One Woman’s Struggle to Find Balance

October 2, 2015

by Michelle Perry Higgins

The idea of finding “balance” in one’s life–as opposed to “having it all”–is something women (and some men) have been struggling with for decades.

It hasn’t gotten any easier.

Part of the problem is that our culture likes to preach balance, but not necessarily teach it. It isn’t glamorous. Many of us don’t even realize that’s what we’re missing, as we rush from one commitment to the next, trying to live up to some unrealistic, self-imposed expectations, trying to be Superwoman. And yet, for me, finding my balance was the road to less stress at work and at home, more time for me, and a much happier family. My version of having it all.

Let me backtrack. By the time my first daughter came along, I already had the big, high-stress career as a financial planner and partner of my firm. I had an incredible husband who fully supported my career. I was, and still am, the type of person who works hard and plays hard, a perfectionist.

I gave 110% to my job each day. Then, the second I got home, I launched into giving 110% to my family. But that math didn’t add up for me. On the outside, it looked like I had it all together. On the inside, I was falling apart. Stressed. Short-tempered with the people I loved most. A tight, clenching knot had taken up residence in my chest, along with the feeling everything was spiraling out of control.

I believed I had to get everything crossed off my to-do list before bedtime or I was a failure.

By the time I hit the sheets, I had nothing left for myself or my husband. Thankfully, they didn’t have iPads back then or I probably would have slept with mine. I woke every morning exhausted, yet determined to do it all again.

I put the blame on everything outside myself. The problem had to be my marriage. Or my stressful career. Things deteriorated to the point where I actually considered leaving my marriage. I had yet to understand the real problem was inside me: I had no balance and no boundaries.

My husband and I sought help, and I was introduced to some pretty radical ideas. The first was asking my husband for more help in specific areas, like cooking dinner! This helped me find my balance by forcing me to let go of control. Next was the idea of the “good enough mother,” originally introduced by pediatrician Dr. Donald Winnicott in 1953. This allowed me to set my priorities and let go of my guilt and my rampant perfectionism (which goes hand in hand with control).

According to Dr. Winnicott’s studies, being a “good enough mother”—as opposed to trying to be the perfect mother—allows children to mature and become independent, which are necessary to live a successful life. Understanding this concept and how to put it into practice took the pressure off. I found that “good enough” does not mean uncaring, unloving, or mediocre in any way. In practice, it works out to be quite the opposite.

In the years that have passed, I’ve learned to carve out time for myself, cultivate supportive friendships and jettison the rest, and only commit to what I have time to do and genuinely want to do. By relieving myself of the awful burden of being Superwoman, I’ve put the balance back into my life both at home and at work. I am a better mom, wife, and financial planner.

My road to balance is an ongoing work in progress. But in my experience, you can have it all…with the help of some carefully chosen priorities, some strongly held boundaries, and a heaping dose of realism, hard work and compromise.

Improved life balance equals more contentment as a wife and a mother, more confidence, energy, and productivity at work. Life balance is not just some buzzword; it’s the secret weapon of women—mothers or not—who do want to have careers and fully contribute their talents to the workforce. I heartily recommend it to all my friends, the women I mentor, and anyone who’ll listen.