Before Saying “Yes,” Answer Four Simple Questions

When I stood on the El platform after arriving at my stop in downtown Chicago, I realized I couldn’t move.  My breath was labored. I could see what I needed to do, but my body wouldn’t do it.

This was my first introduction to the concept of balance.  I was 28-years-old.

What I didn’t know then is that my body was shutting down. Fatigued from my over-extended life, my body was overtaken with infection.  I’d ignored it until I could no longer move.  I was put on disability for two months and forced to do nothing.  For days I woke to take pain medicine every four hours.  During that time I recall hearing a voice within me say…

“This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

This is not your destiny.

Take stock of your life, girl.”

So I decided I’d try to turn my life around.  And I began this quest to live a balanced life based on what mattered most to me.

Up until that point I had been what I call a Grinder. Someone who’s highly functioning and has a high threshold for pain.  I could push through almost anything to get it done.  Not good for a life of balance.

Since then I’ve studied what it takes to live a life of balance — a  life based on our own terms and values instead of someone else’s.

I don’t claim to be a master. I am, however, a master student of living a deliberate, growth-minded and self-aware life.

Here are four observations I’ve learned since then.

First is that in order to fix a problem we have to acknowledge the problem…and preferably before it becomes a full-blown disaster or crisis.  You don’t have to wait until your life is miserably out of whack before you take stock of your life.

Second, we must own that this is not happening to us.  We are co-creating it.  In order to move into lives of balance that are reflections of who we really are, we must take control and responsibility for living lives we love.  If we don’t take responsibility for designing lives we love, someone else will and we might not like what they design for us.

Many say to me when reflecting on their personal and professional lives, “I never really chose any of this.  One thing just followed from another.” Here’s the thing. Not choosing is a choice. Balance is a always a choice.  

Third and perhaps most important, we must unhook from others’ praise and criticism. I call this taking back our power. Clearly I got so sick because I was tired of me trying to please everybody and live everybody else’s life. The problem was I didn’t even know I was doing it.

Breaking the attachment to what others think about us is not always easy, but the reward is…priceless. Here are four questions you can use to make it easier.

I call this your Chiropractic Adjustment for the Mind.  It can be used daily at work and home to align you with your ‘right’ direction.

  1. Does this choice bring me joy?
  1. Is this a true choice for me? (Or am I making this decision because I think I ‘should’ or because I’m afraid someone won’t agree or like me?)
  1. What is a ‘truer’ choice? In other words, what’s the most honest and authentic choice?
  1. What will it take to avoid being angry at this person or situation? It’s our responsibility to say ‘no’ when we mean ‘no’ instead of manipulating another to like us and then be angry at them when we’ve gone against ourself.  Consider your breaking point your ‘Minimum Required Boundary’ or MRB.  Stick to it.

As a matter of course, I put my needs first.  If my tank is not full, I’m not going to be good for anybody else.

So if I am going to do anything… say yes to attending an event, agree to a new work request, or even go to a family outing, I ask the same questions.  The answers are simple.  I just have to follow them.

My fourth and final observation is there is no such thing as balance.  If we’re talking real, balance to me isn’t real. The word itself reminds me of scales and pie charts. Life doesn’t work like that. I do believe, however, there is a rhythm.

There is time when our work may pull us from our personal life or someone in our family is sick or our kids need us in a more substantial way for a time —and this isn’t balanced.  My work is slower in December than January and decreases in June and July.  It has seasons.  I recognize this.

We alone have to be responsible for the boundaries we set, and then make a plan to commit to them.

When we do, we live life on our own terms.  And nothing is as rich as  living based on what matters most to you.