For some of us fortunate enough to be able to stay at home right now, this period of social distancing provides a chance to slow things down and focus inward. Juggling family and work may not be easy, but certain distractions from the outside world have eased up, leaving time to reflect on what’s working in our lives as well as what’s not.
Melinda Harrison, former Olympic athlete and author of Personal Next: What We Can Learn From Elite Athletes Navigating Career Transition, calls this a “gut-check moment.”
“Some people may decide that they don’t want to go forward in their vertical, and it’s time to make a switch,” she says. “Others may decide they really like what they’re doing but want to change the way they go about doing it. A gut check can help spur you on to better things or make a shift and do something else.”
Now is a good time to rethink how you spend your time and attention, says Gail Golden, author of Curating Your Life: Ending the Struggle for Work-Life Balance. “When the world gets back to whatever the next normal may be, do you want your life to be the way it was before, or are there things you’re learning out of this?” she asks. “Use some of your energy over the next few weeks to do some reflecting. What are aspects of your lifestyle that you hate, and what are the things you cannot wait to get back?”
Curate Your Life
Golden encourages people to look at work-life balance in a new way. “Instead of thinking we’re circus acrobats trying to juggle our lives while walking on a tightrope, think of yourself as a museum curator pulling together an exhibit,” she explains. “The most important decision to make is, ‘What is your exhibit about?'”
Golden suggests approaching your life like a curator approaches a museum exhibit. Think about two or three important works of art that will be the main focus. Then determine what can be in the museum but belongs in a side exhibit. And identify the “works of art” in your life that don’t fit.
“Use this model to think about how you manage your life and energy,” says Golden. “If you eliminate things that are unimportant and then spend just enough time on the things that are necessary but not important you will have energy to do the things that are your greatness—the things that matter and where your passion lies.”
The process is not simple, says Golden. “There are things that you may do because they’re meaningful and enriching for you, and things you do that you don’t like very much but your boss or your family needs you to do them. You cannot ignore the priorities of the people around you. The danger is we make everybody else’s priorities more important than your own all of the time. That’s part of work-life balance that doesn’t work.”
Get Clear On What’s Real
When you’re making decisions about what should stay and what can go, make sure you are working with the truth, says Harrison. She suggests taking out a piece of paper and drawing a line down the middle. On one side write “real facts” and the other write “not quite so real facts.”
“Before you make decisions, it’s important to look at the stories you’re telling yourself,” she says. “What is real?”
For example, you might think you hate your job, when you actually hate one aspect of it. “It’s about shifting your thoughts to what is really going on and not catastrophizing it into something you can’t do anything about,” says Harrison.
It also helps to remember why you got into a situation in the first place. With your job, for example, thinking about what drew you to the field could open a new avenue of potential careers if you want to make a change, says Harrison.
Then take control of what you can. “It may be accepting that you can’t control the future right now,” says Harrison. “But you can control what you do today, and you can still have hope for the future. The more you prepare today, the more likely you’ll figure it out when things settle down.”
Create a Pathway Forward
“Life isn’t a straight line,” says Harrison. “You’re going to go through gut checks, but you don’t have to unravel. Remember that you’ve been able to solve problems in the past. Use what you learned when you get stuck in the messy middle and have to find resource to get through it.”
Making decisions about what to do also takes a willingness to be vulnerable, says Golden. “If you try to always stay strong and ignore your feelings, you won’t be able to sustain it,” she says. “Find space and time to acknowledge and feel those feelings, but don’t spend all of your time watching every piece of news and stressing over every possible scenario. You won’t have the energy and courage you need to drive forward. It’s hard, but it’s what we’re all called on to do.”