Equilibrium is within your reach after you prioritize and take action on the things that matter most.
Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it’s Super Fitness Parent! As the kids come home from school, this dynamic superhero straps on the red cape and attacks multitasking with the strength of Superman and the grace of Wonder Woman. Willing to leap tall homework assignments in a single bound and create choreography and cupcakes with the greatest of ease, this administrative assistant by day and instructor by night has endless energy. With a child under each arm, Super Fitness Parent clutches her CD case and speeds off to rescue countless dozens from the grips of inactivity. She delivers heart and soul to a room of 25 fitness devotees and arrives home eager to prepare dinner for four and return e-mails, voice mails and library books. Between courses she juggles a papier maché solar system, bathes and dresses the kids, reads them a story and tucks them into bed. She folds three loads of laundry, scrubs the kitchen floor, whitens her teeth and prepares backpacks, lunches and choreography for tomorrow’s adventures.
She is Super Fitness Parent and, contrary to urban legend, she does NOT exist!
As a mere mortal, does your attempt to maintain a peaceful balance between family and fitness look a little less harmonious? Are you wracked with guilt when your fitness obligations interfere with family time? Do you regularly feel stressed, pulled in countless directions and overwhelmed trying to maintain it all? Imagine a gymnast on a balance beam. Her eyes are fixed on one spot. She is focused yet in constant motion. She shifts her weight from side to side, teetering, moving and making tiny adjustments to counteract the pull of gravity. This visual reminds us that maintaining balance requires that we be focused, make constant adjustments and remain flexible.
All of us want and hope for balance. But doing it all means that sometimes everything suffers a little. To be in balance is to understand and rate what is important and what you should let slide. This is a vision that I work to instill in my employees. I know what works best for me, but I was curious to see what tips other multitasking fitness professionals might have. Aside from their suggestions, I found two reassuring bits of news: Symmetry is within your reach; and anything you want to do, you can and should do when the time is right.
Here are some practical tips to help you evaluate, create and maintain balance.
Prioritize. Write down the most important areas of your life based on your current situation. So many people skip this all-important first step or fail to revisit it on a regular basis. Though you may believe you have prioritized your values, goals or agendas in your mind, listing them on paper will clarify the order and let you re-evaluate your activities.
Our top priority is often easy to identify. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 sometimes overlap in our minds and fluctuate depending on circumstances. “I feel blessed to work in fitness,” says Julie Voris, a group fitness instructor who lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “I give my all each time I teach, but my family has to come first. My girls will only be young for a short time. Because I recognize this, I no longer teach afternoon classes. I prefer to teach mornings, while my girls are in school. I keep afternoons free to volunteer in their classrooms and am home when [my daughters] return. It’s tempting to want to teach those prime-time classes and consider other opportunities. I remind myself that when my girls are older, new opportunities will be there.”
As circumstances change, so will your priorities and therefore your schedule. Any shift in circumstances, workload, family, finances or health requires you to revisit your written list of priorities.
Get Out the Calendar. List your regularly scheduled activities. Include everything, even leisure time and sleep. Closely estimate the total amount of time each activity requires. For example, when listing a class or a client, be sure to include setup, cleanup and driving time. Star the activities that support one or all of your top two or three priorities. Fight to keep these items on your list, and maybe add more that fit into this category!
Underline neutral activities. These are items that neither support nor take away from your priorities. Examples might include Saturday morning coffee with your girlfriends, art class, watching television, surfing the Internet, etc. These are activities you could give up but should evaluate for “peace of mind” value. Never underestimate the refueling power of mindless downtime, something few A-type personalities allow for.
Be Brave and Objective. Ferret out the activities or obligations that contradict your present order of priorities, and boldly circle them. This is going to take some courage. In some instances, it takes an objective third party. Here’s a personal example. I used to teach a late-evening class at a club 35 minutes away. I earned a pay rate far below what I normally received. I had had the class for years and felt the students (who had also become my friends) would “perish” if I left. Even though I was a new mom, I felt I’d be letting everyone down if I gave the class up. I was keeping it out of guilt, a sense of obligation and—to be honest—ego gratification! It took a friend to point out that, by keeping the class, I was actually hurting my young family in terms of loss of time, loss of income and increased stress.
Giving up that class was far less painful than I had imagined. Much to my surprise, not even one student “died.” In fact, life went on, and the participants eventually fell in love with a new instructor! Now, when I struggle with the decision to get a sub or give up a class, I remind myself that at the end of my life I want my family at my bedside, not my Saturday morning step class.
Act Immediately. Make an “immediate action” to-do list. Each item you bravely circled now needs to be removed. These aren’t areas in which you’re going to “try to do better.” It’s time to take specific action. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. The change doesn’t have to be permanent, but it should be immediate.
