“What you do is less important than the difference you make.” ~ Tiffany Dufu, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less
One of the most sought after questions, especially for working women, is how to achieve work-life balance. I have written about it before, and over the years, have changed my thoughts on it many times. What does work-life balance look like to you? It is difficult to answer, I know. Some people prefer other terms such work-life integration, but the underlying goal remains the same – how can feel we are doing our best at both our ‘work roles’ and ‘personal roles’ without getting overwhelmed? Or better yet, how can we keep all of these ‘balls’ in the air without burning out?
The truth, I don’t think we can “have it all” without letting go of unrealistic expectations. If we just reframe our outlook, we might realize that we have all that we need to feel balanced – at least most of the time.
Freedom to drop some balls
I have heard Tiffany Dufu speak a couple of times, most recently on the podcast Her Money with Jean Chatzky. She is a very engaging speaker and the author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less. This book is very relatable to women who are trying to balance a career and family, and afraid to disappoint both themselves and everyone else along the way. What Tiffany discovered is that it was okay to ‘drop the ball’, and in fact, it is the solution to discovering the life we desire.
Being a woman in medicine, and this goes for many professional women, no matter what anyone says, something always has to give. This is a hard truth for women who consider themselves as ambitious and capable. As Tiffany says, when we are driven by ambition, we tend to put ‘good’ in front of everything, so no matter what role we are in, we should be ‘good’. We strive to be a good wife, a good mother, a good _____ (i.e. doctor for me), a good colleague, a good daughter, a good friend, etc. Being ‘good’ in every role, depending on how many roles you fill, may not be sustainable.
Dropping a ball also means we have to relinquish control, which lets face it, may be part of how we have achieved where we are in life. Releasing control, or as Tiffany describes “delegating with joy”, becomes an essential part of letting go and asking for help.
I had to laugh at the term she used HCD, or ‘Home Control Disease’. This is when everything at home should be done a certain way – usually your way. I know this to be true in my own life, especially with a task, purchase or chore that I tend to do. If it isn’t done my way, I may comment or complain when ultimately it may uncover a great new item or approach to a task.
What matters most
Ultimately, Tiffany says the only way to achieve any semblance of balance by dropping balls, is that you have to uncover what matters most. So what can’t you drop? She describes tapping into what is your highest and best use of achieving what matters most. This means fostering what you do well with little effort, combined with the things only you can do and not delegate.
Tiffany also describes an exercise to understanding your highest and best use that matters most, which I have spoken about a few times – begin with the end in mind. This is based on Stephen Covey’s habit #2 from the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . The concept behind it is thinking about how you want to be remembered. What would people say about you in your eulogy? Are they going to list your awards and accomplishments, or more likely talk about the person you were and roles you prioritized (loving wife and mother, etc)? The way we can uncover this is by writing a personal mission statement and living by it.
I learned this early on in my family medicine career when our son was 2 and I was pregnant with our daughter. I thought I would work up to to my due date, as I did with our son, until contractions, fatigue and a break down in my physician’s office sprinkled some reality when I was 34 weeks. What mattered most was looking after my unborn child (which meant looking after me) and leaving some energy to care for our toddler.
At that time, my husband Colin was in his final year of radiology residency so that was definitely a ball that couldn’t be dropped. Looking after myself and my pregnancy was something only I could do. So I stopped working for the next 6 weeks and had a healthy baby girl 2 days before my due date. I have never looked back and my family still matters most.