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Riding the Waves: Dr. Heather’s Work/Life Tips

by Dr. Heather Wittenberg | October 26, 2011 | Work/Life Balance

I don’t surf. But I envy the other moms here in Hawaii who keep surfboards in the back of the minivan, just in case the waves look good. A mom friend says that one good session in the water energizes her for the day, keeps her body in shape and sets her priorities straight. “It clears my mind,” she says.  “But mostly, it gives me the confidence to know I can handle anything life throws my way.” All this – from surfing?

They say that surfing is a great metaphor for life. Sometimes, the waves are little and fun. Other times, they’re big and scary. Knowing how to surf means you know when to ride the fun ones, when to tackle the challenging ones and when to sit out the dangerous ones.

Learning to surf is on my giant “after the baby starts school” to-do list. But for now, I’m too busy on land, surfing the waves of work, family, health, home, friends (and potty training). Sometimes, a set of parenting waves comes in. Other times, it’s a set of work waves. Or maybe, it’s a set of relationship waves.

Sometimes, I think I might sink. I own two businesses, see clients and help at my kids school. I’ve been buying diapers – without a break – since 2001. To keep my head above water while having four children during that time, I’ve discovered a few things that help me keep balance on my work/life surfboard:

  • Expect wipeouts. A recent study found that realistic expectations help working moms feel satisfied with the messy reality of their lives. Moms who expect occasional chaos are happier than moms who expect perfection.
  • Just keep swimming. Little progress adds up. Make a daily list. Check off everything you accomplish, no matter how small. You’ll get there.
  • Parenting causes time warps. Some things seem to take forever (potty training), but others zip by too fast (infancy). Daily tasks with young children take three to four times as long as they do without.  Sometimes, it seems like there isn’t enough time to do everything. But then, a few hours magically appear in your schedule. It’s the New Work/Life Math: Time will appear – for the important stuff.
  • Use the buddy system. Ask for help – and provide it in return. It’s dangerous to surf on your own.
  • Don’t rush. Rushing causes wipeouts.
  • Don’t give up. When you do wipe out – get back on the board and try again (and again).
  • Don’t get used to it. The surf can seem unpredictable. Sometimes, there’s a tsunami. Other times, it’s calm. But waves always come in sets. After a big set, the waves settle down again. When things are stressful, just hang on for a while – your chance to get out of the water will come soon.
  • Say no. Let someone else hit the waves while you get cozy on a towel on the sand.

Maybe there’s room for a surfboard in the back of MY minivan, after all. Surf’s up!