We are all familiar with busy-ness at work, busy-ness at home, and overcommitting ourselves in general. We find ourselves putting in effort that is eventually unsustainable so that we become stressed out, burned out, dissatisfied with work and dissatisfied with life in general. However, if we can find a way to manage our activities, to focus mainly on projects that lead us to our goals, ultimately finding personal and professional satisfaction, then we will find ourselves feeling less stressed, more rested, and in general, healthier and happier. As a professional working mother of 5 children in a household where both parents work outside the home, I am often asked how I manage to have a big family and successful career. Below, I have put together some of my thoughts on this topic.
First, let’s examine the term “work-life balance” and what it means. The term puts “work” and “life” into separate categories: life at work and life outside of work. However, life at work and life outside of work really cannot be separated. One can easily think of situations at work that affect us at home, for example a promotion, a termination, a difficult co-worker; and vice versa situations at home that affect us at work, like a new baby, a new house, an aging parent, or divorce. Therefore, “work” and “life” are really not separate, but rather intertwined.
In his book “Off Balance: Getting beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction”, Matthew Kelly states that what we really want in life is not balance, but rather satisfaction. How we achieve this satisfaction is a matter of defining our goals and performing periodic reality checks to refine our goals. Kelly says that, “Most of the time, living a life that is deeply satisfying requires a strategy, daily attention, self-awareness, and discipline.” A deeply satisfying life is however you define it for yourself. As Kelly points out, "If you ask people why they want work-life balance, they talk about things that have little or nothing to do with balance. They talk about dynamic relationships, fulfilling careers, challenging projects that engage their talents, opportunities to grow as a whole person, and pursuing their personal and professional dreams.”
Stephen Covey observed that people spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. One of the first steps in the journey to personal and professional satisfaction is recognizing what is important vs. what is urgent. Things that are important usually require a long-term investment and are too difficult to fix by the time they become urgent. For example, being on the brink of divorce is usually a very difficult (but not impossible) time to try and make amends. A more optimal approach is to nurture a relationship from the beginning and frequently throughout in order to maintain a healthy and successful partnership.
A tool for deciding what is important to you personally and professionally, according to Covey, is to think about what you want people to say about you in 30-40 years. In other words, what type of legacy do you want to leave? This step will help you to define what your values are. Once you define your values, you can approach every situation with them in the back of your mind to determine how you want to proceed. You can then more fully focus on your goals, and disengage yourself from the urgent by saying “no” whenever possible.
Of course, it will be expected that priorities and goals may change as circumstances change, and there will be set-backs and distractions. There are also times when we have to intentionally allow an imbalance with our personal and professional lives. For example, we may need to sacrifice our professional life when we have young children at home who require more of our attention; conversely, we may find times when projects at work require more time and travel thereby sacrificing some of our personal life. We need to be able to reconcile the give-and-take aspects of our specific situations and how they align with our long-term goals and values.
Living a life that is fulfilling, personally and professionally, is not always easy. It requires sacrifice, hard work, and accountability. It also requires us to establish and nurture healthy personal and professional relationships (including finding a good mentor), to the best of our ability. Recognition of the interconnectedness with our personal and professional lives may give us a chance to re-think how we view work-life balance, in order that we may reach our goals and lead a life that is satisfying and fulfilling.
For further reading:
Kelly, Matthew, Off Balance: Getting beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction. 2011, Hudson Street Press, Penguin Group USA.
Covey, Stephen R. “How to strike a work and life balance”, www.stephencovey.com/blog/?p=12, accessed August 26, 2014.