Thoughts on Work/Life Balance from Behind Bars

When you think of work-life balance, your mind probably conjures up images of driving through traffic while listening to a podcast, walking meetings to counteract out all the time spent sitting at a desk, and relaxed nights at home where you un-plug to limit the amount of blue light known to hinder productivity. At least, when I began researching to write this blog, those were the type of ideas I was met with time and time again.

All good suggestions, except for the fact that many don’t apply to the three-quarters of our workforce logging-in every day from behind prison walls. For those unfamiliar with our socially responsible business model, a large portion of our work-force are currently or formerly incarcerated women on the journey to making their career dreams come true through hard work, early mornings, and lots of coffee. Talk about #CareerGoals!

I’m sure I speak for many of my co-workers when I say that despite our unusual circumstances, we’re goal-oriented women with a passion for what we do and a drive to take our careers to the next level. We live a different life than most women in the corporate world, but work-life balance is still important to us nonetheless.

For me, work-life balance has been a constant battle. Residing in a correctional facility, of course I’d rather throw myself into my work than spend time ‘on the yard.’ But, still, after my workday ends at 5 p.m. every day, that’s where I return. To keep my sanity in a place full of chaos and unconventional living quarters, I’ve developed a few helpful tools.

Here’s a sneak peek into what work-life balance looks like for me:

Mind Over Matter

Even before I came to prison, I was always into the power of the mind. Mindset is everything and coming to prison only ingrained this into me even further. Life in prison is far from easy, but by practicing mindfulness I’ve learned to get the most out of what I once thought to be a tragic situation. When I leave the office for the day, I don’t go home. I go to an 8×12 foot cell and a yard full of 200+ women. There is constant noise, a long list of rules to abide by, and a lack of privacy – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As someone who deals with anxiety, my mind is my sanctuary; a place of freedom I can retreat to any time I want. To help me stay mentally strong I use things like:

  • Journaling – Writing comes naturally to me so putting my thoughts on paper has always been the perfect coping mechanism for the balancing act of life, in or outside of prison.
  • Meditation – and not just your stereotypical sitting quietly for hours on end. I meditate in simple ways like focusing on my breathing and brining myself back to the present.
  • Reading – Anyone who knows me knows I’m a complete book-worm. Books keep my mind focused on positive topics and help me escape from the day-to-day aspects of prison life. My mantra is Always Be Reading. To me, books are the stepping stones to creativity, growth, and success.

Get Moving

At risk of sounding cliché, sticking to a regular workout routine has been a catalyst in helping me find work-life balance. A healthy body and a healthy mind are the foundation to success in work and life and the benefits are endless:

  • Increased energy
  • Boosted productivity
  • A better immune system
  • A healthy heart
  • Better social connections

After a long day at work a challenging yoga session is just the thing I need to re-set my mind for a week full of content development, strategy sessions, and team meetings. Find your own way to move a little more each day and I promise you’ll feel more peaceful and balanced, not just at your desk but everywhere.

Stick to a Schedule

When I first arrived in prison, I came to the realization that my life as I knew it was going to be far from normal. But I accepted it, found my new normal, and created a schedule to keep my life moving in a forward momentum. Sticking to a schedule helps me keep work-life balance because I’m able to prioritize my time for what’s important to me, making sure I fit in time for work and fun. As we all know, too much of a good thing can be detrimental, so I schedule in activities that keep me grounded. If coming to prison taught me anything, it’s that time is valuable so you should be thoughtful in how you spend it.

I wanted to determine the outcome of my future, so I built a schedule to get me where I wanted to go. As John C. Maxwell says, “The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.” I want my future to include financial stability, career success, health, fun, and family so I stick to a schedule that keeps me on track for all of those things.

Be Selfish

If you want balance you have to put yourself first. This might seem like a bold statement, but I’m selfish and I’m not ashamed of it! Learning to be selfish in a healthy way has played a huge role in finding balance. I used to say yes to everyone, putting others priorities above my own, allowing my own needs to sadly wave at me from a distance. Now I think commitments through. I evaluate whether or not I’ll be able to accomplish something and what role that task, appointment, or commitment plays in my life before I say yes.

The funny thing is I used to think I was flaky and had a problem making commitments. By being selfish with my time I’ve realized I have more of it to fit in things that matter to me like:

  • Studying
  • Being active
  • Time with friends
  • Volunteering

Taking care of yourself is by far THE best investment you can make.

Carpe Diem

When it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter where you work and live, work-life balance is something that’s important to all of us, and we have a lot more in common with the way we juggle life than we think at first glance. Remember, perfection doesn’t exist. Balance is a great aspiration, but realize it’s okay to wobble! If I can make my journey as a marketer in prison feel less like walking across a circus tight rope, I know you can find balance in your life too!

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