by Jennifer Sey
A friend told me the other day that she schedules an hour of “me time” a week, just to sit with herself, to find some balance. No reading, no kids, no personal handheld devices, no distractions. When she uttered these words, the me I was currently sitting with paused to make sure I was still there even though I was with a friend. Her.
I didn’t realize I was ever without myself. Sometimes I sit with myself while my kids are running around the house, screaming and throwing Legos at each other. Yes, I’m ignoring them, but only on the surface. I’m there to break it up when the karate chops begin; and there to answer questions about how to build the Star Wars hoosiewatz; and I get to be with myself at the same time. I’m also with myself when I’m scurrying around work going from meeting to meeting, from conference call to power point presentation. Sometimes I’m thinking about what I’m going to write when I get home, sometimes I’m thinking about how to make sure my youngest feels like he’s his own person and sometimes I’m thinking about both of those things at the same time. All while officially at work, doing what I’m paid to do.
It’s all mixed up in there like some kind of sloppy mud pie, all my disparate selves concocted into one busy, crazy lady. I’m not always 100% present in every moment, sometimes I’m in many moments at the same time. A tad on the frantic side of sanity. But mixing it up like that works for me. I actually like the hysterical chaos in my mind.
I think I may be alone in my appreciation for the madness. I find these days everyone is striving for balance. Especially women. Women are obsessed with it. We want to be moms, professionals, wives, friends, daughters and have this new fandangled BALANCE thing – that fabled halcyon calm of divided selves at peace with each other.
I’ll admit, I got swept up with the Gen X mom balance seeking trend for a time a few years back. It seemed another worthy goal to strive for. Add it to the list! I want a satisfying professional life! A fulfilling marriage! A relationship with my kids that is deeply enriching but doesn’t define me! But I want to do all this with a profound sense of knowing and purpose and overt easy calm. Om.
In an effort to find this peace with a schedule that frankly wouldn’t allow it, I added to the stress and strain. I went to yoga, breathed deeply, considered working less, finding more “me time.” And while I never was one to go in for self-help books, I engaged therapeutic assistance in seeking the balance.
After all the necessary first session introductions (I’m Jen, nearing 40, I’ve got kids, I work, I sometimes feel a tad overwhelmed…just a tad though), I described myself to my therapist as “manic depressive light”. With a scoffing laugh and head toss, of course. I expected him to comfort me with a wave of the hand and an earnest “There’s no such thing. You’re just fine.” With a pat on the knee, he would set my mind at ease while conferring that lithium and electric shock therapy would not be in my future.
Here’s what I got instead: “Yes that sounds about right.” Huh? I got a little indignant. In my head. I am a highly functional mother/working woman/wife/lady with artistic aspirations. I am normal, Mr. Therapist. I am not crazy! I got out my pen ready to take down a referral to a new doctor. By the time I’d fished my flip pad out of my handbag, he said: “We’ve all got something. If it works for you, which it seems to, go with it.”
Ever since I was a girl, I’ve been a messy out of control striver and wanter with manic tendencies. When I trained as a gymnast, I moved away from home at 14, cracked bones, bled and suffered unseemly abuses by coaches. But I kept going and it led to one of the most glorious days of my life when I won the title of 1986 US National Champion. It isn’t the transcendence of victory that I look back on with awesome pride; it’s the unimaginable hard work and overcoming of injury and failure that led to it. This was a labor of love of the sort that couldn’t be contained by a to do list or any kind of step by step process. It was balls to the wall exertion, completely without balance.
When I decided to write a book while working and momming and all that other blah blah stuff, I stayed up late and got up early so I could pound out a story that I could be proud of, even if it never found its way to the local Borders’ shelves. Those months of writing and working and parenting, now a blur of mania, were not exactly filled with balance.
Thus, I am here to herald the arrival of audacious, irrational imbalance and exhilarating out of whack-ness! Frenzied energy and activity that blurs together into a single life, not divided by roles or brought under control by steadiness. Because this is where the good stuff happens. In the sloppiness of unconstrained living, joyful transcendence can be found. Not in the religious epiphanal sense (Temple-goer is not on my list of selves despite being a nice Jewish girl), but in the “My life matters! And I am damn proud of myself” sense.
I am a mom to two boys ages 8 and 5, a marketing executive at Levi’s, a wife of nearly ten years and a friend to many guys and gals alike. I am also a writer – my memoir, Chalked Up, came out earlier this year – and shameless self promoter. (If I can self-promote enough on the writing front, I may be able to axe one of the selves listed above, that of Professional. So the egoistic focus serves a worthy purpose: a slightly shorter list of selves.)
Long as that list is, and I don’t know a mother around who doesn’t have an equally long one, I decided to throw “well balanced woman” out the window some time ago. Not sure that’s precisely what my therapist was telling me to do, but I went with it and haven’t looked back since.
I’m reeling with and reveling in unconfined ambition, passion, love and often times, feelings of shame, failure and exhaustion (more on those next column). And I wouldn’t want it any other way. Yes, sometimes I’m exceedingly tired and feel like I might have a nervous breakdown. But I give into it. I fall apart, I yell at my kids when they make me really mad, and I celebrate the trying to do it all inevitability of life. The very best bits and pieces in my days, those of existence-changing order, reside in the imbalance, the release of control. Whether it’s whisking my kids off to the Santa Cruz boardwalk on a moment’s notice to go on all the rides and eat stomach ache inducing amounts of candy or write a book I have no idea how to write, the out of control is when I feel most at peace. (Clearly from these examples I’m not suggesting some sort of addiction or anything tawdry, just going for it on a pretty regular basis.)
I may not be happy all that consistently – the constant finger picking and bloody cuticles might be one teeny tiny example of that fact – but I’ve never been particularly interested in happy. Happy is boring, easy. I want deep and profound pride, exhausted satisfaction and soul-filling love that makes my heart feel full and broken at the same time.
Is this an unreasonable way to live? Perhaps. But I’m going to do it anyway. Think of it this way...if you take Balance off of the to do list, your overwhelming list just got one item shorter.
Jennifer Sey is the VP of Worldwide Marketing at Levi's and, in 2006, was named one of the "Top 40 Marketers Under 40" by Advertising Age magazine. Chalked Up , her memoir released in 2008, is a coming of age tale that chronicles her childhood as a nationally and internationally competitive gymnast. While she was competing she earned the title of 1986 National Champion and was a seven time national team member. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons.