October is one of my favorite months. Not only does Halloween loom on the last day like a decadent dessert waiting to happen after a long, sensible meal, but it’s usually the first month that feels like autumn and, in Texas, there’s the Texas State Fair to look forward to.
This year – the year of intentions – during the month of October, my focus has been on maintaining balance in my life on a daily basis. I’m not good at balance. I never have been. Yet I’ve been in active search of it for much of my adult life. Part of my challenge with balance is the field I work in. In the performing arts, everything revolves around the production of a show. The cycle looks something like this: there’s usually the slow build (that can sometimes feel like a death march) as all of the logistics fall into place, then all hell breaks loose with the condensed rehearsal schedule when folks are working long days, then there’s the chaos of previews and opening night. Once a show is open, there is usually a moment to take a breath (meaning, depending on one’s job, only working 50-hour weeks instead of 80), followed by closing a few days or weeks later when everyone collapses into a big, sleep-deprived, uber-emotional heap. Depending on how many shows one is involved in each year, there can end up being only a few days or weeks between each of these marathons. Needless to say, balance – the kind of work/life balance I crave – isn’t a trait I’ve seen very often in my friends and coworkers and it certainly isn’t one that I’ve mastered.
In the past 15 months, Brett and I bought a house and moved, we got married, I left one stable theater job for the life of a freelance artist and teacher, I started a nonprofit youth theater company and put up our first show. It was a lot. Any one or two of those would be enough for someone to navigate in a year, but all of them together in such a short time drained everything out of me. Two months ago I collapsed. I didn’t get out of bed for a week. When I finally did, I spent two weeks off the grid reading and working in the garden. It was awesome and rejuvenating. It also gave me time to reflect on where I’m at in life now and how I can better master the art of balance moving forward.
By the time the end of August rolled around, I wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent, but was able to start up my job again as an adjunct at a local community college. It took another month (and a trip to a tropical island) for me to feel rested and ready to take on the next big challenge. Which brings me to October. Heading into October I was set to direct the fall show at the college. In doing so, I was determined to maintain my new-found sense of balance.
We’re mid-way through the month and, according to my husband, I’m doing pretty good on the whole balance thing because I’m “not acting like a crazy person.” Yay for that. There’s two weeks left for my alter-ego Maude (a crazy, wild-haired lunatic) to come out. So, here’s what I’m doing to keep some balance and perspective in my life:
- Getting 8 hours of sleep each night. When I am knee-deep in a big project (i.e. a show) sleep is the first thing that goes. I recently got a Fitbit which tracks everything, including my sleep and its quality. It’s confirmed for me that anything less than 8 hours of sleep and I am sleepy and cranky. If I get less than 8 hours of sleep multiple nights in a row, I lose functionality.
- Eating healthful foods and staying away from my go-to, “stress-relieving” vices: alcohol, junk food and cigarettes. I’m actually on day four of The Blood Sugar Solution diet (no processed anything, no dairy, no added sugar of any form, no alcohol, no gluten). My meals have been consisting of fruit, veggies, protein, nuts and seeds. I actually feel awesome. I think I may have a dairy allergy which breaks my soul because I love cheese. But, after four days off dairy, I feel better than I have in a long while. (Caveat: I didn’t feel awesome for a couple of days especially because I wasn’t eating breakfast. Now I am and I feel good.)
- Unplugging at night. I’ve read more books this year than probably the previous three years combined. Rather than laying in bed scrolling through Facebook and reading news online, I’m trying to read a book. The challenge is that both Brett and I use our cell phones as alarm clocks. So, I sometimes, without thinking, end up scrolling mindlessly while laying in bed. I’m contemplating buy us old-fashioned alarm clocks and banning cell phones from the bedroom entirely.
- Creating and following to-do lists. More important for me, though, is knowing when to set the to-do lists down at the end of the day. Lists are great to keep organized and it forces me to do some of the tedious things I need to but don’t want to. But, lists can become a monster. So, I use this one with care.
- Walking and thinking. There are a host of studies on the importance of taking time to let one’s mind go free from the to-do lists. One great article was in the NY Times last year. More and more, companies are starting to recognize the need for their knowledge workers to have time to think. It leads to creativity and problem solving. Lately, I’ve combined my “thinking/reflecting” time with walking the dog. So, I’m killing two birds with one stone. And my Fitbit acknowledges those efforts when I hit my step goal later in the day. It’s 30-40 minutes of “me” time (with the occasional stop to pick up poop). I’ve found it invaluable and have, on more than one occasion, figured out the solution to a problem or come up with what I think is a brilliant idea to pursue.
- Spending dedicated time with those closest to me. Sadly, this is another one that goes when I’m busy. Working late into the evening means missing time with family and friends. But, I’m trying to be better about this. I can’t do anything about my schedule when rehearsals are late afternoons/evenings. But, I can carve out time most days each week to even just sit with my husband and have dinner at the dining room table rather than in front of the television. We also have a set date night each week. We hold to it religiously.