by Liana Laverentz
About a month ago, after several conversations with friends whose lives were going haywire, I decided to turn my emails of support to them into an article on balance. In the month that has passed since, I haven’t been procrastinating, I’ve been observing. I’ve been watching my own life, to see if I do indeed practice what I preach about keeping a balance between my writing and non-writing life.
The good news is yes, I do, but while my methods work for me, I also lead a unique kind of life, and so it’s quite possible those same methods won’t work for you.
That little disclaimer said, the best advice I can offer you is to take what you need from this article, and leave the rest behind.
And do it guilt-free.
Several years ago I realized my life was out of control, and basically not my own anymore. I was allowing myself to be pulled in a dozen different directions, and was getting nowhere on doing what I wanted to be doing, what I needed to be doing, for me. Self-sacrifice for others is all well and good, but if you don’t take time for you, to replenish your well, one of these days it will simply run dry, and when that happens, it isn’t pretty. Been there, done that. A couple of times. I seemed to be a slow learner.
Or maybe it was just that I cared too much about the people in my life and not enough about myself.
So I took a hard look at myself, and my life, and sorted out my priorities. I whittled them down to seven, and decided I would do nothing, say yes to nothing, that wasn’t on the list of seven.
I like seven. It’s a very spiritual number, I’m a very spiritual person. You can pick five, you can pick ten. You can figure out what your priorities are, and let that list be your guide, whatever the number. But I wouldn't go higher than ten.
But I chose seven, in order of their priority in my life: my son, my significant other, work (I’d rather have left that one off the list, but we like to eat), writing, karate, the house and kitties, and friendships.
So whenever something came up that needed to be done or attended, I evaluated it in the light of where it was on The List. If a friend called to invite me to do something on a Tuesday or Friday night, unless it had something to do with 1) my son, 2) my significant other, 3) my job or 4) my writing, I said no, thank you, and went to my karate class.
The good news is that eventually, people stopped asking. (Or maybe the bad news, considering my friendships got totally neglected during this time period as well—more on this, later.)
There’s always that guilt factor when you say no, but I’ve learned to deal with that, too. I’ve had to, to save my own sanity. Dispensing with guilt in my life was one of the most freeing things I ever did. And, guess what? It didn’t turn me into a self-centered b*tch or completely amoral person, either. It just saved me from being guilted into doing things I didn’t really want to do.
Now I just smile and say, “No, thank you, not today,” or “I won’t be able to make that,” and leave it at that. No explanation, no excuses, no openings for argument.
But I do it nicely and, more importantly, I do it without guilt.
My boss says I could give a workshop on how to say no—and she is an expert at recruiting volunteers. But she doesn’t want me to do that. We work in a Catholic church, so we know all about guilt, on both sides of the sword.
But I digress. Balance. Well, that first effort was a good one, but didn’t work very well. I never seemed to get past the fourth item on the list—the reality was that karate ended up taking precedence over writing, mainly because karate was scheduled at a certain time two nights a week and my writing wasn’t.
So while I said writing was a priority, it wasn’t actually happening.
And I was getting frustrated.
I re-evaluated the situation and came up with a different plan. On my refrigerator, I have four magnets that say, Mind, Body, Heart, and Soul. I stared at that for a while one day, then made a list of some things to go under each category.
Mind – reading, writing, learning new things, helping my son with his homework, meeting challenges at home and at work
Body – exercise, karate, stretching, Tai Chi, housework (yes, housework)
Heart – my relationships with my son and significant other, being a friend, community service, making soup
Soul – practicing my spirituality, my writing, listening to music, engaging in intelligent conversation, cleaning and organizing things
I’m not trying to put anyone down with that intelligent conversation category. Thomas Moore calls conversation “sex for the soul” and I believe it. There’s nothing that makes me feel more alive than an in-depth conversation about just about anything. I am a writer. I am curious about all things. When I come out of my cave, I want to know all about what’s going on around me. In as much detail as possible.
But I don’t have time for idle chit-chat or small talk, because I need to get back to the cave.
I also have ADD tendencies, and so I need my lists and such to stay focused and on track.
In fact, why don’t we take a break right now, so that you can make up your own lists? You have a week to do them, your list of priorities, in order of importance, and then your mind, body, heart and soul lists, with at least five activities listed under each.
No one will see this list but you, so be honest with it. Don’t write down what you think you should say. Write what you really feel.
Then meet me back here next week, for what you need to do with it.
About The Author: Liana Laverentz is the author of Thin Ice and Jake’s Return, available now from the Wild Rose Press, Amazon, and through special order from your favorite bookstore. For more information, go to www.lianalaverentz.com.
Thin Ice (NJRW Golden Leaf Winner and EPPIE Finalist) ISBN 1-60154-016-7
Jake's Return ISBN 1-60154-124-4
Ashton's Secret (coming in 2008)