The “Work” of Work Life Balance

Achieving work-life balance is a goal that shows up often when I’m coaching clients in their mid-career years. There are many issues for many mid-level leaders that contribute to a normalized 12+ hour day – which is also often shown as a leader’s badge of honor, as well as a stepping-stone to senior leadership.

If you’re a 12+ hour day professional you may very well be pursuing your passion and seeing results on the horizon. But most clients I’ve coached giving this type effort find themselves wedging ‘the rest’ of life into the 3 – 5 remaining hours of each day.  We trade off the “flexible” areas of life to meet what’s needed and expected from us at work. What clients tell me is that over time, the trade-off catches up with them and when they look in the mirror, they don’t recognize who’s looking back.  

When I asked one of my clients what it would feel like to have the proverbial ‘work-life balance”, I was shocked to hear her respond with:
“I don’t know anymore …. perhaps I won’t dread going to work every day.”  

This 36-year-old client was slated for an executive role within 72 months and was already burned out. When we explored what mattered most to help reengage her energy – regain work-life balance, the responses included:
1) Exploring new parts of the world
2) Developing meaningful and committed relationships
3) Working with youth in the community 

Burnout was the symptom of being disconnected from what really mattered to her – family, adventure, and giving back. 

What I find is that work-life balance is less about too much work and more about staying engaged with what matters most to us. 

Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders alike can get consumed with deadlines and constantly find themselves sprinting to various finish lines. For my client, the sprint became the norm. What was missing, and was she as intentional about regaining those pieces as she was with her goals at work? Work-Life balance assumes that we are responsible for asking ourselves what matters and choosing to make it happen.

This client was highly responsible in learning and doing what mattered at work – and profoundly irresponsible to what mattered most in the rest of her life.  

The work she did in coaching was hard – she hadn’t asked herself the hard questions for a long time. What did she really want? To her credit, she dug down deep, met with colleagues, friends and family, and took action towards her three big goals.  

Within a few months, she was smiling at the expansion of meaningful relationships and events in her personal life, while simultaneously bringing new energy and ideas to her team and senior leadership.    

If you identify with feeling burned out and used up, you might find the following resource surprisingly helpful. In his book “A More Beautiful Question,” Warren Berger applies the observations of MIT’s Media Lab Joi Ito what happens during our schooling (and I suggest, in our work years):  

“along the way, we may lose the richness of a learners mind.  Without a learner’s mind, we lose the willingness to be curious – to ask ‘why’ with deep interest and true concern for the answers.  In fact – it’s the power of inquiry that Berger positions as the seeds of our continued evolution”. 

 When we’re running on empty vs working with curiosity, we tend to stay in the dataseeking answers more than seeking to ask the right questions.  We’re more able and willing to bring curiosity to the situation when we’ve stepped back and reset our bodies and brain.  It’s then we’re more able to ask the hard and beautiful questions that help us and our world advance. 

Work-life balance is Our Responsibility to Create   

If we use this balance to refresh our body, mind, and spirit, it’s possible we regain a learner’s mind – one fresh with curiosity and energy to ask the right questions about the future we want.  A daily pause and prayer, weekly walks in nature, weekends with friends, and quarterly stay-cations are examples that help regain balance. We need this time to allow space to ask ourselves powerful questions. If the answer doesn’t get us motivated, maybe we’re not asking the more beautiful question. 

I’m grateful to this client for living life more fully by asking herself what matters most – and by reconnecting to those things she most valued, she enriched life inside and outside of work.     

Here’s to living fully! 

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