Case in point: Not long ago my best friend, a devoted mom who’d recently gone back to full-time work, called me, crying, on her son’s 10th birthday. She’d given him a scooter for his birthday (good mom). She’d offered to walk with him to school so he could ride his scooter (really good mom). He enjoyed the scooter so much that they were both going to be late (trouble looming). He ignored her repeated entreaties to hurry up. She got a little tense. OK, a lot tense. She lost her temper, then grabbed the scooter and threw it in a dumpster conveniently located on the sidewalk outside the elementary school. Not pretty. Her son went to class crying on his birthday. And she was hopelessly late for her new job. My friend called to tell me she was the worst mom, worst worker, worst person on the planet.
My reaction? I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair. These “worst mom, worker, person ever” stories capture the essence of our inevitable flaws as people. We all experience mortifying failures, whether they’re with our bosses, employees, or co-workers; in our marriages; with our parents, siblings, friends, neighbors, kids, pets, or random strangers.
I’ve cried at work, privately in a bathroom stall and publicly in front of respected colleagues. I’ve screamed “I hate you!” at the top of my lungs to my sweet, beloved husband so loudly the neighbors heard it. I once gave my baby Tylenol to mask his fever so I could leave him at day care while I gave an important presentation. So, now you know I’m the worst mother, worker, person!
We all have stories like these, and sharing them helps us (and other similarly human people) feel better about ourselves. And that’s so much healthier than trying to chase elusive balance. When we aim for perfection, we get into trouble, because we’re all alone with our unavoidable failures.
So, once my friend stopped crying, I suggested that she hug the gorilla, and stop expecting her work and life to line up perfectly. She got the scooter out of the dumpster. She told her co-workers she was running late and would be leaving early to pick up her son from school. She apologized to her son and told him that she felt like the worst mom ever. (He laughed, too, although not as hard as I had.) And after doing that, my friend felt pretty beat up, but better.
Truth is, this imperfect woman is a fantastic mom, worker, friend, person. She’s funny, lively, smart, passionate. And I’d be her kid, boss, or employee in a heartbeat. I think that’s a better measure of work-life successthe perspective you get from looking at yourself from a 360-degree viewthan so-called balance could ever be.
Why not give it a try the next time you’re beating yourself up over a trashed-the-scooter kind of day? Ask yourself: Would you want to be your own kid? Co-worker? Spouse? Boss? Best friend? When you see yourself from a big-picture perspective (outside your own head and apart from unrealistic ideals of work-life balance), it’s easier to feel good about yourself and how well you really are juggling your busy, busy life.