One of my favorite books is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Her rich and vibrant characters are woven around themes of social standing and strength of character, drawing the reader into a world different from our own.
When you read about the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett, glancing at the wealthy and arrogant Mr. Darcy with a restrained yet loving expression, you have to wonder how the author, an unmarried woman of modest means, had the ability to develop characters that were not a reflection of her own life (her life was spent among the “lower fringes of English landed gentry.”) These stories were born in her fertile imagination.
Lately I find myself asking how this book was promoted in the 19th century.
Ms. Austen did not have a publicist. She did not have the Internet. She did not have a telephone.
Today, Jane Austen would need a computer.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between Jane Austen’s literary world, and the literary world of today.
Do you think Jane Austen would be writing posts on Facebook, tweeting her latest work or promoting on Google Plus? Would she feel the need to post pictures to Pinterest or develop a business profile for LinkedIn?
Today, we are on overload between spending time writing and then promoting ourselves and our work.
We all spend time networking, attending webinars and conferences, remaining active in social media, subscribing to instructional (and not-to-be-missed) newsletters and staying current with the latest trends in technology.
I’ve gradually cultivated a new daily ritual, feeling a lot like a robot from the old TV cartoon The Jetsons. I wake up, grab my laptop and cell phone, walk to the kitchen, prepare my cup of Keurig coffee and sit down at my desk.
I enter my passwords for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest and StumbleUpon. Emails patiently wait for me to read and respond.
While I’m busy on my laptop, my family is buzzing around me, getting ready for their day. I barely have time to look up from the computer to say, “Hello”, “How did you sleep?” and “Have a nice day.”
Like many, I need to find a better balance between my professional and personal life.
A few years ago I visited The Mount, the Lenox, Massachusetts home of novelist Edith Wharton. The beauty of the grounds, with its formal flower gardens and grass terraces, seemed like an absolute paradise for a writer to write.
I envisioned Ms. Wharton strolling across the meadow, thinking about the characters and plots she’d develop for “The Age of Innocence” and “The Buccaneers.”
It pleases me to think of that day. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about it, visualizing myself living at The Mount. I stroll the grounds as Ms. Wharton did, preparing to write my novel.
Today, Edith Wharton would need a computer.
I love everything about being a writer. I love creating stories, watching the flow of words take on a life of their own on a blank page. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of pride I feel after finishing every piece.
I love networking, meeting new and interesting people who are fast becoming my trusted friends. I enjoy being a part of the exciting “wild west” of social media, and also being a member of blogging communities that are supportive, nurturing and informative.
Yet I can’t figure out how to perfectly balance my professional needs as a writer, my personal needs as a wife and mother, and my own special needs as a person living with a disability.
I remember Dick Cavett interviewing Katharine Hepburn, and when he asked why she never married and had children, she explained, “You cannot have it all.”
Perhaps she was right.
We can’t try to learn it all, read it all, do it all, write it all and live it all, while simultaneously balancing our personal lives and remaining healthy. It’s impossible.
We can decide to prioritize what’s important to us, making a firm commitment to gain better control over our lives.
To remain whole and healthy while being productive and creative during our Second Chapter (and into our Third), we need to take a closer look at managing our time and efforts.
Here are a few things I’m doing to help balance my life. They can help you, too, with the inevitable anxieties that come your way.
- Create a schedule for the upcoming week, setting a reasonable, yet not overly ambitious amount of hours each day for your work. Include “down time” in your schedule.
- Use the power of Google Calendar and sync it to your cell phone, instructing it to send reminders to you for how many minutes, hours or days ahead of time you want a reminder of your schedule. I love when my phone beeps to remind me what’s next on my agenda.
- Schedule breaks. Make plans to take a walk, play with your pets, meet a friend for lunch, read a book or sit outside and be alone with yourself. Practice breathing exercises and meditation to relieve stress. Taking care of yourself is the most important activity of your work week.
- Learn how to say no. This is vital if you want to lower your stress and anxiety level. Prioritize what you have to do, and say no to the rest.
- Limit the number of newsletters, webinars, and hours spent on social media and checking emails. Choose newsletters that are the most important for your needs. Unsubscribe to the rest. Decide how much time you need to spend on social media, and stick to your schedule. Perhaps you can set a timer, and when it goes off, log off and power down.
- Give yourself permission to relax. Be happy you have choices, and are able to take control over your life.
- A little help from some over-the-counter friends. During highly stressful times, I have used an amino acid called L-Theanine as well as Holy Basil, both in capsule form. Read more about their properties and uses, and speak with your doctor before taking any new supplements.
- The ability to live the reality of your passions during midlife is a true blessing. Honor and nurture that blessing.
Read more from Cathy Chester on her blog, An Empowered Spirit