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Work-life balance is possible…if you change your approach

Many people struggle with the notion of maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Ambitious, driven and committed people want to be successful in all aspects of their life, not just their professional career. They want to have it all. They want to have a great marriage, nurturing family life, fantastic health and fitness and a satisfying social life. And, they want to have or achieve all these desires simultaneously.

There is a notion that the Europeans have more of a “Work in order to Live” mindset while in North America, we tend to “Live in order to Work.” I think this is somewhat true. However, I have also seen from my own experience working with people from many countries and cultures that no matter what people say in public, most people who are healthy and ambitious tend to approach work as the highest life priority. Even in Europe.

This is the case because people tend to relate to their life desires and commitments as priorities, not promises.

The premise for “priorities” is fundamentally different from “promises”:

Seeing as we only have a finite number of hours in the day and scarce resources, we often feel as though we cannot accomplish everything we want. The “priorities” approach says, “We are not going to be able to achieve everything we want, therefore let’s put all our desires in order of importance so we can tackle them in that order. If we had 15 items in our priority list and only got to 6 of them – that is fine. After all, that is why we prioritized them in the first place.”

This paradigm reinforces the expectation that we won’t be able to achieve everything we desire or consider important.

In contrast, the “promises” approach says, “We are not going to be able to achieve everything we want, therefore, let’s pick the few things that are most important for us and promise them unconditionally.”

In the world of promising – a promise is a promise. In other words, if you promise multiple promises, each is equal in weight. You are holding yourself accountable for fulfilling each promise, without hierarchy of importance among them.

The “promises” paradigm compels and even requires you to be more innovative and resourceful about how you juggle and achieve all your promised areas. It also drives you to get support from people around you, delegate things to others, and overall build a network and structure of support in your community.

In the world of “priorities,” people often excuse or justify not achieving some of their desired areas and commitments because of other areas. For example, I often hear people say things like: “I just didn’t get to it,” “I didn’t have enough time or money to do it,” or “it wasn’t a high enough priority at the time.”

However, in the world of “promises,” people remain accountable and responsible for following through–no matter what the circumstances are.

I meet too many frustrated people who are out of shape or overweight who tell me, “I have been so busy with my job I didn’t have time to exercise.

I meet too many unhappy people who have issues in their relationship or marriage who tell me, “I lost my marriage because I was a workaholic.”

I meet too many unfulfilled people who have abandoned their passions and hobbies who tell me, “I stopped playing my instrument or playing tennis because I had too much going on in my life.”

If you relate to all your key life desires and commitments as clear equal promises, you will start dealing with them differently.

For example, you could promise:

  • I promise to have an amazing marriage.
  • I promise to be a parent who is highly present and involved in my children’s lives.
  • I promise to have a very successful career.
  • I promise to be healthy, vital and fit.
  • I promise to be a contributing member to my church, synagogue or community.
  • I promise to have an active and satisfying social life.

Relating to your life desires and commitments as priorities is an easier way to live because you always have a way out, an excuse or something else to blame for not living up to your desires and having it all.

In contrast, relating to your life desires and commitments as promises may seem harder at first, but if you fully take it on it will afford you a much more inspiring, nurturing and satisfying life.

 

What is your identity wrapped up in?

I was speaking to a client who recently retired as a senior executive in a well-known global telecommunication company. We have become friends over the years of working together and he was sharing with me his initial experience of retired life, and what he had learned so far about how to have a successful retirement.

One of the things he pointed to was that in order to have a successful retirement, we need to be able to disassociate ourselves from our past professional title, status and position. While this is certainly true for executives, I believe it is relevant for everyone.

After our conversation, I was thinking to myself that doing this might be easier said than done.

First Story: At the age of eighteen, I was drafted for my army service. I spent the first four months in intense basic training. In our platoon, there was a clear hierarchy and pecking order. The Sargent was feared, the Second Lieutenant, our direct officer, was admired and the Captain, head of our company, was revered.

After almost five years of service, I retired from the military service as a captain and continued on to my professional life. Four years later, I was a successful consultant in an international training company.

One day as I was entering an office building on my way to a client engagement, I bumped into my ex-Captain from my basic training.

My heart skipped a beat. Even though I was a successful twenty-seven-year-old married consultant, in an instant, I was transferred in time. And for an instant, I was transformed into an eighteen-year-old apprehensive private in awe of his God-like Captain figure.

Thank God I snapped out of it in time to be able to reminisce with the man who was standing before me as a full grown adult.

Second Story: I was employed by an international training and consulting company for fifteen years. It was my first job in life and just like in the army, I rose through the ranks very rapidly, progressing from a junior position and title to a senior executive position and title. At the height of my employment, I felt at the top of the world. I was highly regarded by the CEO and all the senior executives of the company and I was often invited to participate in company-wide events.

But, one day I decided to move on. It was a tough decision as my entire identity was associated with this enterprise. I lived the first fifteen years of my professional life in that company. I became who I was in that company.

