Life and work are a balancing act

No matter how hard I try finding balance and “feng shui-ing” my life, eventually I get burned out. Don’t we all?

A friend recently re-posted an Inc. article  about finding life balance as entrepreneurs. The heart of the story came from a 2011 tweet by Randi Zuckerberg suggesting we have to choose between work, sleep, family, fitness or friends – but can only effectively pick three.

It made me take pause.

I envision life balance as a seesaw. But because I’m Type A, I take an almost scientific approach to leveling out my seesaw. I work constantly, but with flexibility. My calendar is time-blocked and micromanaged so I always know which days I’ll be in which place. I even schedule one day every weekend to just spend time with my family.

But recently I felt my burnout accelerating. The Legacy was in the midst of its Community Revitalization Program application process with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. With my livelihood and a whole year’s work riding on the outcome, my stress was at an all-time high. I was also in physical therapy again for chronic back pain and was warned against going to spin class for a least a couple of weeks. Spinning, however, is my primary stress reliever and the best way I know to clear my head. Around this same time, our longtime nanny told us she’d soon be moving away. I was crushed; Danielle has been a part of our family for two years and she’s become a great friend.

I needed a break. My husband and I found a great travel deal and booked a last-minute family trip. We were lucky we had the luxury to shut down for a few days and get away. It’s not always an option, but we really needed it. I shut off for four days and I only focused on my family. It was amazing.

Then we came home. While I felt a lot better, I wasn’t ready to get back in the game. So I took it slow. My first day back, I took time to go to physical therapy and get an acupuncture treatment. I tackled the must-do items at work.

The next day, I had a meeting in Detroit and tuned into a podcast from the Urban Land Institute for the drive down. I listened to a woman in real estate who fought like hell to get the contract for The New York Times building development partnership. I found myself stunned by her balanced seesaw. She reminded her audience that developers are dragon slayers; we must vanquish problems that arise each and every day. But we also have to see the big picture and never lose sight of our overall vision. I started to feel a bit inspired again.

The following day, Momentum Midland hosted a session with the Incremental Development Alliance. This national organization looks at real estate development with a different model: Lower your risk profile. I’d been looking at their model for months, playing with development ideas, and talking to their leadership. This session was an amazing opportunity for me to learn from them in person – and only 10 minutes from my house! Thankfully, Incremental Development Alliance Executive Director Jim Kumon made time to visit my “farm” (the term used by small-scale developers to describe their collective projects). I wanted Jim’s advice on where to plant my next crop. 

Geeking out with a like-minded urbanist in mid-Michigan is a rare treat. I had an expert right in my backyard at a time when I was feeling crazy for taking on The Legacy. After seeing my work and the dynamics of my city firsthand, Jim reassured me that I’m doing the right thing. He also offered guidance from his organization to determine what’s next for my farm.

Now I feel ready to tackle my job again. Ready to slay another dragon. I needed to get out of the weeds and take a mile-high view again.

Burnout happens. When it does, my best advice is to shut down for a few days. Then dip your toes back in and rediscover your inspiration. Look to experts and loved ones for guidance.

And remember why you love what you do.