I want it ‘all’. And every day I work on having ‘it all’. And most days I struggle with it. But then, like a ray of sunshine, the odd day when all is well, and my life is in balance – I rejoice and think – ok, this is why I work so hard – because this feeling is amazing.
But what is ‘all’?
My ‘all’ is to be a wife and mother, to have a career, to be healthy and to have gorgeous friends in my life. That’s all really!
James Clear, a writer, talks about a concept known as the ‘Four Burners Theory’ which describes the idea of finding a balance between four key areas of your life.
The first burner represents your family
The second burner represents your friends
The third burner is your health
The fourth burner is your work
The theory says that to be successful you need to turn off one burner and function on only three, and to be REALLY successful at something you need to turn off two. You can of course have all four going at once, but you will never reach your full potential in any of them.
But what if you are like me and you don’t want to turn any burners off? I don’t want to choose between having a career and being a mother. Surely I did not work so hard at University and build up my own business to then turn that burner off? But also I want desperately to be a great mama to my two boys and I don’t want to miss a moment of the precious times with them! And I cannot choose to turn off the health burner for any of them. You see the dilemma.
In short this is my situation:
The family burner – I am a wife to Mike and a mother to Monty (5) and Percy (4). We swapped our life around and we now live in the ever gorgeous Cotswolds and have a small place in West London which serves as a base for work when we are in London.
Like many of you I am sure, after many years of city dwelling we decided to base ourselves in the countryside to give our children a childhood that is ‘unplugged’ – running around in wellies, chasing our ever growing brood of chickens, picking our home grown fruit and veg and swinging from the tree house.
The friends burner – We are very social people and enjoy entertaining with large old fashioned house parties where friends and their families come for days. A big Easter egg hunt where we throw two thousand chocolate eggs into the flower beds and many little people with colourful baskets find each and every chocolate! Summer parties. Magical three day Christmas events. We adore entertaining those we love and part of the proposition for us living in the country is to be able to do this.
The health burner – This is a ‘burner’ that I have no choice but to manage as I was diagnosed with an ‘auto-immune’ condition 12 years ago. Health plays a big part in my life as it involves regular check-ups, appointments in hospital, staying fit, injecting drugs and eating right. It’s always with me and it takes energy and focus to manage this.
The work burner – I am CEO of a Management Consulting business in London. Mine is a service business, so my people are the product we sell and my clients are the lifeblood of my business. Both require equal amounts of love and attention. And both are always with me.
Phffffff, if it seems a lot – it is! I am exhausted, exhilarated, running on empty, chasing my tail or my kids the ENTIRE time!
So what to do and how to cope if one doesn’t want to give up any of these four aspects in order to focus on purely a couple? Surely many of you are in similar boats to me, balancing, managing, shortcutting to one burner or another and the wild desire to have it ‘all’?
The ‘Four Burner’ theory talks about the ways in which you can manage the burners and identifies the following three options:
Option 1 – Outsource some Burners – An example of ‘Outsource’ would be dropping your child off at childcare so you have more time to go to yoga (Health burner).
Option 2 – Embrace Constraints – The ‘Embracing’ option looks at being real about your boundaries and working within them. An example of this would be if a husband and wife cannot both work, as one needs to stay home to be with the children. This will result in the career of the ‘stay at home’ parent being put on hold.
Option 3 – The Seasons – An example of this approach is saying – ok my twenties will be about having kids, in my thirties I will re-enter the working world and my 40s will be spent focusing on my golf swing! You get the picture.
What do I do?
Well – I busily use a mix of these coping options to manage my four burners and keep all four of them running at the same time. I guess it’s as simple and as complicated a system as that.
The reality is – the above is all true, but getting here has been gritty and I have had to use all three of James Clear’s ‘Options’ to get to where I want to be.
I delayed having kids until my mid-thirties (the Season option) because starting a business is like having a child – especially in the first five years. At the beginning the business needed me 24/7 and I was often away delivering work all over the world. Now years on I have teams and people who I work with and to whom I can delegate with confidence. This enables me to work some days at home and to manage conference calls as well as being there for kids’ suppers/homework/bath and bed (Outsource).
To be able to run a business AND be a good mother I choose to work in London or abroad two days per week and leave the kids with our live-in nanny for the other two (Outsource/Embrace Constraints). No, I don’t like leaving the kids two days per week and getting on the M40 or seeing Heathrow or wherever it is I need to go that week. And I have found myself crying in the odd hotel room over the years. But I ADORE being with them the other 5 days and the financial freedom that work has offered my family and my kids for the future.
Our social burner is very important to us. My husband and I have sacrificed having individual hobbies so the time we do have we can spend with our family and friends. We figure hobbies can come later when the nest is empty! (The Seasons/Embrace Constraints).
So that’s my story. I have all four burners running.
To outsiders it can look like I have it all – and there are days that I do. Yesterday was one – the house looked gorgeous, the boys and I were harvesting the last of our beans, the chicken was roasting in the Aga, there were no panic calls from work and we were hosting close friends that evening! But such days are few and I chase them like crazy.
And although it’s an ongoing struggle, I am not willing to sacrifice any burners. I will continue to use a mixture of all three options to keep my four burners alive and prospering. Perhaps they are all at different temperatures but they are all still alight and burning!
What’s your ‘all’? I would love to hear from you and to know how you manage to achieve it.
A Guest Blog from Irene Molodtsov
Irene Molodtsov is a wife to Mike and a mother to Monty (5) and Percy (4) and they base themselves in a small picturesque village in the Cotswolds. She runs a Management Consulting firm based in London and travels a lot for work. Irene and her family adore their chickens, grow their own fruit and veg and try as much as possible to live their life ‘unplugged’. You can follow Irene on Instagram.