Rest, Reflect, and Disconnect

I’m half way across the world from my family for work. It’s been a long week… but my brain hasn’t felt this engaged in a long time. Recently I’ve had the… shall I call it a learning experience?… of being the subject of a grievance, EEO complaint, and an investigation because of how I handled employees that I felt didn’t meet… well, whatever. Does it matter what they did or what I did anymore? No. What matters is what I’ve taken from the experience and how *I* grow from it.

Moving to a new organization, a new position, a new customer, and a new product, has reminded me to take time to think about what all I’ve been learning. It’s time for me to reflect upon how I will take this experience and find a better me in all of it.

I’ve learned, without a question in my heart, that I do not like being either a Branch Chief or a Deputy Branch Chief. That managerial side of leadership is not my cup of tea. I don’t like not having my own program and “getting credit for” the actions of people in my branch. I need to have my hands deep in the everyday “programmatics” of cost, schedule, performance and risk. I need to constantly be problem solving to achieve a difficult result. I want to inspire and cheer my team along to a single common goal, and acknowledge every big and little achievement we share along the way. I am a Program Manager through and through.

I need balance… that work life balance that my husband discussed. But I think I’ve found an important key issue while I’ve been on this work trip. I realize after my previous post that not only do I feel anxious to go home and engage in the chaos and criticism, I haven’t felt proud of myself in a while before I even walk in the door. I define myself so much by what I do, but when I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing much, delivering results, or pushing product, I don’t feel whole. If I don’t feel whole, how can I be intense at home and with our home life?

I need to develop a better method of stepping back from each day to rest, reflect, and disconnect from work in order to approach our life at home. At this time I *rush* at 1735 to pick up my son by 1745 in order to not be charged for picking him up late. Then I rush home to get dinner in him, my daughter, and my husband. Then we are checking in on everyone’s day and discussing the challenges we encountered at work, school, etc., and then I go to bed.

At no point did I take a few personal moments to rest from the day.

At no point did I consciously reflect on what I completed and still needed to do.

At no point did I disconnect from the day to allow myself the freedom to connect to something else… like my husband and family.

I must find a healthy transition period to close each work day with a quick preparation for the next day so that I can feel confident that as I leave work the following day has everything ready to go.

I must find a mindful way of reflection that focuses on constructive thoughts about my day… not the self-criticism, borderline self-loathing I’ve been experiencing the past year and a half.

I need a consistent, methodical process to disconnect from my day that doesn’t rely on things I’m honestly just not going to do–like working out. I could figuratively wash away the day when I wash my face and change clothes before coming downstairs. I could release the stress of the day and anxiety by stretching away the “computer strain” from my neck, releasing the tension and allowing my neck and back to prepare for the whiplash of looking after my three-year old. I could listen to some uplifting music and reset that part of my day before heading downstairs to the family.

The point is, to allow myself the freedom to connect with the intensity of love I hold for my family, I need to fully disconnect from my previous activities to successfully transition to be completely in tune with them. It must be a mind and body disconnection so that both may be fully connected to what is really most important in my life–them.

Finding an Intensity for Life

When my husband told me he wanted me to approach our home life with the same intensity as I approach work it was a startling revelation for me. I’ve pondered the concept of work life balance before. I’ve even searched out mentors who could help me find a better balance. As with anything, one should really define the problem first before trying to fix it. No one could ever define work life balance in a way that I could get before. Was it the same time? Achieving things and getting awards like at work?

I have my husband’s definition now… I don’t approach life with same intensity as I do work. It completely made sense. But seriously, that’s a really fucked up notion when you consider it. People hate going to work everyday, but not me. And then on top of that, one of my closest friends carries the extraordinary burden of a Stage IV terminal cancer diagnosis. The reminder to live everyday is real to me, tomorrow is not guaranteed. But I have some self-imposed, unrealized barrier to actually living my life. “Life is wasted on the living,” she says. And she is right.

