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Balancing act

A slower pace on the farm in January offers time for taking
stock. Just as farmers head to the shop in winter, this may be a good month to
do some personal maintenance.

Almost 90% of Americans say that balancing work and life is
a problem; more than half say it's a significant issue.

Men are nearly two times more likely than women to say their
work and personal lives are balanced, according to a survey of 670 men and
women in the U.S. and Canada by Captivate Network, an outlet for digital news
and advertising.

I question whether men do a better job of balancing. I think
they simply worry about it less than women do.

Women second-guess themselves. They want to take good care
of their kids and husbands. They want to do a good job at work. They seem
hardwired to place others' needs ahead of theirs.

Nowhere is this more true than on the farm, where women live
on the work site and raise their families in rural areas, where volunteers are
the lifeblood of the community. Even if they're working off-farm, they're also
making time to manage farm accounts, payroll, and taxes.

Research shows that farm women play a key role in the
success of the family and the business. A recent study suggests that maternal
influence may be crucial when it comes to encouraging children to choose
farming. Women's interpersonal and communication skills are also influential in
initiating and following up on transition and estate plans.

And that's not all. Women are the mediators. Women are the
sounding boards. Women are the caregivers. But beneath these accolades, many
women feel they're performing a precarious high-wire act.

The flip side of juggling these multiple roles is a bumper
crop of stress.

What is balance? And why is it so hard to attain – and
maintain? Balance is defined as: A state of equilibrium; quality in amount,
weight, value, or importance; to bring into proportion, harmony.

When I spoke at the Women Managing the Farm Conference in
Wichita, Kansas, last year, I asked women to use an index card to write what
was out of balance in their lives. You can see many of their responses in the
word cloud image above.

Work vs. play (family vacations, time off) quickly came onto
the radar screen. Many indicated their "me-time" was out of balance.
Women often feel that taking time for themselves is selfish.

What happens when personal and business roles get out of

Dave Kohl, financial consultant and professor emeritus of
Virginia Tech, says, "One of the biggest problems among large farmers
focused on growing their business is divorce. They need balance between their
personal and business lives."

Add to this the dynamics of the next generation joining the
farm operation and welcoming new in-laws to the fold.

"If you're in business together, you need to maintain a
family culture," advises Dr. Don Jonovic, author of our "Can Their
Problem Be Solved?" in Successful Farming magazine. "It won't be Kumbaya all the time, but
you need to get away together sometimes. Do things to keep the family unified.
This includes off-farm children and their spouses."

Change is a catalyst

Turning the page on the old year often ushers in a flurry of
predictions about the year to come. The only certainty is that life will change
at a rapid pace.

Isn't that one fundamental reason why balance is so
difficult to achieve? Just when life is becoming manageable, change occurs.
Endings. Beginnings. Transitions. Women need new tools to regain their balance
after major life changes.

One key to achieving life balance is to avoid comparisons to
other women – and your own mother. If you need help with this, indulge yourself
on a snowy day this winter and rent the movie, I Don't Know How She Does It,
starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Her character juggles a high-profile job, a
husband, and children. At night, she lies awake composing her to-do list on the

Parker's character tries to keep up with the mothers of her
daughter's classmates; she calls them "the Momsters."

As one of the characters in this movie observes, "The
inside of a woman's brain is like the control room at O'Hare International

Tools for success

It's unrealistic to expect to perpetually attain balance in
daily life. Managing expectations is fundamental to attaining – and maintaining
– balance.

To achieve balance, women have to continuously add and
subtract weights from their scales. The challenge is sorting out what's most
important at the time. Expect to swing back and forth on the pendulum before
finding the center.

After all, balance isn't something that's determined and
fixed at some point in life and never recalculated. A woman's balance point is
always moving.

That's why I prefer this definition of balance: To waiver
slightly; tilt, and return to equilibrium.

So, happy New Year, and good luck fine-tuning and
recalibrating roles! Keep these tips in mind:

  • Doing it all is a myth.
  • It's OK to ask for help.
  • Appreciate and embrace your current stage of life and
    balance point.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. Find an activity that
    feeds your soul and make time for it.
  • Sometimes OK is good enough. 

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