Last week I wrote about the Myth of Work-Life Balance. I shared how there is never a TRUE balance between life and career; one is always suffering while the other is thriving. Even so, Balance between work, life, and my own personal development is always something that I have strived for.
Looking back, I realize that there have been times when I was able to achieve the illusion of balance and times when I was completely out of whack. I also realize that my definition of balance has changed over the years. Early in my career a degree of “balance” was found when I was able to focus time at work developing new skills and I had a bit of time outside of work to go to the gym and hang out with friends. Now that I have kids, forget the gym, I feel lucky when I have time to attend their events. After almost 20 years of consulting and coaching executives, and looking for ways to achieve my own definition of balance, some key take aways have emerged:
1. Willingness To Make Sacrifices
Looking back on the times in my career when I felt I was close to balance, it was always because I was willing to make sacrifices. I had to give a little “here” to get a little “there”. If you try to do it all at the same time, you will never come close to the ever elusive balance. I recall a co-worker who was struggling with balancing her demanding career and her newborn son. She was on track to be promoted by the end of the year. After much deliberation she decided to reduce her work week to 4 days a week, take a 20% cut in pay, and delay the promotion. It was a significant sacrifice for someone who, up until that point, had put all of her energy and focus on her career. I ran into her recently (that newborn is now 18 years old) and we discussed the different sacrifices we and others have made through the years to approach balance. She shared with me that she now runs her own consulting firm, her son is thriving in college, and she has no regrets.
2. Take Baby Steps
One thing that seems to take a back seat to work and life is personal growth and development. An effective strategy in this area is what I call “baby steps". The idea is that you should always be working on your own development, even if it means taking “baby steps”. We all get busy and have many obligations. School, kids, work, volunteer activities, just to name a few. It is important to always find time to focus on reaching your own development goals, even if it’s only a very small amount of time. One of my coachees wanted to become a corporate coach. He had three small children and a demanding job. On the surface it seemed impossible to add anything to his plate. He found a program that offered virtual courses three days a week at 8:00am eastern time which was 5:00am his time. He took one class each session completing the 18 month program in 3 years. It took him a while, but he took “baby steps” towards reaching his goal and succeeded!! Rather than getting overwhelmed and not moving towards your goals, break them down to something that will fit into your current circumstance and, eventually, you will reach your goals.
3. Maintain a Long-Term Vision
It is critical to always keep your long-term goals in mind. For example, I have worked with many individuals who have dove too quickly and too deeply into their career only to sacrifice personal relationships, their health, and their own development. They don’t even think of balance and end up burning out and losing sight of their long-term goals. In order to reach your goals in all three areas it is critical to always shift between the three and realize you are in this for the long haul. Your goal should be to achieve overall success in your life, not just a few quick wins along the way. You can’t lose sight of any of your obligations. If you focus too much on one goal only to completely fail on another one, you are not reaching overall success. It’s important to keep a balanced focus, even if it means you will take longer to reach a goal. I learned this early on in my career. It took me a while to find the right fit between achieving my career goals, family goals, health goals, volunteer goals, etc. Even today I am constantly making adjustments to maintain the stability I need in order to reach overall success.
4. Have a Positive Attitude
Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude! One of my favorite quotes is from Thomas Jefferson, it states “Nothing can stop the person with the right mental attitude from reaching their goals, nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude.” I have referred to this many times in my career. If one of your goals is to achieve your personal definition of balance, it is up to you to define what that is, believe that it can happen, have a positive attitude about it, and make it happen. I have coached many people over the years who say they want balance in their lives, but think it’s impossible to achieve and refuse to make the necessary adjustments. Remember “nothing on earth can help the person with the wrong mental attitude”.
While complete balance may be an illusion, there are many things that you can do to help you get closer to it. Firstly, you need to define what balance means to you right now and realize that this definition will change over time. A few helpful hints towards getting closer to balance include: a willingness to make sacrifices, trying to take baby steps towards your goals, maintaining a long term-vision, and having a positive attitude. In your experience, what are some of the things that help you get closer to balance in your life?