The 4 pillars of a balanced, beautiful life

I had called him on his mobile a couple of days before and announced my intention to resign.

As we stepped into the glass walled team room, I glanced at my colleagues on the other side – busy updating spreadsheets, listening to conf calls and talking with investors on the phone. This was my day-to-day as an equity research analyst in London.

While my career in investment banking looked pretty glamorous (and it was!), my personal life as a single woman in the City felt far from healthy and fulfilling. My desire was to have a family of my own. I wasn’t getting any younger, and I wasn’t seeing that happening any time soon unless I made some major shifts.

Mr. D. and I discussed again my reasons for quitting, and I think I’ll remember his words for a long time:

“I should probably not be telling you this as your manager. But if you were my daughter, I would say it’s the right thing for you to resign. You’re not happy and, at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.”

Within a month, I shipped most of my belongings to be stored in my parent’s basement in Portugal, and moved to France for the second time in my life with just two suitcases.

I needed to get my personal act together, and resuming my studies sounded like a good option to buy myself some time. Doing a PhD was on the table, so when my former boss at the EMBL in Grenoble offered me a temporary position in his team, I jumped at the opportunity to test whether I really wanted to go back to Science or not.

In the end, I decided not to do the PhD. But the time that I spent in France, and later in Portugal with my parents, felt like a doctorate in personal growth.

During that period, I read lot, reflected a lot, and eventually trained as a Life Coach.

From studying my own path, that of my fellow friends and clients, I have come to believe that true, sustainable happiness stems from enjoying a balanced life and feeling bien dans sa peau (comfortable in your own skin).

For this, you much have four strong pillars in place:

  • Good health & fitness
  • Supportive relationships
  • Stable & fulfilling work
  • Time & space for yourself

When one or more of these pillars is wobbly, the whole foundation starts shaking. And that’s what was happening to me when working in banking. This was not by fault of my firm or the industry, but because I did not have all the self-mastery tools to set solid anchors for myself.

I want to shortcut your path to a more balanced & beautiful life, so I have prepared a simple exercise to help you get you back on track (without necessarily changing jobs or going through a dramatic revolution like I did).

Step 1: Check for imbalances

On a scale 1-10, how satisfied are you in each of the four pillars of work-life balance: (1) Health & Fitness, (2) Supportive Relationships, (3) Career, (4) Space for Self?

Step 2: Address the weakest link

While I’m all for building on your strengths, where it comes to creating a balanced and beautiful life for yourself, I believe that you need to address your weakest link first, otherwise it can start jeopardizing all other areas.

Pick your weakest pillar as identified in step 1 and brainstorm what your dream scenario would be in that area of your life. Don’t censure yourself, thinking of what’s possible and what’s not. Just write down your greatest desires for that specific area of your life.

Step 3: Plan your next step

Now that you know what you want to achieve, ask yourself:

What is the very first step that I can take to move towards my dream?

Choose an action that depends only on you and that you can perform today.

Step 4: Take action

Go and do it! (Or at least schedule it).

Step 5: Social accountability

Even if you consider yourself an introvert, the truth is that we are sociable beings and that peer pressure gets us moving, whether we like to admit it or not.

Leverage your unconscious mind and set-up some social accountability. Share your commitment to improving the weakest pillar of your life with a close friend or loved one. Ask them to keep you accountable for making progress toward your dreams

How to sleep like a baby… when you have a baby

At 22 months, this should be the norm, textbooks say. In fact, judging by the French parenting advice, every baby should faire ses nuit since 4 months’ old.

But textbooks don’t account for cuddly moods, speedy digestions, and “Old Macdonald Had a Farm” serenades coming from the nursery at 3am!

So we’ve had to get resourceful…

Working in banking has taught me to optimise my time and energy to stay balanced despite the busyness. But having a baby has taken the work-life effectiveness challenge to a whole new level!

One of the biggest problems I hear most new mums complain about is sleep deprivation. And as we discussed in last week’s blog, sleep is essential for our well being for 4 key reasons at least.

In fact, consistent lack of sleep has been linked to the following frightening effects:

  • Diminished capacity for high-level cognitive functions like decision-making and reasoning
  • Psychiatric disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and alcoholism
  • Increased risk  of cardiovascular disease
  • Hypertension
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Weight gain

So if you want to stay slim & sane, and set a healthy example for your children, start prioritising your rest and relaxation time!

How can you sleep like a baby when you have a baby? Here are 5 tried & tested tips that have worked for us – at least for a while!

1) Dream feeds

This technique comes straight from the Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, a brilliant book by Tracy Hogg.

Right before you go to bed, gently give your baby a bottle. Try not to wake her up. It will be just like a nice, nourishing dream for her!

2) Midnight nappy changes

Since you’re at it, check if your little one needs a nappy change before you head to bed. If he’s smelly, quietly change his diaper while he sleeps.

This will prevent him from waking-up outraged within a few hours, when he discovers that he’s soiled!

3) Super absorbent nappies

Carrying on with the topic of nappies, we’ve found that using ultra-absorbent diapers can contribute to everyone good night’s sleep, especially while your baby is very small and digests everything in no time.

This can avoid you having to change bedsheets in the middle of the night when you discover that there’s been a pee explosion.

4) Taking shifts

While the previous tips can help soothe your baby through the night, getting your beauty sleep can still be a challenge for the first few years.

To deal with this, we’ve designed our own system of shifts. Especially during more demanding periods like teething and growth spurts, my husband and I decide beforehand who is going to be on call that night.

If our little one wakes up crying, one of us immediately jumps off the bed and attends to her needs, thus minimising the fuss and leaving the other one to sleep.

If you have a partner, au pair or family member that can help, this can be a great technique to help you get some well deserved rest.

5) Power naps & early nights

Finally, when you’ve had a rough night, squeezing in a power nap during the day can be a good way to pay-off your sleep debt.

If you’re a business owner and have that flexibility, go for it without guilt! You’ll be way more productive when you wake-up.

If you have a corporate job and disappearing for a mid-day nap is not an option, try to call it a night earlier. If you go to bed shortly after your baby’s bedtime, you’ll get nearly as much sleep as he does.

Now, as you know, life is dynamic and kids are constantly changing. A certain strategy may work for a while, and then no longer. The key is to be creative and keep experimenting!