Work/Life Balance as a Caregiving Professional

I was asked these questions from a budding new professional entering the human services field. Can you relate to any of these experiences? What would be your feedback?

Q: How does work/life impact family life/home life?

A: Being in the human service field means using yourself as the conduit for change. It involves using who you are and what you have to support others in reaching their goals. Often family life will support that and other times it will be in conflict with your profession. Family life can offer balance, boundaries and a much healthier overall life. It can also be difficult to have anything left to give to your loved ones when you focused on listening, being present and helpful to others all day.

Q: What things do you do to balance work life and home life?

A: Today I've learned to prioritize my family and personal life over my professional life. I feed that first because it feeds me. And then I have more to give my clients. I carve out time when I do not deal with work - no reading emails, no researching a particular subject of interest, etc. I spend the evenings and weekends without thinking about work as much as I can. And give myself permission to savor my job when I'm at work without feeling like I need to be distracted by personal issues. The professional focus is my life energy but it no longer is the only source of energy for me.

Q: When working in human services what specific challenges do you often see?

A: The biggest challenges in the field are that often the most vulnerable and "in-need-of-resources" clients are paired with the most ill-equipped professionals. Agency work is the hardest (but a critical component of the professional growth process). There are often very few resources for clinicians to do their job properly, ineffective training and supervision - people are over worked with too large of a case load and tons of documentation to do that often leaves little time and energy for quality work with the clients. Management in the field tends to not be good and employees leave not because of the work but because of their leadership team. There is a lot of unethical practice and many professionals that should never be in this field and often do more harm than anything, as well as a mentality that human service professionals don't need money or respect just the warm fuzzy feeling that they are helping others. That's internalized and we often keep ourselves down because of that core belief.

Q: Do you ever feel you spend too much time at work? If yes, do you feel this affects your home life?

A: Absolutely when I first started my career. I now work for myself and can self-regulate it. When I worked for others I had to work unrealistic hours sometimes and then bring work home just to try and catch up with paperwork. When I ran a program, I was on call 24/7 and was either working or thinking about work. Today I focus on balance but I am in a privileged position to be selective over where, when, how I work. Back in the day I would often want to go non-verbal at the end of the day or on the weekends. I had no energy to play or socialize in a way that would actually re-energize me. So I wasn't connecting as much to others. Unless I felt they needed me which got me stuck in a cycle of being the helper (one way relationships) in my personal life.

Q: What role do you feel you take on at home (wife, mom, sister etc.) and what do you do within that role?

A: I try not to use my clinical skills in my personal relationships but its hard to separate because my skills are all about constantly trying to be a better human and help others toward that goal however they see it. I give myself permission to find support with other people in my profession because often people not in the field cannot understand some of the intense experiences I have. I give myself permission to make mistakes and not practice everything I preach. I try to remember I'm human too and am allowed to be as flawed as everyone else and ask for help every step of the way.

Q: When working with people, do you ever see the issue of stereotypes/sexism causing an issue in those peoples lives?

A: Absolutely, 100%. Any -ism is a huge part of the human experience. The more I expose myself to other people and listen to their reality, the better I get at holding space for them.

The goal is to be conscious of it all and make moves toward progress.

I am lucky enough to make a living doing the thing I would do for free. It simply is who I am and how I walk the earth. I would find a way to do it no matter what profession or where you put me. Even when I would take a break from the field (because I would move out of state and not be licensed to practice), I used my skills and found an excellent balance between emotional intelligence and business goal attainment. I love human stories. I am curious about people's version of the truth and how it manifests their behavior. Best of luck to you in your “balance” journey!

I Thought I Was Past All This

Observe how you feel when you are at your lowest. What thoughts come up? How do you treat yourself and talk to yourself? What do you believe at this time about other people and life in general?

Write it down and process when you are feeling lighter again.

You will learn a lot about your core beliefs. You will learn a lot about what is subconsciously holding you back when you are going for your goals.

It's ironic that we often don't feel our "hangups" when we are riding high on focus and momentum. In some sense, when we feel "good", we have less clarity about what is holding us back because we just go go go. But when we crash...when exhaustion, illness and/or tragedy strike...we seem to revert right back to our toxic core beliefs. 

It's so frustrating especially when you feel that you have done the work, that you have paid your dues and have come so far from where you've been. Only to slide right back at warp speed to that insecure, scared, shameful old existence.

Take heart. All is not lost. You got information. Great information! 

You now know where you are on the journey and the work you still need to do. You know what were the thoughts and feelings that helped you survive before. And now you get to decide if they are still relevant to today's struggle.

Don't resent your coping skills - any of them. Thank them for getting you through. And put your energy to new skills. Strive and practice more accurate beliefs anchored in the here-and-now. 

In the long term, it makes your "go go go" happy, energized stages that much more authentic, relevant to your actual goals, and easier (so much easier!)

In every rough patch of this emotional life, you will gain as much from the downs as you will from the ups. Be in it when you're in it but never ever get stuck. Rise up again and again.