Work life balance has become a creed of sorts the last 10 years. It’s a buzz word. This over used phrase is usually nothing more than a wild goose chase. It’s an impossible ideal that usually leaves you feeling guilty when you haven’t achieved it.
As a leader in business, husband, father of two young sons, friend and volunteer I have only recently realized the toll these commitments take. Being active in so many different roles I often find myself exhausted and socially tapped. I sometimes lay in bed (trying to fall asleep) feeling remorse for whatever short comings I had that day as a dad or a boss. I recognize that the roles I have assumed have changed both my lifestyle and my relationships. I don’t have the energy to hang out with friends on evenings I have free. I don’t have many free evenings. Friends that I used to see regularly now resort to annual calendar events. That said, I still consider myself to have a “balanced life”. Sounds like it doesn’t it?
Catch phrases and fresh business motto’s are usually smoke and mirrors. “Work life balance” assumes everything needs to be equally weighted, at all times, in order for you to be successful in all aspects of life. If it’s not the scale tips. Experience has shown this to be impossible for me. Our lives are not perfectly compartmentalized. Every aspect of our life affects the other. If you’re not getting enough sleep your days are affected. If your children are sick your schedule can be affected. If an employee is having a health issue, their work is affected. Balance is a great premise, but often completely impractical and impossible to practice.
Instead of trying to find clever ways to chase an impossible buzz state – a life in which you have control over the amount of time and energy you give to work and the energy and time left for your personal life – why not eliminate this concept entirely? It isn’t balance you desire, it is spending time in roles most important to you. When I first started in business I was in a handful of committees, on 3 boards and attended as many networking events as possible (usually in the evening). We had recently had our first child and made the decision as a couple that I would invest as much time as I could building my network in our city. It wasn’t a balancing act, it was a sacrifice that we hoped would help my career be successful. When our second son was born I found myself pulled in so many directions that I was left feeling exhausted and frustrated. I called my Aunt for some advice. As always she encouraged me and had a lot of great advice. One thing however stuck with me. She said, “Remember Evan, Whenever you say yes to something you are saying no to something else.”
I realized very quickly that the balance I was looking for had less to do with equally weighting my commitments than it did choosing my priorities. As a leader you will have several priorities and like many leadership decisions the hard part is ranking these priorities. As busy leaders our priorities will conflict on occasion but knowing what is the most important to you will help you say yes to the right things at the right times. Remember when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else (needed rest, family time, alone time, personal development etc.). Occasionally you will have to work over the weekend and evenings. Occasionally you’ll want to leave the office to see your child’s school recital, game or attend a doctor’s appointment. It isn’t balance we desire, it is spending time in roles most important to us.
In the book of Matthew in the Bible, Jesus explains how we can’t serve two masters. Balance is an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. It requires more than one thing to balance. It’s very easy to be so devoted to one part of your life that the others get ignored or neglected. And it’s this exact cycle that has us chasing a wild goose named Balance. Choose what’s important to you understanding that when you choose that, you are also choosing what’s not. When you have your priorities set, work hard at maintaining them, and make decisions based on those priorities you will find yourself focused, happier and in control. Or you’ve caught a wild goose named “work life balance.”