I swore I would never write about work-life balance. My reasons were in part to avoid perpetuating the gender stereotype. I find it’s a topic most leaders wrestle with, but generally only women leaders get asked about, primarily by other women. It’s also sets up balance as the ultimate goal. I’m not sure that should even BE the goal. Shouldn’t it be happiness? Impact? Fulfillment? But the most likely reason is that I’m an entrepreneur. I lead a messy, chaotic, wholly unbalanced life and I suspect most other entrepreneurs and leaders do too.
But last week’s Saturday Spark prompted some incredibly heartfelt emails describing very real, all too familiar struggles and asking for my advice on how to balance it all. I don’t balance it all, so I can’t help there. But in honor of Mother’s Day, I can share how I have learned to lead a life that feels very aligned with my personal and professional goals and that, in spite of the chaos and lack of balance, brings a lot of happiness and fulfillment.
I prioritize time using “The One Thing” method. You set long and short term goals and prioritize “the one thing” that will make hitting those goals, whether about your job, your health, your relationships, your spirituality, or your finances easier or not necessary. It also tells you to stop investing time on everything else and while life will be chaotic, it will be aligned.
The implications? I rarely watch TV. I withdrew from several boards of organizations I respect immensely. In-box zero is no longer a goal. The garden hasn’t been planted and likely won’t be this year. I’ve missed dozens of fun, but of-questionable-value events. The home phone hasn’t worked in two months. My pants are tighter than I’d like. I say no a lot.
Instead, I spend more time with my leadership team and a lot more time with customers. I said yes to writing Saturday Spark. I go to a dance class. We eat family dinner more. We reprioritized date night and seeing friends. I spend as much time as I can on what is ultimately aligned with work and personal goals and as little as I can on everything else.
Tame the Voices:
The challenge that many talented people have is that we want to be really good at everything. It’s taken years to accept that I have to decide what I want to be excellent at, what I want to be good enough at, and where I’ll do the bare minimum to get by.
Then comes the hard part. Sometimes what you’ve decided doesn’t meet someone else’s expectations. They make their opinion clear either to your face or behind your back. When my son was a baby, a certain older family member “jokingly” said they were going to call DSS because I worked too much. It triggered every “I’m doing NOTHING well” anxiety, despite a recent promotion and a very happy, seemingly well-adjusted son.
What I had to learn was unless the person questioning the decisions are my kids, my spouse, my doctor, my closest friends, my leadership team or my board, I have to ignore those other voices. I have to be the person we have decided we want me to be, not the person others outside that circle expect me to be.
Cultivate Personal Resiliency:
This week our au pair had to urgently and unexpectedly fly home and may not be able to return. This is, in our world, a major speed bump, but just another in a long line of work and personal dramas that seem to pop up with annoying regularity.
I’ve been told that resiliency is my superpower. So how do I cultivate it? The first is focusing on gratitude, something we’ve written about a lot at WeSpire. The second is a mix of meditation, prayer and Soulcycle that works the inevitable anxieties out in more constructive ways. The third is having a job with a strong sense of purpose and meaning. Finally, I have a belief that the best way to solve a problem is to let the universe know you need help.
It took me a long time to be comfortable asking for help, but there is power in putting words to your needs. People generally like to help each other, they just don’t always know how, so I’ve learned to be specific. In case you are wondering, I need a temporary sitter, $350,000 to close out a bridge financing note, and if anyone loves gardening, boy do I have a project for you!
So no, my life is not balanced and yours won’t likely be either. But my life is aligned around what matters most and ultimately I’ve found that makes it an unbalanced life worth living.