My Life as a Pulled Pork Sandwich

STOP if you are looking for work-life balance. The hard truth is that life is as messy as a pulled pork sandwich.

Even if you’re vegan, you’ll agree the juiciest things in life are often sandwiched between daily routines and obligations. But how many of us have time for these things? Do you make time for fun or the proverbial “me time” to re-energize and feel inspired?

I know I spent the first half of my life as a mother completely exhausted. I was like Bill Murray from the 1993 movie, “Ground-Hog Day”. Because something was missing in Bill’s life, he was doomed to repeat the same day over and over again until he discovered what he had to do differently to create a future.

My groundhog day was a weekly loop spent driving the long trek to work with the kids, child care drop offs and pick ups, followed by the return drive home and a cycle of repeat the next day. We lived for the weekends and enjoying fun time with the kids. A date out with my hubby was the best but sometimes a date in was less stressful, and provided a chance to really chill and reboot for the week ahead.

I knew I had all the best things in life — healthy kids, a happy marriage, a meaningful career… the most flavorful aspects of being alive and feeling happy — but I was often too tired to really savor them. I felt pulled by responsibilities and problems that dripped over the sides of my calendar, staining my happiness with regrets: I was impatient and craved sleep; I felt guilty leaving my kids with other people; and, I was horrible at saying no and this made it impossible to keep up with the never-ending list of demands on my time.

I know we’ve all been there and take on more than we can handle in the name of productivity. Sadly, sleep suffers and health is usually the first casualty as your delicious sandwich falls apart.

Studies show many millennial women are experiencing burnout even before they turn 30. Left untreated, burnout can destroy relationships, job performance, health, and happiness. (Click here for 10 signs of burnout).

Is Life Driving You?

What if balance was a choice and, if you were better at making choices, you could hold your yummy sandwich together? The bags under my eyes gave away my dark secret — I was trading sleep for productivity and

actually making it more difficult for me to function effectively. I looked like a football player
 scrimmaging in a game with that “eye black” paint they use — no kidding. That’s when my mother suggested I lean on family for help. This certainly reduced my stress and gave the kids more time with their grandparents. My husband tag teamed, trying to hold up his end of the parenting bargain, but I needed to own my health and happiness.

I didn’t truly understand until my pulled pork sandwich fell completely apart one Friday after work. I picked up my three daughters from childcare and left the sitter’s house, with two of the girls chirping happily in the backseat while my youngest daughter slept quietly strapped in her carseat on the sitter’s front lawn. I was literally driving myself crazy trying to be a supermom, and losing my sanity and the things I loved most.

In a perfect world, values drive decision-making. Yet, there I was setting unrealistic expectations for myself, my husband and everyone around me. Life was driving the car and I needed to refocus and get back into the driver’s seat.

Grab the Steering Wheel

Park the car and accept sharing your life with someone (spouse, kids, etc.) means that work-life balance will always need tweaking. With two people, you have two sets of values and two different decision trees.Throw kids and other family and friend dynamics into the mix, sprinkle in a bit of career and other interests, and you have a whole lotta competing interests.

Put the car in drive by starting at the destination. What values and goals drive your decisions and choices? Focus on building a plan around these things, so they drive your decisions. For me, this meant setting aside time to see friends every week, and reading before bed to relax and escape.

There’s a forest of books and articles that can help with effective end-goal strategizing but my personal favorite is “Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want,” by Hyatt and Harkavy. Other books offering holistic approaches are “Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation” by Suse Yalof Schwartz, and Christine Martin’s “Recharged” (in book and podcast).

Find tools to help you to focus on value-based end goals that resonate personally and provide realistic ways for you to harness your best decision-making skills. Seeking the advice of others with a similar value system and learning from their experiences is also a great way to gather tips and shortcuts to success. Having a mentor doesn’t hurt either, and seeing the curveballs in life as new challenges helps us to appreciate the unexpected joys and accomplishments they can bring.

Today, my pulled pork sandwich is much easier to eat largely because I’ve changed my approach. It’s still tough to juggle competing interests and life’s GPS system, which constantly re-routes me. But I’ve discovered how best to enjoy my messy meat and sauce — on a pizza crust. Yes they actually make pulled pork pizza and, if you haven’t tried it, it’s delicious.