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A balancing act: Marianne Mallonee's story
Managing a healthy work-life balance is a topic that's near and dear to my heart, primarily because I struggle with it every day.
Managing a healthy work-life balance is a topic that's near and dear to my heart, primarily because I struggle with it every day. I'm a single woman who is the hospital administrator and a senior shareholder of a large 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week general, specialty, referral, and emergency hospital in Colorado. I'm not in a relationship and I don't have children—and I marvel at how folks who do can find balance when I struggle with it and there's just little ol' me to be concerned with!
As I write this on a Wednesday night at home after work, I'll admit that I've checked my smartphone multiple times—for both work and personal emails or text messages—and I'm noticing how absolutely exhausted I am because I was at my hospital from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. yesterday. My cats are all vying for my attention—and some more food. I just remembered that I left some of my own dinner out on the stove that needs to be boxed up for lunch tomorrow, and I really should run upstairs to get a load of laundry started. I still need to go run 3 or 4 miles on the treadmill tonight—I'm training for the Colorado Half Marathon—and my plan was also to get one to two hours of studying time in tonight for my CVPM exam. And, darn, it just occurred to me that I meant to call the eye doctor today to order new contacts and I didn't make that happen. I'll just make a reminder right now in my calendar on my phone for tomorrow so I don't forget ... Oh my, of course, my schedule is booked solid (overbooked!) at work tomorrow, and I'm not sure when that phone call is going to happen ...
Does this sound familiar to anyone? The list goes on and on, making me often wonder, how in the world I'll get it all done? My smartphone is always available so I can add a reminder for myself or keep a priority list of the items that need to be done, but this also means that I'm infrequently unplugged. As a result, I feel the need to constantly be ready to respond to any of our team members or my business partners when they send me an email. And, it means that in addition to those personal to-do items that I'm wrestling with accomplishing in tonight's—or any night's—limited hours, I'm always thinking about or worrying about or dreaming about my practice, with little time for separation and that much needed goal of work-life balance.
For most of 2011, I was far, far away from attaining that goal, or anything close to resembling it. I wasn't exercising the way I wanted to or enjoying the beautiful Colorado mountains and outdoors or spending time with friends or keeping in touch with family the way I wanted to. And the list goes on of things that I wasn't accomplishing. Don't even ask when I last had a real date.
I love the veterinary field with a passion, but between my own hospital, my involvement in a managed solutions organization for specialty hospitals, and my multiple national lecturing commitments last year, I really pushed my limits. Thankfully I had a 12-day vacation to Costa Rica planned at the end of November. This vacation was a great way for me to reconnect with myself and the friends I travelled with. And it was a great reminder of how important vacations can be to recharge and refuel. I returned to my hospital rejuvenated, completely re-engaged in my practice, and committed to defining and improving my work-life balance heading into 2012.
The big question now is, how am I doing so far this year in this quest for work-life balance? I can confidently say that I've put some really good thought into what balance means to me and into providing some definition for myself. And, I've realized a few things—some big, some very little—that help me in this quest. I need to:
1. Focus on my priorities and put first things first. This includes quality time spent with my friends.
2. Check in with myself, become more self-aware, and regularly ask, "Am I happy with all of this?"
3. Reframe my mental approach and think about the abundance of opportunity that surrounds me, rather than the overwhelming list of stuff to do.
5. "Accidentally" lock my phone in my car at night sometimes.
6. Take deep breaths when needed and know how to manage my stress.
7. Occasionally schedule a doctor or car appointment at the very end of the workday (rather than on a day off) so that I'm forced to leave work on time or a little early.
8. Schedule monthly happy hours with my team of practice managers so that we make time to celebrate and have fun together.
9. Get enough sleep!
10. Enjoy the perpetual ride of the work-life balance seesaw more than remaining in that perfectly balanced place hanging in limbo in the middle—that can get boring after a while. I know that sometimes I'll be up in the air on the seesaw, sometimes stuck on the ground, and sometimes balanced in the middle, and this is normal. I just need to recognize when I get stuck in one place for too long and take action and refocus.
On the whole, I feel pretty darned optimistic about my outlook on life balance and on the actions that I'm taking. What I know for certain is that, although I don't have them on the list above, two essential ingredients behind the art of managing the work-life balance goal for me is having phenomenal people to work with and being passionate about what I do. In the end, that makes it all worth it, even during those rough times when I feel like I'm completely unbalanced. Knowing that I'm surrounded by folks who will applaud me when I'm balanced on the seesaw and help push that seesaw off the ground or pull me down from dangling in the air is absolutely priceless. Check in again in six months or a year and we'll see how I'm doing.
Marianne Mallonee, CVPM
Hospital administrator and co-owner
Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital
Wheat Ridge, Colo.