Work/life balance: “I can’t” versus “I choose not to”

The fourth quarter is upon us as of today, and along with it, the mad rush that always seems to come at the end of the year. Fourth quarter is nearly always my busiest in terms of work volume–add to that the ATA conference, planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, and my daughter’s mountain bike race season, and a severe case of the scatters can set in. So let’s talk about work/life balance, and an important component thereof: differentiating between the “I can’t…” mindset and the “I choose not to…” mindset.

The “I can’t…” mindset seems to be particularly common among freelancers who have young kids; I know that I spent a lot of time thinking that way when my daughter was little. Such as:

  • I can’t work a full eight-hour day because my kids get home at 3
  • I can’t work even close to full-time in the summer because my kids are out of school

The “I can’t…” mindset is harmful because it deflects responsibility away from the person who’s really in charge: you! And when you start to be more accepting of your own choices, you’re much less stressed and frustrated, because you realize that you’re making a deliberate choice, not being backed into a corner by forces you can’t control.

For example: when my daughter was little, I definitely felt torn between my desire to spend a lot of time with her, and my desire to run a thriving business and have a fulfilling career. But at a certain point, I had to re-examine my thinking. Was it really not true that I “couldn’t” work a full day? Or “couldn’t” work much in the summers? Answer: absolutely not; lots of people with young kids do those things, by hiring child care, or utilizing the after-school program, or trading babysitting with friends. Many people even use options that are less appealing but achieve the end result of extending the work day: putting their kids in front of the TV for several hours, or putting expenses on credit cards to pay for extra child care.

Things changed when I realized that rather than being a cork in the sea of working motherhood and work/life balance, I was making deliberate choices based on my priorities. There’s a subtle but huge difference between saying, “I can’t work full-time in the summer because my kids are out of school,” (pants on fire…plenty of kids go to camp, even sleepaway camp, and plenty more are watched by babysitters) and saying, “I choose not to work full-time in the summer so that I can spend more time with my kids.” Coincidentally, I think that making that mindset shift also frees you up to actually enjoy the time, rather than feeling pulled in a million directions.

Even if you don’t have small kids, I think it’s important to adopt the “choices” mindset. For example, I recently started working with a new client who almost immediately asked me to do some work over a weekend. It was a small amount, but it had to be done on a Saturday morning. Rather than responding with a one-time excuse (“This Saturday, I can’t. My daughter has a mountain bike race and I may not have Internet access”), I just responded firmly but factually, “In general, I don’t work on weekends. I’d be happy to do this on Friday afternoon or Monday morning. Let me know if that would work for you.” Now that this boundary is set with that client, I don’t need to discuss it again, and the client is clear on my choice.

Readers, as the year ramps up toward its always-busy end, any thoughts on what you are choosing to do, or not to do?

12 Responses to “Work/life balance: “I can’t” versus “I choose not to””
  1. Ruth H. October 2, 2017
    • Corinne McKay October 3, 2017
  2. Jelena Morgan October 3, 2017
    • Corinne McKay October 3, 2017
  3. Oleg Gordeev October 3, 2017
    • Corinne McKay October 3, 2017
  4. Greta Grinfeld October 4, 2017
    • Corinne McKay October 4, 2017
  5. Tapani Ronni October 6, 2017
    • Corinne McKay October 6, 2017
  6. Silke Luhrmann November 2, 2017
    • Corinne McKay November 2, 2017

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