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About the Author
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The Fringe Hours
Making Time for You
By Jessica N. Turner
RevellCopyright © 2015 Jessica N. Turner
All rights reserved.
Most of us have trouble juggling. The woman who says she doesn't is someone whom I admire but have never met. Barbara Walters
If you were to choose one word to describe your daily life, what would it be?
Mine would probably be busy Occasionally stressful. Oftentimes happy. It's not necessarily a "bad busy" or "super stressful," but my days are definitely full and intense, with happiness throughout. With a full-time career, a husband, two kids, a new house (that needs a lot of work), friends I want to hang out with, and a variety of other commitments, life seems to move at warp speed. And most women I know seem to feel the same way—always juggling all the responsibilities of work and home, family and friends, ourselves and others. Always searching for balance.
One of my own times of struggle with this started pretty innocently when I decided to join a book club. It had been two years since I had last been actively involved in one, and my soul was craving the community
The club was every Tuesday night, and my husband, Matthew, and I decided that it would be best if on those days, I would work a little later and go straight to the club from my office. What I didn't realize when I signed up for the book club was that two weeks into it, our family was also supposed to start attending a new weekly community group through our church. I wanted to be part of both, and it seemed doable.
The first two weeks of the book club went great. I loved both the friend leading it and the new women I met. This addition to our weekly schedule seemed like it was going to work.
Well, I was wrong.
The first week we were supposed to go to community group, I was incredibly stressed. I had just come back from a business trip, my daughter was teething and going to bed earlier than normal, and rushing out the door to community group made little sense. So I sent an apologetic text to the group leader and secretly breathed a sigh of relief.
The next week was not much better, with my schedule overflowing with commitments and deadlines. I stood at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and crying. When my husband, Matthew, asked what was wrong, I said, "I'm doing too much. I'm overwhelmed. I'm tired. I'm stressed. I can't do it all."
The Balance Challenge
The book club and community group conundrum is just one of numerous times when I have wrestled with balance. My guess is that you too have had a similar wrestling match, trying to wrangle too many things into some sort of order, all in pursuit of this elusive goal of "balance."
When I wrote the survey for this book, I asked participants, "What do you think is most challenging about being a woman today?" I suspected many would say, "Trying to balance everything," and I was right. In the more than five hundred pages of responses I received, over and over women—regardless of location, age, marital and economic status—said things like this:
Trying to balance everything since we tend to overextend our lives. We all want to have a work life that validates us as independent women. We want to be the best mom at creating moments for our children. And then throw in the family members and friends. It's a lot!—Mary
So much to balance. Between kids, household duties, cooking, striving to have a healthy marriage, and all the things in between, it can be very difficult to find time for yourself.—Katie
I think it is very difficult to find the perfect balance of being a good wife, mother, employee, friend, daughter, sister.—Katrina
Having to work at the same time I have to be with my children as well as being there for my husband. On top of taking care of our finances and home and making sure I find time for my relationship with God.—Melissa
Being a single mom is tough. I have to balance two worlds, and I have no one to help me carry the burden.—Andrea
Balancing the home/work life. I feel that modern women are pulled in so many directions and held to a higher standard than ever before. It is so hard to balance it all and still find time for yourself.—Ashley
Trying to find the balance between working and being an involved mother. From a working mother's perspective, it is such a challenge to organize and ensure that my kids are looked after when my husband and I can't be there and to allow them the chances to be involved in things without being limited by the fact that I work.—Melanie
I found myself nodding my head over and over again as I read the truth-filled, vulnerable words of these women of all ages proclaiming how balancing all that life brings is incredibly challenging. Even if you don't use the word "balance" to describe this issue, you can't deny the challenge. You might talk instead about "priorities," "fit," or "organization." However you define the act of having things in order and not being overwhelmed, that is what I want to dig into.
In my own life, the balancing act includes blogging first thing in the morning, getting two kids ready for day care and dropping them off on my way to the office, working all day, picking up the kids after work, getting dinner ready, putting the kids to bed, and spending time with my husband. On top of the everyday tasks are the one-offs—grocery shopping, Target runs, doctor appointments, birthday parties, soccer games, paying bills, and so on. Can you relate?
