Finding “Life Balance”

I stopped using the phrase “work/life balance” a decade ago in favor of the phrase “life balance”. While it may seem like a small nuance, it was a deliberate effort on my part to make work just one of the many Tetris pieces I try to balance in the game called life. The first reexamination of my own “life balance” came shortly after returning to work following the birth of our second daughter. In the wise words of a close friend “Two is no joke!” and I quickly learned that my balance was off and something had to give. With the support of my husband, I made the hard decision to leave a company that I had been devoted to for twelve years. It was the right call and I found the balance I was seeking…for a bit. Numerous changes in leaders, roles and companies followed and I found that you often get out of balance and have to recalibrate. With each reexamination and recalibration, I found these steps to be pivotal in finding your life balance.

Step 1. Find something bigger than work. Sometimes a change in circumstances such as marriage, divorce, children, or relocation lead to you having to reexamine your life balance. But even nothing changes with your circumstances, you need to find something bigger than work, something important to you that you will consistently prioritize over work. For one co-worker, it was horseback riding lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays that kept her in balance. Another found that yoga (literally) kept him balanced. Yet another found a community service obligation to mentor underprivileged high schoolers was important enough to leave work at 3:00P every Wednesday. In this “busy is the new stupid” environment that we live in, work will take over, it will consume you. So it becomes your responsibility to find something bigger than work and then prioritize that in your life to ensure balance.

Step 2. Establish your priorities. Time is a limited resource so ensuring that you prioritize it correctly is critical. My priorities are 1) family time 2) spiritual time 3) exercise time and 4) work time. Work is a priority but being part of my family, spending time contemplating something bigger than myself and ensuring that I am maintaining my physical strength take priority over my job. Sure, it means that I wake-up at 5:00A every day but it’s well worth it to me. Ask yourself: What are my priorities? Where does work fall into that and am I treating it like the priority it should be? And keep in mind, priorities will change as you continue to reexamine and recalibrate your life balance.

Step 3. Communicate your priorities and boundaries. While this is one step, it takes multiple conversations. If you have a partner, discuss what reasonable boundaries are for homelife: Will you commit to being home for family dinner every night? Will you agree to work only after kids go to bed? Whatever works for the life that the two of you share. Next, have a conversation with your leader to let them know what your priorities and boundaries are: Do you need to leave every weekday by 4:00P for daycare (child or doggy), yoga, or whatever your have prioritized as bigger than work? Will you be available for after hour calls and e-mails? Or not? What warrants a “weekend emergency”? Finally, if you lead a team, share your priorities and boundaries with them and seek to understand their priorities and boundaries. In all of these conversations, get specific; common “life balance” issues stem from miscommunication and misunderstanding.

Step 4. Walk the Talk. I have been on multiple committees to address work/life balance issues in the workplace and it always come down to one thing – leaders have to “walk the talk” when it comes to life balance. If you are a leader of people and you want your team to practice a healthy life balance, then you have to have a healthy life balance. Show them how to get it all done; lead by example. It’s your responsibility to them as their leader and they will have more respect for you if they see you practicing your own life balance.

I am reminded me of a time when I shared my frustration with a co-worker about a leader that was not “walking the talk”. There was a female Vice-President that had recently returned from maternity leave and was leaving work everyday at 4:00P to pick up her newborn son as her husband’s job required travel. Instead of walking by her team’s cubes, she chose to leave her office lights on and sneak out the side stairs, leaving the illusion that she was in a meeting and would be returning. My frustration was NOT that she was leaving work at 4:00P, it was the cowardly way in which she chose to do it. Leaders have to be brave and I wanted to see her proudly walk by her team, tell them good night and show them that her priorities had changed. As a leader, your actions set the tone for your team so make sure you “walk the talk”.

Step 5. Integrate work and personal life. In a past life, I supported the South region for a Consulting practice. The job required a lot of travel so when my children had breaks from school, I would bring my mom and them along on work trips. There was no additional cost to the firm because we could easily drive to Charlotte or Nashville and the hotel was already booked. They loved the time together to explore a new city and I could focus on work knowing that they were in good care and that we would reunite for dinner. I have found that when I am achieving optimal life balance, I don’t separate work and life. I use a single journal to capture lists and ideas. I use the same work calendar to schedule both work and personal events. The two are fully integrated into my life.

I hope that you can take some of these same steps and find your own life balance. If you find that you are still struggling to find it, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Help may come from a loved one, a leader, a team member or a coach. As you reexamine, recalibrate and define your current life balance, keep these words of wisdom in mind: “You will never feel truly satisfied by work until you feel satisfied by life.” (Heather Schuck, The Working Mom Manifesto).

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