Balancing act

Balancing act

By: CHERYL TEVIS 01/09/2013 @ 10:02am

A slower pace on the farm in January offers time for taking stock. Just as farmers head to the shop in winter, this may be a good month to do some personal maintenance.

Almost 90% of Americans say that balancing work and life is a problem; more than half say it's a significant issue.

Men are nearly two times more likely than women to say their work and personal lives are balanced, according to a survey of 670 men and women in the U.S. and Canada by Captivate Network, an outlet for digital news and advertising.

I question whether men do a better job of balancing. I think they simply worry about it less than women do.

Women second-guess themselves. They want to take good care of their kids and husbands. They want to do a good job at work. They seem hardwired to place others' needs ahead of theirs.

Nowhere is this more true than on the farm, where women live on the work site and raise their families in rural areas, where volunteers are the lifeblood of the community. Even if they're working off-farm, they're also making time to manage farm accounts, payroll, and taxes.

Research shows that farm women play a key role in the success of the family and the business. A recent study suggests that maternal influence may be crucial when it comes to encouraging children to choose farming. Women's interpersonal and communication skills are also influential in initiating and following up on transition and estate plans.

And that's not all. Women are the mediators. Women are the sounding boards. Women are the caregivers. But beneath these accolades, many women feel they're performing a precarious high-wire act.

The flip side of juggling these multiple roles is a bumper crop of stress.

What is balance? And why is it so hard to attain – and maintain? Balance is defined as: A state of equilibrium; quality in amount, weight, value, or importance; to bring into proportion, harmony.

When I spoke at the Women Managing the Farm Conference in Wichita, Kansas, last year, I asked women to use an index card to write what was out of balance in their lives. You can see many of their responses in the word cloud image above.

Work vs. play (family vacations, time off) quickly came onto the radar screen. Many indicated their "me-time" was out of balance. Women often feel that taking time for themselves is selfish.

What happens when personal and business roles get out of kilter?

Dave Kohl, financial consultant and professor emeritus of Virginia Tech, says, "One of the biggest problems among large farmers focused on growing their business is divorce. They need balance between their personal and business lives."

Add to this the dynamics of the next generation joining the farm operation and welcoming new in-laws to the fold.

"If you're in business together, you need to maintain a family culture," advises Dr. Don Jonovic, author of our "Can Their Problem Be Solved?" in Successful Farming magazine. "It won't be Kumbaya all the time, but you need to get away together sometimes. Do things to keep the family unified. This includes off-farm children and their spouses."

Change is a catalyst

Turning the page on the old year often ushers in a flurry of predictions about the year to come. The only certainty is that life will change at a rapid pace.

Isn't that one fundamental reason why balance is so difficult to achieve? Just when life is becoming manageable, change occurs. Endings. Beginnings. Transitions. Women need new tools to regain their balance after major life changes.

One key to achieving life balance is to avoid comparisons to other women – and your own mother. If you need help with this, indulge yourself on a snowy day this winter and rent the movie, I Don't Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Her character juggles a high-profile job, a husband, and children. At night, she lies awake composing her to-do list on the ceiling.

Parker's character tries to keep up with the mothers of her daughter's classmates; she calls them "the Momsters."

As one of the characters in this movie observes, "The inside of a woman's brain is like the control room at O'Hare International Airport." 

Tools for success

It's unrealistic to expect to perpetually attain balance in daily life. Managing expectations is fundamental to attaining – and maintaining – balance.

To achieve balance, women have to continuously add and subtract weights from their scales. The challenge is sorting out what's most important at the time. Expect to swing back and forth on the pendulum before finding the center.

After all, balance isn't something that's determined and fixed at some point in life and never recalculated. A woman's balance point is always moving.

That's why I prefer this definition of balance: To waiver slightly; tilt, and return to equilibrium.

So, happy New Year, and good luck fine-tuning and recalibrating roles! Keep these tips in mind:

  • Doing it all is a myth.
  • It's OK to ask for help.
  • Appreciate and embrace your current stage of life and balance point.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. Find an activity that feeds your soul and make time for it.
  • Sometimes OK is good enough.