Take a minute to make a list of your average week's responsibilities:
When I see all of these things on paper, the idea of achieving balance seems ridiculous. We talk about needing it. Books are written about how to find it. But the reality is, for most women, it never happens in any sort of permanent way. Instead, we have moments of balance, maybe even days of it. But then something happens that causes things to become out of whack again.
What is it about balance that is so elusive today? Are we really able to balance it all? In short, no. I don't think true balance really exists. That said, I do think the word is helpful as a guiding principle for how we choose to live. Let's start by trying to understand what balance really means.
Two of the many dictionary definitions for balance perfectly hit on what we are talking about:
a stable mental or psychological state; emotional stability
a harmonious or satisfying arrangement or proportion of parts or elements, as in a design
I believe you need both of these definitions to really have balance in life. I would define it using this equation:
a satisfying arrangement of elements + emotional stability = balance
It's easy to define balance using just the first part of the equation. I often equate balance with everything in my life fitting together neatly and don't consider how my emotions play into that puzzle. I'll look at my overscheduled calendar and think, "Oh, that is totally doable." But then I get into the thick of it and I am drained, short-tempered, and an emotional wreck—like I was when I had overcommitted to the book club and community group. Clearly, the satisfying arrangement of the elements on my calendar is not enough by itself. We can't have balance if activities in our life are neatly scheduled but we are overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotional.
My friend Karen says that life is like a sound board. When music is mixed, the sound technician needs to adjust the levels to make the music sound its best. If one person or instrument needs to be really loud, everything else can't be loud too because the board can't handle it and, more importantly, the music won't sound its best.
The same is true in life. If one thing is dominating during a particular season, that's okay, as long as adjustments are made to other areas. Without those adjustments to "reduce the volume," distortion and chaos will result. But if you make those adjustments, your life song will bring the most beauty and pleasure possible to your life.
Too Much of a Good Thing Is Still Too Much
The middle of December 2013 was a season that was incredibly out of balance for me. You probably know that time well: when the Christmas crazy sets in and you are really hoping you make it to Christmas Eve. The volume on my sound board was loud. I looked at my week, and it was almost laughable. My dad was visiting from out of state for the first part of the week, my two-year-old had started potty training, I had multiple meetings and deadlines at work, the kids were having Christmas parties and a program at school, and I had several sponsored blog posts due. My husband and I also had a work Christmas dinner to attend one evening.
And that was just the "required" stuff.
Meanwhile, stacked in the dining room was a pile of decorations that had never found their way to the right spot in our house. They really needed to be put in an empty Rubbermaid tub to go back in the garage. But that required seven minutes that I didn't seem to have. Sitting near the decorations was an unopened box of our family's annual Christmas cards that I had ordered before Thanksgiving (because I was so on the ball). Three weeks later, I was far from feeling on top of things.
Littering the dining room table was a mess of opened Christmas card envelopes from people who needed to be added to our card list, artwork from the kids' school (I have such a hard time parting with painted card stock), and miscellaneous junk that needed a home (or to be thrown away with the envelopes). Again, the lack of seven free minutes meant it would all just need to wait a few more days. Surely the weekend would bring some open spaces to organize, reset, and bring some balance back to our life.
The "problem," for lack of a better word, is that many of these things that fill our schedules are good things, like Christmas festivities or the book club and community group I tried to start attending that fall.
We need to work to provide for our families, and we want to encourage our children to be involved in activities that they enjoy and are passionate about. And on it goes. Even the not-fun things like laundry and dusting are reminders that we are blessed with families that need to be clothed and a roof over our heads.
One of my survey respondents, Jessica (not me), described a vortex of good things draining her:
I think trying to balance everything is the biggest challenge I face. I feel run-down and tired sometimes, and then I look at our crazy schedule and think to myself, "Duh, no wonder you're tired!"
I want to be a good mom and a good wife. I want to volunteer at our daughter's school and at our church, and quite honestly I would feel guilty if I wasn't involved in volunteering at these places. I also want my children to be involved in fulfilling, enriching activities that they enjoy. And we have been very blessed in all these ways to find places and opportunities to be involved in our church and in our girls' education (my husband is the president of a nonprofit that supports our daughters' language immersion schools) and extracurricular activities (I'm a coach at our daughter's gym).
