If you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, here's a possible solution: realistic expectations.
We want fulfilling work, a connected marriage, high achieving kids, organic meals, great abs, healthy finances…all at once. All the time. But what if we defined success differently?
What if we agreed we are the ultimate parent if our kid goes one day without tripping on LSD? We are diet gurus if we limit ourselves to four Oreos instead of the whole pack. Our marriage is awesome if the day ends with only one episode of sarcastic sniveling. OK, maybe we can set the standards a little higher than that, but you get the point.
I blame two phrases: “work/life balance” and “having it all.”
Who started the idea that work/life balance means that work life and home life are equally magazine-shoot flawless? That's not balance. It's a pipe-dream. Balance is giving energy to both, not letting one or the other take over, and not expecting either to be "perfect."
My sister, new mom to a beautiful three month old, wept recently as she talked about her recent return to work. “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t,” she said. “I’m at work but less productive. I’m with him…but for a lot less time. Balanced. But not the balance I sought.”
But I think that balance might be exactly right for this point in her life. Having a work life and home life that are going okay, with occasional moments of amazing is a very reasonable definition of balance! Holding out for balanced flawlessness in all areas at the same time holds us back from ever feeling we have achieved it.
We further punish ourselves with aspirations of “having it all.” What is the definition of “it?” If “it” is fulfillment and achievement of our life’s purpose, we are bound to be disappointed. But if we redefine “it” as “having totally mixed feelings about competence in all areas of our life,” we’d be there already! Achieved. Checked off the list.
Again, our definitions keep us down.
We control those definitions. Aim for what can work in your life and preserve your sanity. Let’s redefine success so we experience it.
If you know someone struggling to find joy in their "good enough" life -- send them my way!
Who am I?
Dr. Debbie Granick is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Therapist in Raleigh providing both counseling and medication to reduce anxiety and depression and improve mental health. She is available to speak about wellness to groups of all sizes.