The fall issue of Magnolia Journal hits newsstands next Friday! This year, each of the four issues explore the overarching theme of identity. First up was our spring theme of authenticity, then freedom for summer, and now we’re taking a closer look at wholeness for fall.
Here you can read Jo’s thoughts on why she doesn’t believe that balance exists, and what it means to show up every day as her whole self.
There are a handful of questions I get asked on a consistent basis. Most center on our work. Some our marriage and our family. And equally common is the question of how we manage to balance it all at the same time. The nature of that question has never surprised me all that much. I would guess that people have been searching for that answer probably since the beginning of humankind. I don’t know if I’ve ever responded to the question as transparently as I’d like to now. You see, for me, balance does not exist.
I haven’t always been so sure of this. For years, I tried to navigate what balance should look like for my life, first when I became a wife and then a mom, and again when I was both as well as a new business owner. I had, for some reason, accepted this unproven theory that balance would somehow equate to stability and peace of mind; that it could steady the roller coaster of my daily life. I carried on in this way for several years, having made up my mind to stake my entire well-being on this pursuit of finding balance.
To me, the picture of a balanced life took shape as a grid of tidy squares that compartmentalized the whole of my identity: wife—mom—daughter—sister—friend—designer—and so on. I believed that dividing up each part of my life would help me more easily keep an eye on all that I was carrying, so that I could know for sure when I started to fall short somewhere. For a while, this meant that there had to be very clear lines drawn in the sand, especially when it was a matter of work and home. If I was at the office, I’d try to shelve any part of me that could be considered a distraction. And then, once 5 o’clock rolled around, I’d grab my mom hat off the shelf and head home. But no matter where my focus was supposed to be, thoughts about the many other things that held a place in my mind and my heart would inevitably creep in. And guilt was never far behind, taking its cue that I had crossed some sort of working mom boundary. What’s more is that no matter how close I thought I was to a balanced life, it never took much—an urgent need in our family or an unexpected glitch in a project at work—to throw me completely off-kilter. I lived in suspended breath, always feeling like the porcelain plate of my life was one misstep from falling and shattering into a million pieces. My world felt fragile. I started to see how little grace would exist for me if I continued to live my life in between those neatly packaged squares.
The hidden truth about balance is it requires that everything in our lives be equally distributed at all times. It insists that the needs of our marriage and our kids, our work and our relationships, be completely proportional at every given moment. But that’s just not the way my life unfolds every day.
Ultimately, I decided that balance is way too meticulous a science to get just right in my daily life, and that it wasn’t something I was very interested in for myself. In its place, I sought wholeness for my family and for my work.
Because both of these pieces are integral to who I am, both meaningful and sacred in their own right, I decided to stop working so hard to separate the two. In our current season of life, which has both Chip and me putting in a lot of hours at the office, wholeness looks like having our kids right there with us. In and around where we work, I’ve carved out intentional spaces for them to spend their afternoons after school. I understand this isn’t a practical solution for everyone, and there have been other times in our working lives when it wasn’t possible, but even then, I always had something from our kids—a handwritten note or a piece of their artwork—hung up in my office as a steady reminder of the parts of myself that existed beyond those walls. Because at the end of the day, I am never one of these things without the other.
I’ve found that something miraculous happens when I make space for both: Each is made better by the other. My work is undoubtedly more inspired when my kids can be a part of it, and I’m a better mom when my passion for creativity plays a role in how I parent. This might sound counterintuitive, but when I let my worlds collide, it also gave me clarity on the things I am most passionate about. Because no one can physically do or be everything to everyone, I knew that some things would have to give. Anything that survived, I counted as sacred. The rest I let go.
You know what else I discovered? For far too long, zero areas of my life had received the best of me because I wasn’t showing up anywhere as my whole self.
I’d lessened the scope of who I was in the name of balance and self-preservation. But all it yielded was a diminished version of what I could have been capable of all along; the goodness that I have to offer my family, my relationships, and my work demands the fullness of who I am. For all of these things in my life to flourish, they require that I honor all of who I have been made to be.
That porcelain plate I once feared dropping has broken into pieces more times than I can count. But I actually find more beauty in the jagged edges that have replaced its delicate lines. There seems to be more freedom in a life that’s pieced together in a way that actually honors the things that bring us genuine fulfillment. Even though that plate will inevitably crack again, it has been my experience that where there is brokenness there is also an abundance of grace.
I deeply love being a wife and a mother, and I feel a profound sense of purpose with my work. Whatever it might be that fills the scope of your life—marriage, kids, work, relationships, a project you’re devoted to, or all of the above—I truly believe that when we show up for the things we care for deeply with our whole selves, that’s where we’ll find the kind of meaning and fulfillment that can withstand any sort of shifting sand—no balance required.
Magnolia Journal is a quarterly lifestyle publication that promises fresh inspiration for your life and home in each new season.