I could not have guessed that signing my girls up for gymnastics would have led to me coaching the team there.... But it comes at a cost, and for us, that cost has been family time at home in the evenings. I think we are busy with important things that will have a lasting impact on our girls. I just sometimes feel like we have taken on a little too much and we have committed too much of our time to being away from home.
Now, I don't know Jessica, but her story resonated with me because I think she is like a lot of us. She wants to do all the things she is doing. She is making a positive impact on her family. But those things are coming at a cost—the cost of not just family time, as she states, but also time for herself. Just because they are good things doesn't mean that they are good for you, for right now (or even ever). To not allow the stress of too many "good" things to invade our lives and steal our joy, we have to learn to say no, prioritize, or eliminate things entirely.
Jennifer Dukes Lee took a drastic step to find balance in her life, and her story is one that many can learn from. In 2002, she left her job as a reporter to move with her family onto her husband's fourth-generation family farm in Iowa. Shortly after they moved, she took on a part-time professor gig at Dordt College, teaching journalism twenty hours a week. She loved her students and experiencing their excitement for reporting the news. Five years later, she also found herself leading worship and teaching Sunday school at church, volunteering, doing speaking engagements, and even signing a book contract. Jennifer's plate was now too full, as she had "over-yessed herself," as she likes to put it.
When we spoke, she told me, "Things that I would really want to say yes to, I would have to say no to because I had so overextended myself. There was no other time for the things that make a life so full."
As the years went on, her job as a professor had gotten easier in terms of teaching, grading, and preparing lectures. But when it was combined with all of her other commitments, Jennifer knew she had to make a choice. She prayed about it, discussed options with her husband, and decided to quit teaching at the college in order to find some margin in her life.
It was a difficult decision because the job was a "good thing" in her life, but ultimately she sensed that she needed to end that chapter. After leaving, Jennifer flourished, using the open hours for a "come what may today" attitude, having the flexibility to say yes at a moment's notice.
Jennifer recalled, "People would say, 'What are you going to do instead?' I would hem and haw and stammer around. I could do this or that, but my answer was that I am not going to fill those hours with anything. I'm not going to. There's such a high priority placed on busyness that our work, paid or unpaid, is filling our days, and I didn't want to [have that anymore]."
Just because something is a good thing doesn't mean it is good for this moment in your life. This truth has taken a long time for me to accept. But the more I embrace it, the better my life is. The lesson from Jennifer's story is one many should learn. Sometimes too many good things can just be too much.
Is there something in your life that is a good thing but maybe isn't good for this season of your life? Write it down and consider if you should eliminate it from your schedule.
Searching for Work-Life Balance
If you are one of the nearly seventy-five million women in America who are part of the paid workforce, then you also might struggle with work-life balance. With only 29 percent of American mothers staying at home, this is a common issue for women. As a working woman myself, I know the challenges of creating work-life balance.
I spent the first seven years of my career at one of Nashville's top PR firms, and I literally was always "on." When I woke up I would check my work email before doing anything else. Before bed I had the same routine. We worked by the mantra of saying yes to our clients, even if it meant early mornings and late nights at the office.
Excerpted from The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner. Copyright © 2015 Jessica N. Turner. Excerpted by permission of Revell.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Before We Begin 13
Part 1 Explore
1 Pursuing Balance 21
2 Letting Go of Self-Imposed Pressures 37
3 Eliminating Guilt and Comparison 51
Part 2 Discover
4 Shifting Your Perspective 75
5 Identifying How to Care for Yourself 93
6 Finding Your Time 111
Part 3 Maximize
7 Prioritizing Your Activities 135
8 Using Your Time Efficiently 153
9 Embracing Help 171
10 Overcoming Obstacles 193
Part 4 Live Well
11 Cultivating Community 211
12 Finding Rest 225
13 Living Well 239
The Fringe Hours Manifesto 249
The Fringe Hours Survey Results 255