What’s your rock in the river? Prioritizing work and life the right way.
It took a long time to get my second college degree.
I looked forward to the start of every semester. The day the new term’s class schedule came out was like a high holy day. What new & interesting things would be offered? What piece(s) of my degree puzzle could I snap into place, moving me closer to graduation?
And this is what it looked like:
First, I’d look at my work calendar, with big parts of the day blocked for “work”…mornings for people, mid afternoons for tech, etc.
Then, I’d look at the schedule of classes I wanted or needed to take, and see which ones fit into the empty spaces on my calendar.
My work calendar—with its prime daytime hours blocked out, though there were no clients assigned to them yet—was the rock in the river, immovable and sacrosanct. My education, my growth, and the writing projects I was just wildly crazy about? They all had to flow around it.
My friend Cate was also self-employed. She had a health condition that was greatly helped by regular movement, so she looked forward to the quarterly class schedule from the local recreation center. She hoped every time that they’d offer the right kind of fitness class at a time when she felt she’d be available to take it…between her work, the kids’ soccer practice, nonprofit board meetings, etc. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t.
Like mine, her established pattern of work—the thing coach Charlie Gilkey refers to as “economic work”—was the rock in the river, and even life-altering self-care had to bend and flow around it, so she could be available for everyone, convenient to THEIR schedule.
Do you do this too, as my friend and I did?
Old journals from my closet show a typical frustration with things I wished I could do, but felt I couldn’t, because of the economic work what-ifs. What if the perfect client came along, but I had to tell them their availability doesn’t match mine? What if my friend’s family got mad at her for putting them in charge of dinner?
Spin the dial to late 2019, and the question is different: What if we all flipped this—not a little, but a lot?
What if we make Life the rock in the river, and find a way to make Work flow around it?
Our work matters. But it’s just one aspect of a much bigger picture. It’s our duty to keep it in the proper perspective, even if you love it with all your heart, even if it’s the way you keep going financially. You have to trust me on this: There are ways to do this, adjustments to make, that will let you have it all.
It’s a work in progress for me, but here are some bite-sized ways I started doing more of it, and they’re things you can try no matter what your circumstances are:
1) If you don’t have a scheduler (paper or electronic) or if you resist it, get one.
Most people I know who are lax about scheduling, not wanting to feel closed in, are the very same ones who never quite get around to the things that really light them up. A scheduler lets you create space for everything that’s important to you, and create flexible blocks for “anything goes” as well. Try it.
2) Figure out one to three things you crave more of.
No-shit exercise dates with yourself. Regular massage or bodywork to keep your body happy. A weekly walking/coffee (or walking+coffee) date with someone who lifts you up. Put them in writing, and keep them sacred.
3) Look around at the things you do because you’ve always done them.
Maybe you’ve left big swaths of choice daily time real estate open for others. Been the sole grocery-shopper or laundry-doer? Attended a networking meeting even though you’re not finding your perfect clients there? Volunteered for various duties so you’ll feel like a good person?
Keeping in mind the craving above, compare it side-by-side to these things, and choose. Would you risk a pouty family member in order to feel like a million bucks? Give up/change up a volunteer gig to make room for a dream you have?
4) Trying sinking one rock in the river of your life.
It might be a class you will NOT let yourself miss. A block every morning for self-maintenance. A four-hour block every week to work on your book. An hour with your aging mom.
Make everything else flow around it. Everything. That means no client appointments no matter how much you like them, or if they say it’s the only time they can come (often, these are people who have prioritized their own lives over work, thus their time scarcity). No projects that suddenly come up. No saying “yes” to someone else’s non-critical needs.
The rock stays, the rest flows.
5) Stick with it for at least a month, no cheating.
Don’t worry about anyone’s opinion except your own. How did it go?
Add another rock, or trade it for something with an even bigger bang for your buck.
With a heart like yours, putting yourself first is the best way to serve.
You have a finite number of minutes on this planet, and if you learn to use them right, you can have both a magnificent life AND help those who need you most. Believe it.