Written By: Alison Dixon
In addition to being a Spin Instructor on the Body Cycle Team, I have a demanding full-time job that takes me to California once a month, I am married, and have family and friends that require my time and attention. I am also half-way through a Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania. I’m not writing this for a pat on the back for how much I am doing, but because I want to share how I balance all of this as I know many of you are juggling just as much, if not more than me. I have read and re-read the same “how to” articles on balance that you have read too (prioritize, make lists, feng shui your house, etc.). However, I think many of us are looking to find a really meaningful balance that helps us to enjoy our lives, rather than just crossing things off a list.
I hope what I have learned in terms of finding a true balance is helpful to you, because I fought my way here and it was a rocky road. Balance does not come easy to me, and at one point along the way, I developed some really unhealthy, tough-to-break habits to help myself cope. While not competitive in the traditional sense, I am extremely competitive with myself. I have a tendency to “overdo” everything; so in the past, the more I took on, the more I sought perfection. I put unrealistic expectations on my body, my work, and my relationships that left me feeling unhealthy, unhappy, and depleted.
In my old way of thinking:
I was not healthy or thin unless I never indulged. I had absolutely no balance when it came to enjoying things. I worked out to achieve an unattainable body image without ever setting the goal to actually enjoy myself. The reality is, I was never unhealthier mentally or physically than when I was at my absolute thinnest. Putting unrealistic pressures on your body is mentally and physically exhausting. Now, I work out nearly every day because I only do workouts that I actually enjoy – I frankly don’t care about caloric burn. My goal is not a perfect body, and that has made sticking to a workout program so much easier. If you hate doing some sort of workout, it probably is not going to be sustainable for you. I feel much more balanced because working out is now filed under “things I enjoy” vs. “things I must do.”
My full-time job is all relationship building. I thought to build the best relationships, every single thing always had to be perfect. The reality is that presence and being a real person is far more important than being perfect. This really is the same message for being a good friend or a good partner too. No one expects the perfect friend, but they do want you to let your guard down and show who you really are.
I wouldn’t say that I hit rock bottom or something, but at one point I think I just got sick of myself. It just hit me one day that other people were doing the same sorts of things I was, but were not losing their minds or feeling so miserable. I also just became aware one day that I like people more when they do screw up, or acknowledge their shortcomings – it is endearing and real.
Here is what I learned and how I live now. These lessons have been instrumental in overcoming my own unhealthy tendencies.
Being perfect is not attainable. This was the absolute biggest thing that I learned, and this has allowed me to successfully balance my life. None of us are perfect, and striving for that is a dangerous game. The more I took on, the more pressure I put on myself to do it all perfectly at all times, which inevitably made me constantly feel like a failure. Now I truly strive to be present in all aspects of my life and as long as that is the goal, not being perfect never feels like a failure. Maybe I didn’t cue my class to sprint exactly when the beat dropped (although this is rare), I think: oh well, I was actually there and “present” looking at their sweating faces, pushing them to their max and not thinking about anything else. That is success.
I let myself freak out sometimes and I let people help me. I complain to my husband and friends when I feel overwhelmed. I know I am extremely lucky, but sometimes it just helps to threaten to quit your job. It does. It helps to let it out to people that understand you are just venting. These are the same people that keep you in check and get you back to focusing on the bigger picture and on how much you do actually love your job. It is okay to freak out sometimes. Life is hard and I sure as hell do not always have it all together.
I don’t care what you think. I really don’t. I used to. People can be really threatened by those who are opting for a healthy lifestyle and taking on more. I stopped making excuses and stopped answering questions that felt personal in a way that seemed like someone was trying to tear me down. Surrounding yourself with people that want the best for you and ignoring the rest was a game changer. You can’t do it all alone, and you need people there cheering you on.
I know who I am now and I’ve accepted it. I am someone that needs a ton of alone time to recharge. I will sometimes go silent and I will disengage from everyone. I need it and I don’t make excuses for it. I have more outgoing friends who have to just deal with that side of my personality. I used to force myself to do things I really did not want to do because I felt like I “should.” Sometimes I am going to stay in and binge watch Bravo instead of going out for drinks on a Friday and that’s just who I am. Finding what you need to recharge and accepting it is critical to balance.
Making lists is helpful, but it is not the key to balance. Unless you truly approach your life differently, you will always feel overwhelmed. Just crossing something off a list won’t work, because inevitably something new will come on it. If you are not careful, you can really “wish” your life away. A phrase I try not to ever say any more is, “everything will get better when X is over;” (“X” being a class, a commitment, or a project). I really used to resent some of my commitments like they were forced upon me… when in reality, I signed up for them! I was the person that decided to become a spin instructor; I applied to get a master’s degree – and yes, I really do want to do these things. Rather than focusing on doing them perfectly or crossing them off the list for the day – I changed my life lens to actually enjoy them.
Shift your focus to enjoy your life and commitments and know who you are and what you need to recharge. Show up. Vent. Focus on what you are doing now and not where you need to be tomorrow.