Balance is about setting and adjusting boundaries so that they are beneficial to my emotional and physical health. For me, balance will never be a one-time alignment. It is a continual reassessment of personal, social, and political environments as they affect my life and purpose. In simplistic terms, I think of Olympians, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles, as the competed on the balance beam. These young women demonstrated success through intense concentration, focusing, and working through distractions, negativity, and self-imposed doubts.
Throughout my live, my concentration and focus has been on social justice, family, and career pursuits…and not always in the same order. As a result, I worked long hours, often sixty or more hours a week and felt like the effort was worthwhile. With the rest of the time, I parented my kids and took on multiple volunteer roles in the community. There were periodic episodes where I achieved balance, only to lose it again.
My daughter’s pre-school director praised my volunteer efforts at the privately funded school, then scolded me in the next breath. She said, “Joyce, you’ll die of burnout, stress, and overwork. The community will come to your funeral, cry, tell stories, and give you wonderful accolades that you won’t hear. The next week, someone else will be sitting at your office desk and the world will go on without you.”
What wisdom. I slowed down for a while, investing more time and energy into things that mattered most. Gradually, I began to push the boundaries a little while still remaining mindful of what we referred to then as work-life balance. Then, I said yes to one too many requests and the balance beam couldn’t hold me while juggling too many community projects, children, and full-time employment.
Within each period when I was unbalanced, I had to ask myself difficult questions. Are you avoiding the parts of your life that are dry and you don’t want to deal with? Busy work won’t fill the holes in your life? When are you going to learn to say no?
During periods of self-examination, I realized that letting go of activities that either no longer needed me or that I no longer wanted to participate in gave me time to reflect and re-energize. I stopped taking on projects out of guilt or obligation. Sometimes I scaled back the size and scope of projects to fit my schedule. I prioritized me even as I committed to my ongoing role as caregiver which meant carving out time to write, socialize with friends, and travel.
The final part of my new balancing act began as I began Cardiac Rehab. Three days each week, I check in for a two hour class where specially trained nurses greet me, check my resting blood pressure and heart rate, record my weight and ask about my overall health status. Throughout the workout, they monitor the approximately twelve participants through our individualized programs on seven machines designed to strengthen our hearts and give us more energy to lead healthier lives.
My specific plan is to spend at least 90 minutes in active exercise in order to get the maximum benefit from the program. To get my heart rate up, I spend thirty minutes (3.5 mph @ #2 incline) on the treadmill. Pastor James and I trade banter about who’s the reigning “number one” in the class: him or me. We share a lively conversation and before I know it, I’ve completed my time on the treadmill and my heart rate is in the zone prescribed for me.
Another thirty minutes on the recumbent semi-elliptical machine allows me to talk with Charlotte, Gloria or Joe about current events, religion, family, and the adjustments we’ve had to make in order to live healthier, balanced lives while paying attention to our defective hearts. I’ve learned quite a few tips from my new-found friends.
My final thirty minutes are spent on the recumbent bike or the rowing machine, depending on how I feel. Sometimes, I can’t finish the ninety minutes; it might just be eighty or seventy-five minutes in active exercise. I’ve learned not to beat myself up, but to listen to the rhythms of my body and go where it leads me. It is the intentionality of carving out the time for strengthening my body and doing it that promotes balance, rather than saying I exercised for ninety minutes today.
At the end of each class session, I’m physically tired and my mind is centered again because beyond the physical exercise, I’ve let go of the worries of the day. I’ve learned to be in the moment, enjoying life one day at a time. That’s balance.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a PhD from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in the contemporary fiction novels she pens.