I’m a professional… a program (multiple integrated projects) manager by choice, so let me approach my lack of intensity for life just as I would any issue with my program. Let’s start with the 5 Why’s:

Why am I not intense about life? I don’t feel I’m good at it. When the work day is done my brain is seemingly incapable of making more decisions. I’m too tired to cook, clean… my brain hasn’t yet recovered from work chaos and I subsequently am thrust into the home chaos of two very hyperactive children, my mother-in-law, and my husband all in a very small house where there is no privacy or quiet. Private conversations with my husband don’t exist with the MIL and children near. Comments to my children are criticized… My food choices (likes) are criticized… What I buy or don’t buy is criticized. My hair is criticized. My cooking… cleaning… And more… by my MIL. I’m very tired and feeling criticized for everything at home (not by my husband, to be clear)–so why would I feel good (or positively intense) going into that environment?

Why do I allow myself to continuously be in an environment that makes me feel that way? Because I don’t set boundaries well. If I had done better about setting healthy boundaries in the home with my MIL, then I could have resolved much of this earlier. I have *no issues* with boundaries at work. But with my MIL I have major issues setting boundaries. Things I would never tolerate anyone else in my life saying to me is left without comeback or witty retort, or a simple expression of how the comment is unnecessary or hurtful.

Why am I unable to establish boundaries with the MIL? I desperately do not want to be disrespectful to her because I do love her, my husband loves her, and my kids love her. My husband feels responsible for her since his father passed over 15 years ago. His brother is always busy in NYC without a place for her to stay. And I think it is healthy for her to be near the children because they bring her so much joy and happiness. With that joy and happiness though is a lot of unhappiness that appears to be targeted at me. I feel like if I don’t say anything then that is better than confronting it, but then I feel worse and worse. It boils and festers over months until it gets to a point that I blow up, or like now, my health and happiness is severely impacted.

Why do I feel responsible for her happiness at the expense of mine? I feel like we are taught at a very young age that we must make everyone else happy around us. The job of a wife and mother is to provide for everyone’s happiness. Can I get you something to drink? What would you like to eat? Do you want something at the store? I feel that my husband will be happier if she is happy–which is likely a very true statement. So to make her happier, I withhold having a healthy conversation with her to discuss boundaries that might create short-term conflict (potential for temporary unhappiness) but could lead to long-term happiness for us all.

Why do I fear having a healthy conversation with my MIL? Because I’m not good at having those Difficult Conversations either at work or at home. If the conversation could hurt a persons feelings I struggle with it. I have even read the book… but something about having that conversation at home (even with my husband) leaves me feeling unskilled and unqualified to engage. Pathetic, I know. At work I will do it after careful planning–the conversation must happen to get our job done. At home it looks like I need to approach it the same way, because I want to have a more intense approach to this life I have.

There you have it–by going through the 5 Why’s I’ve identified the root cause to one of my many issues holding me back from being more intense in life–I feel unskilled and unqualified to have difficult conversations with people I love. Now I have a mission, something I can actually read about, work on, and get better at in order to start removing my boundaries to really living my life.

Equal intensity: Work Life Balance

My husband said, “We need to have a serious talk,” in the simple tone that my mind hears, “Jennie, you’ve fucked something up.” The gist of the conversation went like this…

M: I know you’re excited about the new position, but I need you to find a good Work Life Balance.

J: What do you define as Work Life Balance?

M: Approach our home life with the same intensity as you do work.

Smoked. That laser intense, accurate statement says so much about what is going right and wrong in my life.

I love what I do–I have found a career that excites me. One where I deliberately got another masters degree to increase my knowledge and understanding of what it is I do everyday. I read to be better at my work–improve my leadership, my technical know-how, and I mentor to develop others. But what do I actually do to be a better wife, mom, and daughter? Not much.

I love my husband and children, too. I found the love of my life in my twenties when I thought there were no good men left. He’s beyond good, he is extraordinary. Our children are amazing–their sweet, loving personalities bring me so much joy. But he is right, I don’t put the same intensity to our home life as I do work.

It’s time to rethink what Work Life Balance really means to me… more to follow on this subject.