We all need sustenance. Without it, we would not survive. And within us lives a survival instinct that tells us to eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty. As a matter of fact, the longer we go without food or drink, the stronger the need grows. In the most dire circumstance, where food and water are not available for a long period of time, this instinct continues to grow until it becomes an obsession, pushing more rational thinking processes aside with the sole focus on survival.
This hunger begins at birth. It is actually the mechanism and catalyst for the development of our ability to form and maintain attachment. As an infant, you experience the unpleasant feeling of hunger as a pang inside your belly and an uncomfortable uneasiness that you don’t yet understand. You respond by crying loudly: the urgency of your plight heralded to the world. You don’t care about the fact that it is 3am: you hunger. You count on the appearance of that person who appears and offers you nourishment. Soon your belly is full and your mind and soul are at peace. As the cycle continues, you develop an awareness of those special people that are bringing you relief and comfort. When you hear their voices, you know you will be fed and you can relax. The process evolves. You begin to trust. You begin to bond. You begin the architecture of attachment.
You hunger and are fed.
That example is the most rudimentary aspect of hunger and satisfaction. The application, metaphorically, is far more reaching. But the truth of the matter is: What you feed will grow.
What are you feeding in your life?
I have several friends who are runners. They hunger for the thrill of a 5K or a half marathon. But how do they feed the need to compete in these races? They run every day. Most get up an hour earlier than they need just to get in that run. The satisfaction they get from completing a run overshadows the discipline, exertion and time sacrifice they endure. And the continuous feeding of that need develops their skills and their confidence to compete in races.
Some people hunger for success and recognition in their career. They are dedicated true believers in the importance of Their agency’s mission and hunger to be part of the leadership. Their hunger is not fueld by blind personal ambition but by the ambition of making a difference in the world. Their hunger can be healthy if fed by positivity and a work-life balance. But I have learned, from experience, that a true work/life balance is difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain. The higher you rise in your agency, the more difficult it becomes.
I learned that lesson the hard way. I found out that success and career recognition comes with a price. There were times early in my career where my hunger to rise in my agency and make a difference in the world, directly affected my hunger to also be a good wife, mother, friend and social worker. Notice I did not blame the agency or the career. It was the choices I made as to which hunger (work or life) to feed.
I discovered , after several years, that feeding my need to advance resulted in long hours, tunnel vision as to priorities and a distance from the positive people and influences in my life. That cycle (much like the example of the infant) produced in me the obsessive thought that to be successful, I had to be able to handle everything by myself. As the job responsibilities increased, so did the hours, the stress and the work-only focus. That was the hunger I chose to feed.
Naturally, the “life” part began to suffer. Did it mean that wanting to be successful was wrong? I don’t think so. There are many successful people that have learned to feed both of the components of work/life. I had to do some self examination, though, to bring my own life back into balance.
To accomplish that, I had to feed the things I had either ignored or had given only perfunctory attention. And I had to accept and not obsess over the things I couldn’t change and to concentrate, instead, on those I could. I couldn’t change the stress of the job or the onerous burden of responsibility that came with agency leadership. But I could change my reaction to the stress. Typically, I would come home from work , and collapse on the couch for mindless television while consuming a high caloric fast food dinner (because it was easy). This was very often followed by insomnia.
To combat this outcome of stress that developed from feeding my work only side, I began to feed my creative side. My hunger for taking broken things and making them whole evolved into my discovery of furniture flipping. I started finding broken and ugly pieces of furniture and transforming them into functional and beautiful things. Similarly, my hunger to encourage workers in the often thankless job of caring for others turned into a weekly blog. I started blogging encouragement to other social workers and found I was actually encouraging myself. Interestingly, as I began to feed this side of my work/life balance, the inevitable stress that followed me home from work each night found it much more difficult to eat away at my health, my sleep and my peace.
I also realized that I had to feed the relationships in my life. Simply making time to be with your child, your friends even your significant other does not foster deep relationships. It is not enough. I had to be present, mentally and emotionally, demonstrating true engagement with them whenever we were together. It was difficult to practice a skill that I had not fed in years. Unaware, I had allowed it to starve. I decided to ernestly feed my relationships by focusing on being “present ” when around the people I cared about. It was sobering to realize how I had taken for granted precious people, expecting them to understand that I had “noble” reasons for choosing work over life. Because there is nothing noble about keeping those you love in a box. But it was not easy. Being present is a discipline that requires regular feeding. But, as I fed the relationships, by being present, it became easier. My hunger grew for the joy that came while sharing “real” moments with the ones I loved. Those moments filled my heart and brought peace to my mind and my soul.
So did I do it?? Is my work and personal life always balanced? No! It is a continuous work in progress. And just as I can never choose to stop feeding my physical hunger, I cannot stop feeding my hunger for a work/ life balance.
For on those occasions when I am operating in the balance, I do not hunger.
I am satisfied.