If the act of relinquishing responsibility, inconveniencing others or embracing change freezes you in your tracks, look at your top three priorities and find the courage to endure a few uncomfortable moments for lasting peace of mind. Jenelle Summers, human resources executive and part-time Bally’s fitness instructor from Toledo, Ohio, realized that immediate action was needed if she was going to continue teaching after her son turned 2 years old. “Rushing to pick up my son from school, only to go straight to class, made me feel stressed—and my son was acting out, which made matters even worse,” she says. “I’m not a morning person, but I decided it would be more convenient to teach early-morning classes. I called my coordinator the next day and began replacing my evening classes with 6:00 am classes. Even though I thought I would never see my regulars, many of them made the shift with me. I feel so much better about doing what I love and not making my family pay the price.”
Ease Into It. Make a “transitional” to-do list. If, for example, your number-one priority is to start a full-time fitness career, quitting your “day job” tomorrow might make it tough to fork over the car payment at the end of the month. Consider a gradual transition. Speak to your employer about the possibility of working just 5–10 fewer hours per week. If that’s not an option, propose a flexible work schedule that allows you to pursue fitness opportunities during prime-time hours.
Cheryl Godfrey, a group fitness instructor from Peoria, Illinois, recalls her experience. “I was working 40–50 hours a week at my ‘real’ job. I felt unmotivated, underappreciated and overworked. It was causing me major stress and time constraints because I was not able to put forth the effort I wanted to pursue a fitness career. I didn’t think it would be an option, but they agreed [to part-time hours], which allowed me to pursue a career in health and fitness without losing all of my income at once. Because of that transition, my personal, professional, spiritual and financial life is flourishing.”
Bounce Your Idea Off Other People. Openly communicate your priorities with others. This serves as both a constant reminder to yourself and a means of personal accountability. “I openly express my priorities so those whom I work with always know and respect where I am coming from,” says Barbara Brodowsky, a Lancaster, California–based group exercise instructor for 24 Hour Fitness.
Pay Attention to Others. Take cues from family and friends. Sometimes we are too close to a situation to be able to make clear decisions. Listen to the questions and comments of those you most trust and admire. Has your significant other hinted that you look tired or seem distant, stressed or stretched too thin? Has more than one friend suggested you lighten your load or teach fewer classes? Have you seen a change in the behavior or mood of one or more family members?
“When every day begins to feel hectic, rushed and stressful, and my mind feels like it’s racing, I know it’s time to take a look at what I’m doing,” says Amy Nestor, a projects consultant for Powder Blue Productions who lives in Capistrano Beach, California. “I also take cues from my family. When my normally happy 2-year-old son seems cranky, needy and unruly, I now recognize that he is responding to feelings he’s picking up from me.”
Establish Personal Boundaries. If you know you should say “no” more often, yet you find yourself saying “yes” just to be accommodating, try saying, “Thanks for thinking of me! Can I get back to you on that?” Just a few days will give you time to evaluate how the opportunity fits with your priorities and, if necessary, to politely decline.
Look at Personal Obstacles. Identify and remove self-imposed balance blockers. We all have them. These are deeply rooted feelings that keep us in unhealthy or stressful situations based on fears or insecurities, such as the need to please, misplaced guilt, fear of rejection, false appearances, perfectionism and the belief that we’re supposed to be able to do it all. These things inhibit our ability to make sound decisions based on our true priorities.
I have been happily married for 11 years and am the mother of two young children. I’m also a friend, a daughter, a chauffer, a team-mom, a choreographer, a businesswoman, an author, a clothing designer, a program director and a fitness professional. Regularly someone asks me, “How do you do it all?” I always reply, “I don’t.” I do the things that I deem best support my family and weigh all decisions against that mark. I used to feel inadequate if someone dropped by my home unexpectedly and it wasn’t in perfect order. Then my father-in-law, in his tell-it-like-it-is wisdom, assured me, “You raise a family, not a house.” That one comment took all the pressure off. It gave me the perspective I needed to relax and get my priorities straight. If it comes to it, I will miss a work deadline before I miss a football game. Perfection in all areas of life doesn’t exist. Balance is the most we can hope for.
These signs may indicate that your stress levels are high and you need to find balance:
- dizziness or a general feeling of “being out of it”
- racing heart
- weight loss or weight gain
- grinding teeth, clenched jaw
- indigestion or acid reflux symptoms
- increase in or loss of appetite
- muscle tension in neck, face or shoulders
- problems sleeping
- tiredness, exhaustion
1. Spend more time with the kids.
2. Reduce debt.
3. Start a personal training business.
4. Reconnect with friends.
5. Become a continuing education provider.
Here are some of the most common methods that other group fitness instructors use to immediately reduce stress:
- Restructure activities.
- Give up least favorite class.
- Teach fewer formats.
- Teach prechoreographed formats.
- Shift classes/clients to times that least impact the family.
- Change to part-time hours.