Balance is not about work versus life, it’s about finding ways to feel rewarded in your professional and personal life, striving for that daily.
“No one said it would be easy….No one ever said it would be this hard.”
Perhaps because I am married to one – or because I have listened to it too many times on a long run (ahem jog) – the song “The Scientist” by Coldplay brings me a great sense of peace.
That line is especially fitting because it paints the perfect picture of our daily struggle to achieve what is most commonly referred to as work-life balance.
Balance is About Professional and Personal Rewards
For me, balance has a different meaning than work versus life. It’s less about a struggle between finding a way to get ahead in my career versus the desire for leisure time outside of work, and more about feeling rewarded professionally and personally.
It is a daily active exercise on my part, not a destination that is up to anyone else. But it always brings me peace to remind myself that it’s alright if finding balance is not easy – as long as I keep trying so it’s not so hard either.
As part of our series on leadership, I wanted to share my guideposts on daily activities that can help you find that same peace:
Be Your True Self
By having a clear sense of self, making decisions is so much easier, and you can save so much energy that would otherwise be wasted putting up a facade.
So, go beyond personal aspirations or meeting the expectations of others to avoid falling off balance. Instead, take note of the impact you want to have on the world. That’s how you’ll achieve peace – and balance.
For me, that peace comes by helping others. Professionally, that means helping companies implement technology, helping them adapt to the change that technology brings to their lives, and helping professionals develop in their careers.
In my personal life, I strive to help myself embrace my own quirkiness and shortcomings, to laugh at them and surround myself with people who laugh at them as well. I also aim to smooth out my blind spots to finding balance.
As a parent, I’m committed to helping my children get to know their own selves.
But most importantly, I find balance by making sure I leave everyone I interact with feeling respected and valued for their contributions. Big ideas take a team, and we only go places together.
If “work” is always more important than the kids, or you feel like it’s your right to leave your project at a certain time no matter who is counting on you at work, you are out of balance.
It’s also more concrete to prioritize this way. Is that meeting more important than missing my daughter’s science fair presentation? No. Is that meeting more important than arranging someone else to drop my son off at practice? Probably.
I also look for opportunities to combine things. For example, a couple of years ago at our annual employee technology conference, I was able to bring my children because I made them part of my CAMP IO presentation on teaching children to code.
We also host Centric St. Louis events where our families’ can participate. This way the kids get to see you in a broader context, while your team gets to see you as a human. It can help you knock down artificial walls between aspects of yourself.
Be In The Moment
This is my biggest struggle, yet taking time by myself with no distractions is critical to sorting how to stay true to yourself.
I have found that to stay at my best, I need to:
- Have a bias for getting things done.
- If I can take care of it quickly now, then do it.
- Remain in the conversation I am in.
- Reject the myth of multitasking.
- Only take action items for the things that are critical.
Being at a soccer game for your kid while spending it on a conference call the entire time (something I have done) does not serve either well. It mostly leaves you completely feeling off-balance.
I constantly remind myself: If you prioritized what you are doing, then do it.
But most importantly, do not dishonor the person you are with, by showing them they are not as important as whatever just popped into your head or interrupted you. I have some great team members that have taught me the importance of this.
Protect Your Relationships
More than anything, I feel balanced when my relationships are healthy. Good relationships drive trust, and teams that trust do great things.
Whether it be at home, with my business team, or with my peers, when we are all moving in the same direction, then there is little wasted effort.
This requires honesty, a lot of communication, and a genuine feeling of respect and equality.
Be cognizant of what is important to those in your life. Every missed sporting event, every unanswered e-mail on something that your team worked on, every dinner not at home can damage your relationship.
Let those important know what you are thinking. This might mean a simple reply to an email that it may take you awhile to respond in-depth. Or, taking the time to have an explicit conversation about your priorities.
Be honest and humble, and be willing to accept the feedback of how this might affect them, and be willing to deal with it. This kind of transparency keeps trust, and shows those important to you by not pretending to be present when you are not.
For example, if you are at home, but still mentally at work, be explicit if you need time alone to finish a thought in your head. Conversely, if work calls you at home when they do not need you, have the strength to not answer or to end a call early without needing to be a hero for every request.
For me, I try to think of it as a matter of respect to those most important to me, both at work and at home. How do they deserve to be treated? How would I want to be treated?
Ultimately, you cannot do it all. If you truly want balance, you have to learn to say no.
When I get asked to do something new, I try to see if (a) I am the right person do it, (b) if I can do it immediately, (c) figure out when it needs to be done and what other commitments I have already made (d) offer alternatives.
Getting good at saying no, but offering alternatives, is an art that requires listening to the impact your decisions are having on the success of those around you. It also requires being honest about your plans, and helping people find answers without your direct involvement.
Don’t wait, start today. By being transparent and honest, you can keep your relationships whole, while you prioritize.
Be active and thoughtful in what you are prioritizing, beyond just responding to whatever seems most critical in the moment. If prioritization takes into account not just what emotionally feels most important today, but rather your long-term priorities and your relationships, you feel more whole.
I feel fortunate to have this level of transparency with my business partner, my spouse, my teams, and my clients. Ultimately, as a leader, it is up to you to “be the good.” Your team takes cues to your habits, and they spread quickly.
I would love to hear how you find balance.