Sunday, August 23, 2009

Offline Living 101: Balance, Margin, Space to Breathe

We’re on family vacation! And even though we flew out to Colorado last summer this time it feels like a bona fide family trip; Sydney, me, and Leon adventuring together! We had a long layover in Dallas (and I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in that airport), and found Mommy’s favorite terminal (D, the international terminal because of the great restaurants and super interesting people you find there) and ate a yummy supper at Chammps (where Leon couldn’t hardly tear his eyes from the TV playing ESPN, and I felt the same way about another screen which had CNN … we’ve been satellite TV deprived this summer). We read books on the plane. Sydney got to watch Dora on the mini-DVD player. And we laughed. A lot.

Best of all, of course, was the time to just BE together; even when Syd had her 10:00p.m. melt down in the Colorado Springs Terminal (just sat right down at the end of the jet bridge and started to cry, “No! No! No!”). In big moments and small, I felt like my heart was expanding; my perspective reshaping; my mind set literally “un-kinking”. And as it always does, the thought came quickly to mind that time away is absolutely essential to making the time “there” more purposeful, centered, and balanced.

That’s not a revolutionary insight, by any stretch. So why is it that we need to be reminded again and again how important it is to include margin in our lives; space, breathing room, whatever we want to call it? Apparently because we’re not quick studies; and it’s only getting worse. In the fine print that comes along with the incredible advantage of carrying our communications tools, and indeed access to the entire world via the Internet, with us, we also carry work life and responsibilities always with us.

It’s tough to escape, and there also is a noticeable growing expectation by some that you really should NOT escape (Generally, these “some” are defined by external things, like work, rewards, improvements. The notion of a life lived with OTHER priorities must seem frighteningly absent of affirmation…just my thought on that). But add to this growing feeling my protestant guilt and ENFP people-pleasing personality type, and you’ve got a pretty powerful equation for never going truly offline.

When I took my new position, I made a pact to use my vacation. I believe I said something like, “I get 5 weeks, and if at the end of the calendar year I have that left over-shame on me.” Well, let the shame begin because the year is more than half over, and I’m not even close. Unfortunately it’s not because I am consumed by the office (okay, maybe that’s it a little bit), but more that the family calendar just doesn’t seem to open up for all of us at the same time (Sydney is so busy, you know), and then there’s this small problem with how quickly time goes by.

But then I really consider that, and I start to feel just a bit uncomfortable; because in the end it still is a question of priorities.

A dear friend of mine often says “life is always about choices.” And this is true. We always have a choice. Not that responsibilities and expectations won’t or shouldn’t be important, but we need to be clear about our priorities in life (our callings, many in my immediate circle would term them).
So, how do we do it? As a working mom, who loves her husband, her daughter, her career, and her own interests, too (forgot about those, eh? Things like cooking, reading, jogging, being with friends, singing in the choir, etc.) – what is the sure-fire method to figuring out how to live a well-balanced, margin-rich, offline life in an online world?

Here are my thoughts on the matter, and I would love to hear yours-we learn by sharing these things:

  • Know Thy Core: God. Faith. Family. Everything else is an extra blessing and opportunity for service. Don’t destroy the core, nothing works right if that is not intact.

  • Think It Through: the same friend who sagely notes that life is about choices also advocates thinking things through. Really thinking it through. Here’s an example, a co-worker had the chance to attend a function for the office, which was frankly a pretty cool/big deal, OR take his son on a road trip to experience a once-in-a-adolescent-father-son-lifetime sporting event. Talking it through, he came to the conclusion that not only would the choice to be with his son be more fun (and the work thing was really easily adjusted), but it would also teach his son valuable (potentially life-shaping) lessons about priorities and how to be a Dad. When faced with choices, vacation needs, competing priorities, really think about it. Think short term. Think long term. And choose accordingly.

  • Be Prepared for Sacrifices. The truth of the matter is that you really can’t have it all. Something always does have to give, and so will you. Sometimes, that is really tough. If it gets to be too tough, go back to thinking it through. Maybe it’s time to let something really big move on.

  • Family Matters - make sure you've got them in your corner. I’m a working mom. That’s our reality, and for many families it just wouldn’t work. For us, it does. And that means that I am a different kind of Mom for Sydney and a different kind of spouse for Leon. Sound like a rationalization? You betcha; that’s precisely what it is. And my family, namely at this stage my husband, and I are firmly on the same page, and so it works for us.

  • Communication Is Key and ongoing. When you decide to live life with margin, you’re going to have to constantly advocate for that choice. You’ll have to convince your co-workers that this makes you a more effective leader and colleague. You’ll need to tell the PTA, the other parents on your block, and maybe even your own family that your family won’t be saying YES to every experience offered. In the process, you’ll actually help people. And you do have to earn it, not just demand it. Margin and balance is something, unfortunately in today’s environment, that must be earned. Some people are just plain lazy, you are not one of those people. Some people try to be superwoman and do it all, and balanced living isn’t that either.

  • A Season. Recognize that there truly is a time and a season for different aspects of your life and activities. I recall once early in my teaching career when I was literally running ragged. I think I made some inaccurate rationalization for my being over-extended that connected to the parable of the talents – you know the one, where basically the lesson learned is that burying your talents will not earn you much in the long run. I even tossed in the old ‘To whom much is given …” reference. Well, to this my Father (at least I attribute this to him) very wisely said, “True, but scripture never says you need to use all of your talents all at precisely the same time, either.” It’s a recipe for disaster, your energies and investment won’t yield near as much it could with a spiritually refreshed, rested, clear-minded person.

So, that’s my recipe (at present) for a little offline living in my life. It’s a formational approach, meaning that as I think this through it will change and shift and adapt. Perhaps I am being na├»ve, but vacation always seems to bring the right clarity – you NEED clarity to be at your best.

So, that’s enough of my rambling. I’m headed to the family room to be a tickle monster with Leon and attack Sydney. Then we’re going out for ice cream. That’s the OTHER great part of Vacation.