Finding Fulfillment Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dear Debra: I’m working full-time while finishing an advanced degree. My company is paying for grad school, so taking advantage of that benefit is smart. But I’m spending way less time than I’d like with my ten-year-old. My husband works from home and is happy doing most of the carpooling, play dates, and homework. Working crazy hours is temporary and will benefit us long-term, but still I feel like a shitty mom and wife.

Don’t beat yourself up for not having a perfectly balanced work and home life, all at the same time. Write this down on note cards: Life is long.

Put duplicates next to your phone, in your car, on your desk, in your wallet, inside your briefcase, on your refrigerator. Remind yourself that you’ve got a long time to get it right. As long as you are trying and honing and doing your best every day, that’s what counts.

Learn to switch focus on a dime. Ambitious, successful people do have periods of intense imbalance in their lives. The happiest ones have learned to cultivate the skill of being able to switch settings with a concurrent and rapid shift of their attention, focus, and energy. They’re able to move in and out of environments while being present and productive and able to interact effectively with a range of people, from boss to baby, from husband to client. Switching focus allows them to engage fully with others, or permits them to spend mindful solo time alone. Example: Real estate magnate Barbara Corcoran had just walked up to the podium in a packed auditorium to deliver a keynote when her cell phone rang. She looked at the number, looked at the audience and said, “Please excuse me; this is my son and I need to make sure he’s okay,” which she did in five seconds, then returned to what she was saying without missing a beat. That keynote received a standing ovation. Had Barbara not taken that call, she wouldn’t have been able to focus on delivering an inspirational talk because she would have been thinking, “Is my son okay?”

During periods of imbalance and competing work/life priorities, being completely present in the moment is soothing for everyone. When having dinner with your family, shut off thinking about work. Focus fully on the conversation, enjoying your food, and really being there in that moment. Can you drive your son to or from school once or twice a week? Use those times to practice active, focused listening to him. Give him rich, genuine forms of attention. Establish predictable patterns for car-time and other focused opportunities like big-country-breakfast Sundays or pizza-delivery Wednesdays; your son and husband will look forward to getting your full attention in relaxed, comfortable, predictable settings. They’ll sense that you are fully engaged with them and really trying. You’ll feel more fulfilled relationally and less guilty when you have to be at work or school, fully focusing on that job at hand.

Think it's more complicated than this? Disagree? Read more here.

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life is not, i repeat, not long. at best you have about 74 years on this planet. your children, however, will not be young forever. if you want them to be around you when you are 74, you may want to invest as much time and energy into their upbringing as necessary to gain and secure their unconditional love for those years when you will need them down the stretch. 10 year olds really don't care about your career, or how much money you make. my wife's mantra, when i was obsessed with my career was this: your children are only young once...

Dear Jim: Thank you for your comments. I have responded to your thoughts in my January 18, 2009 post, "Staying True To Our Dreams Makes Us The Best Parents We Can Be". Sincerely, Debra Condren

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