“You have to strike a balance between work and your personal life!“
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard or seen this phrase (or a similar one) in articles, from colleagues and family members, in speeches, or even on social media. I have even said it myself several times in the past.
What thoughts come to mind when you read or hear it?
Words have an incredible influence on us. As I read this sentence, I imagine myself scaling a mountain, and at the top is this famous “work-life balance”, as if it were a wise monk who will explain to me the secrets of life, and who will make sure that everything will be, from this moment on, kosher.
But life doesn’t quite work that way.
I like to see it instead as achieving moments of balance (or states of mind). We do not always stay in perfect balance. In life there is back and forth, and ups and downs. Each and every day is different: one day everything is fine, the next…not so much. It’s like a bird perched on a thin wire. It must continually adjust its center of gravity in order to stay on it. The bird’s body is always moving. Sometimes it falls, and sometimes it manages to hold on. Life is like that. We are constantly moving between moments of balance and imbalance within all facets of our lives. Its complex to say the least!
What represents balance for one person may not for another. For example, what can a teacher think when they see a colleague working four times a week until 5:30 pm at school? Could that teacher feel guilty if they usually leave at around 4:00 pm? Often, we compare ourselves to others. Leaving work at 5:30 pm may be feasible for one teacher, but for another, it could cause an imbalance for all sorts of reasons (children’s sports, coaching a team, preparing dinner, single parent, etc.). Be careful not to compare apples to oranges. In fact, best to just stop comparing ourselves to others.
When I think about reaching moments of balance, rather than seeing it as a peak or the final destination, I see it as steps within a process. Processes can bring about true change because they lead us to take concrete actions.
In Dan Waldschmidt’s article You don’t need work-life balance to be successful – you need these 4 things instead, he suggests we adopt a process to personalize our approach to achieving moments of balance by ways of four components: Purpose, Perspective, Priorities, and Progress. I call them the 4 P’s of balance.
If we feel that we are not in a state of balance, then we need to ask questions. Often we immediately start looking for solutions without first discovering and reflecting on the reasons why it happened in the first place. This can lead to band-aid solutions that are only temporary at best. Ask yourself why you are feeling that way: is it because of a lack of motivation or organization? Bad decisions, or even a lack of interest or passion? I find that people often avoid asking themselves these questions because it can make us feel uncomfortable. Author Neal Donald Walsh wrote: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. How true is that?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neal Donald Walsh
Taking responsibility for making the necessary changes to our attitudes and behaviors is a choice that we need to make regain those moments of balance.
I have always advocated that taking moments to stop to appreciate, analyze, and reflect, is an essential step in the growth process. It allows us to put into perspective the way we see things, or the way we react to them. It also allows us to get to know ourselves a little better.
We need to know where we are to determine where we need to go. Having a good perspective allows us to broaden our peripheral vision, and to appreciate different points of view. It is in reflection that some of the best learning happens.
Author John Maxwell tells us that to become a better person, we must be intentional in our actions and have a system or process in place that allows us to work at it. Do you have a system or process for your personal and professional growth? It is important to make it a priority. Being intentional in regards to my growth has had a tremendous impact on my life.
Every year my wife and I (pretty much my wife actually) plan a family trip. This is an important tradition because this precious time together allows us to stop, refocus our relationships and focus on what is most important in life: our family. As you probably know, you have to invest time in order to plan a good trip: research the destination, check reviews on Trip Advisor, booking flights and hotels, shop for clothes, pack, and so on.
And then, a few years ago, it had hit me: I realized that I was putting more time and effort into planning a trip than I did planing my own growth. Talk about a wake-up call!
To move towards a state of balance, we must intentionally identify priorities in all spheres of our lives. Once we know what those are, it is much easier to set goals, and to dedicate the time and energy needed to achieve them.
I have often heard colleagues say, “When my student finally understood the concept, his face lit up! What a FEELING! It’s worth more than my salary!” Seeing things progress is motivating. Feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment is often the only reward we really need.
“Feeling a sense of pride and accomplishment is often the only reward we really need.”
Seeing and celebrating progress propels us forward from point 1 to point 2, then from point 2 to point 3, and so on. But sometimes, we end up taking a step back. It is an ongoing journey, working to be more often than not in a state of balance. Just like the little bird perched on the thin wire that must continuously adjust its center of gravity.
More importantly, recognizing and celebrating progress allows us to appreciate the beautiful moments in life. It allows us to stop to appreciate, absorb, and find the motivation and energy to continue on the path of personal and professional growth.
Be intentional. Stop, and make time to smell the roses once in a while.