Poet, teacher, psychologist, engineer – all professions I could easily picture myself excelling in at one point or another in my life. Stay-at-home mom was never on my radar. When I left my PhD program to get married, I figured my husband would keep me happy, and writing would keep me busy, fulfilled, and validated. However, breaking into the writing industry was harder than I expected and, before I knew it, I was pregnant, and then I was pregnant again, and then I was pregnant again. Three pregnancies in two years, but in a tragic blow to our family, we lost our second daughter due to an incompetent cervix.
As challenging as that loss was, it was not the hardest challenge I’ve ever solved. In fact, it wasn’t the kind of challenge that needed solving at all. The loss of our daughter was a challenge of perseverance – of deciding to get up and face the day. There was no thought involved, just good old-fashioned will power and hope for better days.
No, the greatest challenge of my life – the challenge that required a strategy and concerted effort to overcome – was finding the balance between contentment and ambition. Three years into my marriage, I looked up and realized that in a few short years I had gone from a PhD candidate with a promising career in bioengineering to a wife, homemaker, and struggling writer with two kids under two.
It was easy to feel lost, to give into the temptation to despair that many women – and men – face when they end up unexpectedly unemployed. I found myself stuck between two worlds. I wasn’t the working mom I had anticipated being, and I wasn’t content like the stay-at-home moms I’d come to love. I was spinning in circles trying to figure out where I fit. Homemaking had never been my dream, but it was my reality; I had to learn to marry that reality with my love of writing, math, teaching, and research if I had any hope of thriving in the life I was living.
So how did I do that? How did I marry contentment and progress? I achieved balance in my life using the following four step process:
1 | Assess
Most things are not as bad, or as good, as they seem. When my kids were smaller, my husband would come home every day and ask if I had a good day. After weeks of answering with the same frustrations, I realized that I really didn’t have good days or bad days, I simply had days with toddlers.
There were noses that needed to be wiped, naps that needed to be negotiated, and tantrums that needed to be dealt with every day. There were also belly laughs, kiddie cuddles, and sticky kisses. Regardless of how I felt about the day, that was my reality. When I accepted that reality, I could enjoy the mishaps, learn from the failures, grow in grace, and become more efficient in my daily life.
2 | Prioritize
Most of us are reasonably talented at quite a few things, and while this opens the door to a lot of opportunities, it can also be the source of great distractions. There is an art to productive living. This art involves teamwork, creativity, and discipline, but what makes this art a masterpiece is prioritization. I am only productive if I am working on something of value to me, something that moves me forward in the life that I’ve designed.
3 | Simplify
After establishing priorities, I had to realize that no one cared about those priorities but me. Most people – even the well-intentioned ones – cared most about the part of my life that was connected to them. These people would unconsciously try to prioritize my life to fit their agenda. Although I had no ill will toward these individuals, I had to take ownership of my life.
I had already identified my priorities, the next step was to create pathways to achieve those goals. I had to set milestones, break those milestones down into achievable steps, and break those steps down into daily or weekly tasks.
I realized that the leap of faith that leads to great success is often not so much a leap as it is a continuum of small disciplined steps. In a society that often teases instant success, I learned to believe in the power of small consistencies over long periods of time.
4 | Rest
The truth of the matter is everything is not going to get done. Stressing over unfinished to-do lists is an easy way to wind up angry, alone, and even more unproductive. It’s a waste of energy. I’ve learned to trust the priorities that I make for myself, spend my energy accomplishing those tasks, celebrate anything extra I complete, and be satisfied enough with my efforts to rest.
Life is busy now. It’s a big, beautiful, busy, yet surprisingly simple mess. I have started two businesses, written two books, and decided to homeschool my kids. Even with all that, my greatest achievement has been learning to thrive as I anticipate the beauty of where I’m going.