with my emotions, stress, my stretched mind, and the strain on my body. As I developed a new plan and approach to my work, I was present with my body and allowed it to tell me when I was headed in the right direction and when I was off. I also reminded myself that my mind functions best and is most creative and innovative when I have intentional time away from work. This is something we all know but rarely allow space to experience. We burn the candle at both ends and wonder why we ran out of light so fast. Instead of telling myself how important the work was and how much I needed to get done, I changed the narrative. I told myself that what I needed was essential to accomplishing anything.
In psychology, we use the term “baseline” to refer to various things. The American Psychological Association Dictionary of Psychology defines baseline as “any stable level of performance used as a yardstick to assess the effects of particular manipulations or changes.” In the context of balance, let’s define baseline as your level of functioning. Not to be confused with level of productivity. When we regularly feel overly stressed, beyond exhausted, and overwhelmed, our baseline needs to be lowered. When you understand your baseline and what you need it to be, you can make the necessary adjustments. Your desire may be to feel consistently calm, relaxed, and energized. More often than not, as leaders, our baseline is too high, and we’re not functioning at a sustainable or realistic level over time. This creates an unsteady foundation that’s unfit for high productivity. We want to establish a baseline that yields the best results most consistently. Our baseline determines the steadiness of our foundation and capacity to meet responsibilities. Without a solid foundation, everything comes crashing down.
Integration is one key to balance and shifting from the dichotomous approach. This means incorporating yourself and your needs into your workday. Take breaks when your body tells you it’s needed, build work relationships, block off time for that much-needed medical appointment, eat lunch, take time off and half-days. During the pandemic, employers became acutely aware of the lives of their teams. It was necessary to make room for “people needs” and not solely focus on production needs. Establishing new approaches to our work was essential to organizational survival and retention. We also learned that work would still get done. Let’s continue leaning into this change and not go back to something that wasn’t working so well. Balance and integration also yield well-roundedness and increased stability in our sense of self. It removes the performance approach and permits a more authentic being. Integration deepens your sense of community and connection to others.
Coming Full Circle
Balance is real and achievable, not just for me but for you too. As with everything else we do well, it requires boundaries and limits. Some things stay, and some things go. Change is inevitable and possible. I know everyone’s life and responsibilities are different. You may say I don’t know and understand your situation. That may be true, but I know that we often have resources that we don’t use. Sometimes, we don’t know what they are. Other times we struggle to let go and allow help and support. Whatever the case, when we fully pursue what we want, we find a way to make it happen. That’s how you got to where you are and what you have now. You may need to change the goal and redefine some things, so there’s still enough of you to give.
Call to Presence Make the following commitments to yourself and map a plan to get results.
Identify your why for balance and what you would gain.
Consider how you would like to define balance and what it would look like.
Make a commitment to the necessary changes and execute them consistently.
The Presence Formula is a great tool to help you obtain and maintain balance and a healthy baseline. Use the guide below to learn the steps.
Licensed Psychologist, Executive Coach, Speaker
Dr. Leatrice positions organizations to maximize productivity, master collaboration and teamwork,
and retain high achievers.
“Great Things Happen When You’re Present”
© 2022, Dr. Leatrice R. Brooks