“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.” ~Thomas Merton
The vast majority of people I know have two different types of work: the kind that pays the bills and the kind they wrap their heart around.
For some people, those are one and the same, but often that takes time, dedication, and a willingness to blur the traditional boundaries that separate work and social life.
Because let’s face it: It’s not always easy to make a living doing something you love.
The first challenge is to figure out what that is, and it’s often complicated by what we think we should do based on what other people think and what we’ve done up until now.
The next step is to figure out how to do it smart. It’s all good and well to decide to you want to run an online fitness, beauty, or personal development empire, but unless you have a unique value proposition and a solid idea of who needs your services and why, you could end up just spinning your wheels.
And then there’s the easiest part, which is simultaneously the hardest: the choice to work on your dream every day, knowing there are no guarantees and that it may take a long time to make the kind of progress that allows you to devote your full-time energy to your passion.
This has been my experience with Tiny Buddha, and it’s the same with people who have contacted me for help with their blogs. Everyone wants the freedom to do more of what they enjoy and less of what they don’t.
What makes this kind of complicated is that turning a passion into work can sometimes strip the joy out of it, particularly when you give up freedom now in the pursuit of freedom tomorrow.
Really, that’s what we’re doing when cram our hours full of tasks that leave little time for play and decompression: We’re deciding tomorrow’s possibilities are more important than today’s.
So, what’s the balance, then?
How do you allow yourself sufficient time to create that thing you visualize—whatever it may be—while also allowing space for relaxation, spontaneity, connection, and the simple act of being?
I recently asked on the Tiny Buddha Facebook page, “How do you create work/life balance?” I’ve chosen the responses that resonated the most strongly with me and used them in shaping this post:
1. Keep your approach flexible.
Every day, there are new problems and new solutions. Sometimes, one solution works and other time other solution works. ~Amit Bhatia
It’s all good and well to say, “I will never check email after 8:00” or “weekends are work-free days.” But what happens when inspiration strikes at 9:00 or on Saturday morning? If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely feel compelled to act on an idea when you have one.
Why force yourself to adhere to an arbitrarily determined timeline for relaxation? A more realistic approach might be to set general guidelines, then monitor how you work within them and make adjustments as necessary.
If you overwork yourself on Monday, on Tuesday morning, make a conscious decision to block time in the evening to have dinner with friends or simply relax. Put it in your calendar if you need to. The goal isn’t necessarily for every day to look the same; it’s for things to balance out on the whole.
Sometimes, when you’re working toward a new project passion, it requires more work than feels ideal. Putting in longer hours doesn’t have to mean a complete lack of balance if you create time for the things you need and enjoy.
2. Define the things that are non-negotiable.
Exercise every day, eat healthy, and sleep at least seven hours no less than six hours a night. Consistency is the key for me. ~Billie Joe Heller
While every day can be different, it will help to determine which things you just don’t want to sacrifice. If you don’t identify these things in advance, you may find them slipping, little by little, while you pull yourself in different directions, because you never made a commitment to not let that happen.
This is what happened with my yoga practice last year. For six years, yoga was one of my greatest joys in life. When I started writing my book, I slowly negotiated it down from five days a week, to four, to three, to two, to stretching in the morning, to stretching when I had time. I am now easing yoga back into my life as it makes sense within my current lifestyle.
It might help to think about it in lowest common denominators. It’s a little stifling to commit to a two-hour workout session or one-hour meditation every day, but you can likely commit to a twenty minute walk, or five minutes of deep breathing.
3. Embrace imperfection and chaos.
Give up perfection in one area to have the other in your life. ~Melanie Greenberg Phd
There is no such thing as a perfect blog post, painting, design, website, presentation, or project. At some point, we need to be able to walk away from whatever we’re doing knowing that it may not yet be finished—and that even if we complete it later, it might still feel undone.
There have been times when I’ve spent hours searching for photos for blog posts, tweaking articles for magazines, and clearing out my inbox feeling a sense of control in adhering to high standards.
I’ve been learning to embrace the chaos of incomplete so that I can either move forward or put something aside for later, after I’ve taken care of my other needs.
4. Let the little things go.
Don't worry about certain little things. Remember this life is just a ride. Sit down and enjoy. When you are less worried you can finally live your life, and balance will show up when you don't aspect it. ~Kim Van Biezen
A lot of times, it’s not work itself that’s bleeding into our social time. It’s the work-related events we can’t stop thinking about.
If you’re doing something big, there will always be mini fires to put out. The important thing to remember is that they’re mini; and if they can wait until tomorrow or later, you can let go and trust they will be put out.
The client will get a call. The customer will get a refund. The associate will get assistance. The conflict will get a resolution. If it’s not a big deal, it’s not worth thinking about it. If it is a big deal, it’s not worth thinking about at times when you can’t do anything about it.
5. Allow yourself to achieve flow.
To be engaged at whatever I am doing, whenever I am doing it. What I do wholeheartedly energizes me, no matter what that is. It is only when I get into the pattern of getting through one thing in order to get to the next thing that I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. ~Your To Be List (James McMahon and Lauren Rosenfeld)
The ultimate goal is to be present in whatever it is you’re doing. So, if you’re working, put so much of your heart into it that you completely lose track of time. When you put everything you’ve got into your work, you’re more likely to create things that provide value to other people, which eventually allows you to do that full-time.
The same applies for your social life. Let yourself be fully where you are. If you find your mind wandering to things you need to do, tune into your senses. Focus on the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the sensation of physically being there. This is your only opportunity to fully experience this moment in time. It will never come again.
If you’re constantly thinking about what you need to do later, you will never get to appreciate what you get to do now. Give yourself permission to focus.
6. Don’t put all your eggs in your inbox.
The key is to not expect more than work can actually provide. While it's important to enjoy work, you can't expect it to fulfill every aspect (passion, social, entertainment, etc.) ~Melissa Mizer Wilhel
If you identify yourself solely with your professional roles and what you produce, you will likely set yourself up for disappointment. It’s not just that there are no guarantees in business; it’s that we’re wired to want more in life, and there is so much more to experience than the act of achieving.
There’s the feeling of loving and being loved; the excitement of trying new things and allowing yourself to fall, get up, and grow; there’s the sensation of being spontaneous and allowing the present moment to deliver you into situations you may never have known to choose.
Over the past few years, I have come to identify myself strongly with Tiny Buddha. It’s inevitable when you surrender yourself to a creation and commit to a strong yet evolving vision of what it can be.
But I remind myself that I am so much more than what I do on the web. If tomorrow was my last day online, my life would still be full—I have friends, family, yoga, and countless adventures still to be had.
We all do. So go ahead and focus on that dream, even if it requires you to work a little harder. Just remember: Time you spend nurturing yourself and your relationships both revitalizes you and fuels the value you add to the world.
Balance image via Shutterstock