I left the company and found myself in an identity crisis. I was questioning: “Am I really successful and great or was it just inside that company?

Thankfully, the story has a great continuation. Fast-forward seventeen years; I have become a successful business owner consultant.

Our identity often does seem to be wrapped up in our professional and social title and status, as well as what comes with it.

In today’s world being a “celebrity” or “VIP” means something. People generally seem to be much more in need of external validation. Title and status make us feel more important. It increases our self-worth.

I travel a lot so every year I want to reach the highest frequent flyer status, as well as the highest status in certain hotel chains that I like. Yes, it’s because of the added perks and convenience, as well as the special attention I get when I fly and/or walk into a hotel. However, if I have, to be honest, it also strokes my ego and makes me feel more special. It is part of what shapes my identity.

In conversations with colleagues and executives the question of “how many miles have you flown this year?” or “what status are you in this hotel or airline?” comes up a lot.

Even though some people say “title and status don’t matter,” In most corporate environments, formal and informal title and status are very relevant. People tend to bring the topic up when they feel insecure or when they feel others are not giving them the respect their title and status entitles them. But, the self-consciousness around title and status seems to always be on alert.

I mention the military and corporate America environment because these are two sizable environments that have a great deal of impact on people’s identity.

I have had the opportunity to coach high-ranking officers in their transition from long military careers to civilian life. In many cases, this was a challenging transition from an identity standpoint.

So, when my retired client and friend shared his insight with me, it made me think about my own identity and how easy or hard it will be for me to disassociate myself from my past professional title, status and position when the time comes.

I guess that is why we often have to remind and encourage each other that “There is life after whatever we are doing today.”

You can have it all if you are willing to do what it takes

Someone wise once told me that there are two things that make people upset: one is that they don’t get what they want, and the other is when they do get what they want.

The first reason always made complete sense to me. I could understand from my own life experience how failing to achieve a goal or expectation could lead to upset. In fact, I have experienced a few of these in my lifetime.

But, the second scenario of being upset due to getting what we want initially seemed a bit more counterintuitive. It’s not that I didn’t or don’t understand the logic. I do. In fact, the more I have had the fortune to achieve success and growth, the more I have experienced the pains of growth, change and disruption.

If I look at some of the recent breakthroughs in my life, there were moments where I experienced them as upsets. For example: “I wanted to grow and elevate my business. Now I have more and bigger engagements. But, now I feel overwhelmed because I have too much work…” “I wanted to build a powerful social media platform, so I started writing and publishing every week. Now I am getting invited to write even more and I don’t have enough time to do it….” I guess that is why they say, “be careful what you wish for.”

I am very ambitious in my life. I want to achieve great things in all aspects of my life. I want to be wealthy, successful in my field, have an extraordinary marriage and family life, and be very healthy and fit. I am committed to having it all. In fact, I believe everyone has the ability to have this kind of life if they want.

But, what I am learning is that living a life oriented around having it all comes with tolls in the form of focus and intentionality, as well as being unreasonable, working hard and doing what it takes. It’s a very empowering price to pay for those who want this type of life. But, it is not for everyone.

For those of you who are on this same path or who want to get on this path, I want to lay out a few personal thoughts and discoveries about what is needed to achieve these ambitions.

Planning – I am finding that in order to make everything work, I have to plan my life in a much more deliberate, rigorous and sometime non-conventional manner. Often this includes setting a detailed schedule that includes specific times for when I’ll wake up, eat, exercise, spend time with my family members and go to sleep. This lifestyle is not for those who like to “go with the flow” or “be spontaneous.” People think that rigorous planning precludes spontaneity. It doesn’t. In fact, it can enhance it. When I am spending time with my wife, family members or clients, I can be fully present and engaged without worrying about things I am not doing or should be doing. Planning gives me freedom.

Team – You can’t have it all alone. You need your loved ones and professional team members on board with you. First, if you don’t they’ll likely get resentful and upset at some point when you reach the inevitable areas of turbulence and your plans are not working smoothly. This will slow or hinder your ability to have it all. Second, you need their genuine alignment, enthusiasm and collaboration to be a part of creating and living the great life you are building with and for them. Otherwise what’s the point? Thirdly, there are people in our environment who have skills that are mission critical for our well-being, happiness and success. We want to make sure they are fully engaged with us in our vision and values.

Innovation – Every time I hit a wall or obstacle, typically its something like – “I have too much work and I don’t have enough time or wherewithal to do everything” – my first reaction is suffering and upset. Then I remind myself… or to be honest often my wife reminds me…that “life is good” and the problem I am experiencing is a function of success not failure. Then I quickly start thinking about “given my vision to have it all, what new practices or structures do I need to put in place to enable me to fulfill everything I am up to?” For example: I have been traveling quite intensely in the last year so I have instituted a practice of taking my young daughter to lunch once or twice every week to have personal father-daughter time. Also, I go out with my older son every weekend for coffee for a couple of hours for father-son time. Even though these activities are planned, they are so enjoyable and all of us look forward to these every week.

