Your Whole Life
Columnist Amy Gage interviews Peggy Vaughan
This interview was published in "On Balance," St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 23, 1999. Peggy speaks about the need to make conscious choices and tradeoffs in order to lead a more fulfilling, less harried life.
Amy: How do you define a balanced life?
Peggy: It's not a static point. An airplane that's on course is almost never exactly on course. The pilot makes thousands of minute adjustments. Balance is simply not getting so far in either extreme that you have to go to the other extreme to get some sort of equanimity.
People will overeat, overdrink, get too little sleep or oversleep when they feel pushed. And all of those things work against getting control of your time. You're trying to escape rather than exploring whatever is upsetting you.
Amy: Why do you talk about tradeoffs in life?
Peggy: When you are making choices, there are always tradeoffs. And you are always making choices, even when it doesn't feel that way. Not to make a choice is to make a choice by default.
A breadwinner with financial and family responsibilities can step off the track. People do. People walk away from families. They leave them destitute. They disappear. So it's not that you don't have a choice. It's that you're not willing to take the tradeoffs of that choice.
Amy: You talk a lot about values in the LifeDesign Workbook.
Peggy: Values are the basis from which every choice springs. We do, in fact, live according to our values, though not necessarily according to our stated values. We live according to the real values of the way we use our time.
If you hear someone say, "I value my family most of all," but that person works 80-hour weeks, I'm sorry, that's not their value system. It's an intention.
Amy: But building and maintaining a career takes a lot of time and effort.
Peggy: Who says being a top-notch attorney is more important than being a stay-at-home mom? We have to break through those assumptions and overcome the pressures to do what society rewards. The tradeoffs are enormous for anybody who excels in any significant way. They have to cut off satisfaction in 99 other areas for the one thing they excel in.
Amy: Why are men reluctant to use flex time and such?
Peggy: Men's identity has been wrapped up in how successful they are in their jobs, just as women's has been wrapped up in being a good wife and mother. Making money is his identity. If he takes advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, he is judged more harshly than a woman who is trying to have that kind of balance. And everybody loses.
Until men are more equally responsible at home, women cannot be equally successful at work. Most working women who are also mothers are absolutely exhausted most of the time. It's a given.
Amy: So men and women have to ask their employer and family for what they need.
Peggy: Take responsibility. That's the key. First, get your values and priorities straight. Second, share with others what you need and want, because people can sabotage your efforts without even knowing it. And third, go about pursuing what you need and want. Don't expect someone to give it to you. That's basic to the dissatisfaction among women, primarily.
Amy: How can people get comfortable with making tradeoffs?
Peggy: Lack of control makes people unhappy and depressed. If you think you don't have a choice, then write down what you wish you could do. Then write down what you do. Then list all the factors involved. The key is not which list is longest. It's which has the most significant items.
When you get to my age, you realize there are so many phases of life. If you give up something at one period, you can come back to it later. We live in such a fast-paced society, such a "now" culture, that we focus on the moment. We don't take the long view and large sweep of life.
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