As a massage therapist, your professional schedule may not be the typical Monday through Friday, 9–5 schedule that many associate with work. Pair this with the fact that massage therapy can be physically, mentally and emotionally demanding, and the necessity of taking time for yourself—having a solid self-care regimen—is clear.
Today, we hear a great deal about the importance of work-life balance, and finding ways to balance your personal and professional lives is important, to be sure. But achieving this goal is largely a personal endeavor, and less dependent on striking the perfect 50/50 balance once thought to be ideal.
Truth Be Told
The idea of work-life balance made its first published appearance in 1986,1 encouraging Americans to protect their personal life in what was quickly becoming a career-driven culture. As the concept gained in popularity, everyone seemed focused on finding ways to balance the time they spent on personal and professional activities.
Fast-forward 30 years and the idea of work-life balance appears more nuanced, mainly because finding this balance can sometimes create the very stress it’s meant to alleviate. A recent survey conducted by Harris Poll reports that 67 percent of U.S. millennials, who now represent America’s largest workforce, find “managing personal and professional life” their most prevalent challenge.2
In his book Leading the Life You Want, Stewart Friedman, Ph.D., director of the Wharton Work/ Life Integration Project at the University of Pennsylvania, explains why compartmentalizing one’s entire existence into “work” activities or “life” activities falls flat: Work-life balance is a misguided metaphor for grasping the relationship between work and the rest of life; the image of the scale forces you to think in terms of trade-offs instead of the possibilities of harmony. And the idea that “work” competes with life ignores the more nuanced reality of our humanity: the fact that “life” is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of life—work or school; home or family; community or society; and the private realm of mind, body and spirit.3
A New Spin
Four domains? Not necessarily, says Susan Fignar, president of Pur*sue, Inc., a Chicago-based relationship management consulting firm. “There could be more than four! A hobby, family activity, professional project—anything you feel passionate about could potentially become its own domain. A healthy person has many sides and the two-sided scale won’t work.”
That makes ditching the image of a balanced scale step one to achieving a healthy, happy, meaningful life. Melissa Martinie Hall, a Washington, D.C.-based licensed massage therapist and owner of My Massage Place DC, agrees that the scale is a counterintuitive image. Instead, Hall likens life to a more fluid image—the mobile. “You have all these different parts of life blended together. Remove any one part and the mobile can’t do its thing. There’s never a choice or an either/or. If it’s important to you, it’s hanging from your mobile,” she says.
Wendy Perrotti, president of Live Big, a professional training and coaching firm, finds the mobile a “beautiful” image. “The work-life balance scale visually implies that when you’re working, you’re not living, and when you’re living, it can’t be part of work,” she says. “That’s a potentially stressful contradiction. Someone who loves their job may feel most alive at work. For this person, a happy, meaningful life doesn’t compete with work—it’s part of life. So like a mobile, each part complements the other parts and only together can they create equilibrium.”
Facts of Life
The second step to creating a tranquil and fulfilling life involves setting boundaries. “You can’t have every burner on high all the time. It creates absolute chaos!” Perrotti stresses. “If you’re like most people, chaos pushes your focus over to what you forgot to do yesterday or what has to happen tomorrow, and you miss out on everything happening in the present moment.”
If the very word “boundaries” feels confining, Fignar suggests tweaking your mindset. “It’s not so much about limitations as energy management, which is about time management, which is setting boundaries.”
Beverly V. Bates, licensed massage therapist and owner of Holistic Butterfly Studio in Okenos, Michigan, is a firm believer in time management and following through with the utmost respect for her time boundaries. However, she’s not a big fan of labeling the different parts of her life. So Bates removes the word “work” from the equation. “It’s all life,” she says.
For example, Bates is with clients from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. She’s not “working,” she’s “with clients.” Her word choice reflects the fact that her career choice is not just punching in to make money; it’s a meaningful part of her life.
In another example, Bates describes how she loves writing articles about emotional health. But is that work or life? Depending on your answer, she says, you could tip the scales and destroy the elusive work-life balance.
“It’s too much pressure!” Bates stresses. “If it brings me happiness and gives me a feeling of accomplishment, then it belongs in my life and it gets time. How much time may change, but since I’m never seeking perfect balance, it’s never an either/or choice.”
Hall agrees that setting boundaries is essential, although she emphasizes that boundaries evolve with self-discovery. For example, when she first became a massage therapist almost 20 years ago, she took Sundays off and worked fairly traditional hours Monday through Saturday. “I figured out that my natural energy cycle is best suited to early-morning administrative work, household management and self-care, like going to the gym,” Hall says. “So I cleared the morning hours and see clients between noon and 8 p.m.”
With time, Hall also realized that her physical and mental health needed another day off. “After years of trial and error, I had my boundaries. I feel good, I earn what I need, and when I’m at the table, it’s where I want to be. I’m never watching the clock.”
Turn off Auto-Pilot
What Hall did was customize the default settings that life often hands us, Perrotti explains. “Default settings are generic judgment calls. You’re a ‘bad mom’ if you focus too much on work. You’re a ‘professional failure’ if you eat dinner with the family instead of working overtime. Depending on who you are, either of those default settings might feel very wrong. You have to customize the settings. You have the choice to set boundaries that reflect how you define a meaningful, happy life.”
In other words, self-care celebrates who you are, and since everyone is different, there is no one-sizefits-all way to manage time. “Whether you spend 30 minutes or three days on something, it’s not the quantity of time that matters—it’s the quality,” Perrotti says. “As long as you’re focused in the moment and delivering quality time, it’s right for you.”
One of the keys to setting boundaries in life is knowing when to let go. “I don’t care how carefully you package your life. Things happen and priorities shift,” Fignar says. For instance, if you’re not feeling well, then your physical health has to have top priority. If you’re in a continuing education course and your classmates want to continue a great debate after class over coffee, it’s OK to skip the gym and focus on your intellectual health. “Taking care of yourself means respecting priority shifts. You have to go with the flow,” Fignar adds.
There are also priorities that will predictably wax and wane, Hall says. “I’m always looking for ways to work smarter, not harder. That includes keeping up with new equipment, techniques and maybe software to organize my practice. When I find something, I adjust my time so I can do the research. For example, I recently purchased a new table. The tool I had was causing issues with my own body, and this new table relieves the pain. Researching the table took a lot of time—time I had to take away from something else. But it was time well spent. I needed to focus on my physical health.”
There are many ways you can create balance in your life so that you feel fulfilled and healthy instead of overworked and stressed—but how you achieve this goal is likely going to depend on all kinds of variables. Finding what works for you is going to require that you regularly reevaluate your priorities and adjust how much weight—or time and energy—you give the different parts of life.
Massage Therapy Journal
1. Word Spy, Work-life balance, (last updated: March 12, 2012). http://wordspy.com/index. php?word=work-life-balance.
2. Survey conducted online, by Harris Poll on behalf of Ey (Ernst & young Global Limited), within the United States between November 20, 2014, and January 14, 2015. Last accessed March 27, 2016. http://www. ey.com/US/en/About-us/Our-people-and-culture/ Ey-work-life-challenges-across-generations- global-study.
3. Stewart D. Friedman, Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), 4.