Courage, as well as a positive and optimistic outlook – As you can imagine, the journey of an ambitious life isn’t always smooth and things don’t always go according to plan. In fact, sometimes it seems like things are not on track or nothing is working at all. But, I have noticed that the more I stay unconditionally focused on my vision and do my best at all times, things seem to always fall into place. It is one of these mysteries that I have learned to trust and depend on. It requires stamina for a marathon, not a sprint. And this way of living requires having faith and trusting myself, my vision and the universe (call it God if you want) to be on my side, give me luck and help me fulfill my dreams. All this requires courage to stay the course and not sell out on the important things, no matter what. I listen to my internal commitment versus the external circumstances and always look at things from a positive and optimistic point of view—especially when the immediate evidence seems otherwise.

Do you know where you really live? It could change your life.

Often, people do not pay enough attention to what they say—both publicly and privately. Whether positive or negative, people don’t seem to understand the immense consequences of what they say or think.

I believe most people would agree that positive, optimistic and encouraging conversations uplift and empower their spirits and psyches, whereas negative, cynical conversations have the opposite effect.

However, there is more to the story. What we say and think also have significant repercussions on our overall wellbeing. Certain conversations give us energy while others suck the energy out of us. Have you noticed that some days you are tired at 10am in the morning and other days you are full of energy at 10pm at night?

That is not a coincidence.

Most of the time, our level of energy is not a function of how many hours we slept the night before…or even how hard we worked during the day. In fact, some mornings we jump out of bed full of vitality even when we only slept a few hours. And, some nights we are wide awake even after a long day of hard work.

Our energy, mood and spirit are all shaped by the conversations and thoughts we entertain and dwell in. In fact, we live more in our conversational environment then in our physical environments.

Let me illustrate:

Have you ever been on a conference call while commuting to or from work on the highway and suddenly had a shocking realization that for the previous 20 minutes you were completely not present to what was occurring on the road in front of you?

Have you even taken time off with the intention and desire to fully disengage from work and rejuvenate, but you just couldn’t relax and let go because some issue or interaction at work was still irritating, upsetting and consuming your attention and soul?

We don’t litter, trash or neglect our physical environment because we know that we live in it. But, we do tend to litter, trash and neglect our conversational habitat.

If you accept this premise, you should be more inclined to better care for and manage your conversational environment. You dwell in your conversations so make sure that the conversations you surround yourself with are positive and empowering. Make sure they support, represent and honor who you are.

Here are a few practical things you could do immediately to achieve this:

  1. Don’t participate or initiate gossip, especially when their focus is trashing other people that have a part in your life. Gossip may be valid, but it NEVER makes a difference.
  2. Have the courage to address issues with people quickly, directly and productively. Don’t let issues fester.
  3. Make requests and ask for things instead of complaining about things.
  4. Apologize and clean up your mess when you misbehave. Swallow your pride and don’t let your ego get in the way.
  5. Always have something to look forward to; a goal, project, milestone or event that you are working on that excites you in the present.
  6. Express gratitude, acknowledge and thank people around you every day, especially the people in your personal and professional environment that you respect and love. Don’t be lazy or stingy about that.
  7. Be thankful and count your blessings every day.

 

 

 

 

Do you love your life?

In one of my earlier blogs “Living Courageously Through Journaling” I wrote about the benefits of journaling. This is a practice and discipline that I have adopted and taken on periodically over the last 25 years. I pick it up especially in times of transition, change, decisions or simply when I want to clear my mind and reflect on recent events.

One of the things I have been regularly writing about is what I feel most grateful and fortunate about in my life. In fact, every day when I write I start with: “I feel most grateful for” and then I let my writing flow from there. And, I list at least 10 things I genuinely feel fortunate and blessed about. Sometimes many more. I don’t limit, restrict or target the areas; anything goes. I include things about “who I am”, “what I do”, “who’s in my life” and “what I have”. And, what I love about doing this is that I can’t lie or pretend. I only write things I really feel grateful about.

I have found this exercise to be very energizing, empowering and enlightening.

Coming up with 10 things or more every day has really been easy for me because I love my life. But, if someone doesn’t love their life, or if they don’t love important aspects of their life, for example their work, health, marriage or finances, could they also easily come up with 10 things every day that they feel genuinely grateful for? It seems that it would be harder.

So, my question to you is:

Could you list at least 10 things you genuinely feel grateful, fortunate and blessed for every day?

If your answer is yes, you probably love your life. If you are finding it hard to come up with 10 things every day, you are either too resigned or there are some things you need to change in your life.

To test yourself I recommend you take this practice on for 30 days – every day at the beginning or end of the day write at the top of your page: “I feel most grateful for:” and then list at least 10 things you feel grateful, fortunate and blessed for.

If this is hard for you in the beginning, it will become easier as you practice this.