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I used to be the one who always worked late, went in early worked weekends and never took a break always cancelling holidays due to work pressures and feeling I needed to always be available. Working because I felt I was building a better life for my son, being able to provide for him everything he needed but not realising how this was impacting me and actually not achieving my aim.

Then I did it again I cancelled a weekend break with my family at the last minute due to pressure from work to cover a weekend supporting a stocktake for a new customer. He was a friend of my boss (the company owner and CEO) and he asked me to cancel my holiday two days before.

I cancelled and worked all weekend whilst my entire family including my son spent the weekend at the hotel we had booked.

At the time whilst I was disappointed at not going, as it was the first time as a family (three generations) that we would have spent all together in years, I put that to the back of my mind and focused as always on getting the job done. The family had a great time together although my son admitted to missing me and my mum expressed that she was sad that I was the only one of the family who hadn’t made the trip, but we talked about arranging another trip soon when we would all be together and moved on.

Little did I know at the time that this would be the last time we would have the opportunity to spend time together as a family. A few months later my mum became seriously ill and was hospitalised and although she did make a recovery, she was never well enough to go away again and sadly passed away a year later.

The regret of not getting to spend that time with the family and knowing it was something I would never get the chance to do again has never left me to this day and the realisation that I had no one to blame except myself was a difficult thing to deal with.

It made me reflect on all the times in my life I had chosen to put work first in front of what was really important and valuable to me.

I had for years felt that working long hours and showing commitment to the businesses I worked for, was all to create a better life for my son and my family and even though I knew quality time with them was important I believed that what I was doing was genuinely the right thing to do.

I realised that I had missed out on so many things and precious memories due to my own actions and made a decision that things needed to change.

I still wanted to be able to do a great job and was still committed to achieving results at work, but now my priorities shifted and I gave more value and time to the people and things in my life that were important.

I started to refocus my attention back on the things in my life that fulfilled me and gave me meaning in my life.

Recognising what was truly important.

I didn’t change overnight and go from working long hours to short days, but I did start ensuring that working late or at weekends was kept to an absolute minimum. That when I did commit to doing them it was not at the detriment of other things/people in my life.

If I had plans with my son, family or friends I no longer cancelled – (yes on occasion I would take some work calls but only if they were critical to projects) I ensured I was there not just for the good things but for when they needed me to support them as well.

It wasn’t an easy transition as I had spent many years with my focus on what was for me the wrong priorities and I had trained my brain to think about work before family for years and I needed to unpick that which took time.

The strange thing was that through all the time I put work before my needs and before my family and friends I was always the one telling my team, not to work to many extra hours, not to miss out on family events going out of my way to ensure no matter how busy we were that they left on time or early to ensure they never missed their partners birthdays or anniversary’s or their children’s events, plays, sports, games, etc but often I would miss mine or be late because of work.

Do I blame the companies and bosses I have worked with over the years for allowing me to do it, no, I have no one to blame but myself – maybe they did tune into the knowledge that even if I said no because I had plans that by applying a bit of pressure and guilt tripping me, I would acquiesce to their demands, but I could always have said no. Maybe it played into my fear of not being good enough and not wanting to disappoint or let them down. But I achieved that anyway I let my family down.

How did I change?

I spent time thinking about all the areas of my life and the amount of time I invested in each part and prioritised them in an order that sat with my values and beliefs.

I realised then that the areas (people mainly) that were most important to me were also the areas that I was actually devoting the least amount of time to so I set myself targets of what I wanted it to look like and started to redirect my time, energy and focus to the things at the top of my list.

I knew I wouldn’t change overnight and if I had tried, I would have most likely failed as it would have been too big a leap. So, I started to slowly introduce changes that started to shift the balance back to where I wanted it to be.

I set limits on what I was willing to do in terms of work and hours, I set out the situations and events that I would no longer be willing to give up or compromise on, I looked at ways to reintroduce into my life the hobbies and activities that I had led slide or disappear from my life over the years.

Slowly but surely, I started to regain the balance in my life that not only meant I was being true to myself and my values but it also meant I became less stressed and more relaxed and my son would tell you not as grumpy!!!

My life has changed greatly since then even though it’s only a few years ago, I now work for myself which has had its own challenges and it doesn’t mean that I never work long hours but it does mean I am aware of the compromise I am making and it’s a choice I make. It also means that I can choose when I work and when I don’t. So, I may take time off in the day to see my son, meet friends, or go to the beach with my husband and then have to start a little earlier the next day buts I am in control of what I do. The difference now is that whatever decision I make is a balanced one I consider the consequences in terms of what I lose in other areas of my life and if it’s taking time from what’s important to me at my core, I look at ways to minimise or negate that impact. That can include me saying no I’m not doing it, even if it may not seem the right choice to others looking on.

Take action

What are the areas in your life that cause you to stress?

What are the things you do because of misguided commitment?

What are you losing by not prioritising yourself and your needs?

What do you need to do to bring your life back into balance?

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