Duncan is a terrific leader. He has a small team of talented creatives working to build a full-on marketing agency through telling client stories with amazing videos, video production, and breathtaking photography. They are exceptional at it.
They also work all the time. 80 hour weeks plus weekends. Nights, days, mornings. Always available. They’re pushing to build a company that is leaping into the newly forming “connection economy.” They’re pushing. And they’re tired. In Duncan’s words, “We need to find balance.”
Balance, in its own right, is a great thing. It means that your life is in line, that what matters to you carries equal weight and is getting its fair share of the pie.
It’s also the wrong target.
For a goal to make sense, for it to be attainable, it must have an end. “Finding balance” isn’t possible. Balance is an ever-changing, ever shifting phenomena — changing with the contexts and situations we face. Finding balance would be akin to grasping for sunlight. You’ll never catch it. But you know what it is. You can see it, you can feel it, and you can never capture it.
What’s the right target then?
If balance is the wrong target, what’s the right one? The concept of seeking balance is not inherently wrong. There is a longing in each of us to do what matters most, to give our time, focus and energy to the places that we desire to give it to and that deserve it from us. We are complex beings, and as such, we have complex needs and desires.
Have you ever met (or been?) the workaholic? I had a supervisor that sent emails at 10pm, at 2am, at 5am… every day. “Couldn’t sleep, might as well work” she would say. Or, have you met the person (or been?) that doesn’t really show up to work? Family gets in the way, there’s always another reason for not showing up or working hard. When we’re really into something, it can operate like a vacuum. We create narratives that justify the choices. Work is crazy right now, but just another month or so and it will all get better. Same comment the next month, and the next. If we work all the time, we will find more ways to work all the time. If we don’t want to work, we will find ways not to. We will get sucked into those choices. It’s when we get sucked in that we realize it’s out of control, that our sense of equilibrium is gone. We start to feel the need to pull back out, to find the ever shifting, unattainable balance we so badly crave.
Doing what matters most, when it needs to matter most
The truth is there is not a correct single target in which to “find balance.” If we are living right, there will be friction. Our identities are more than just one thing. As author Greg LLevoy describes it, we are a polydox. We are more than just workers. We are more than just family members. We are citizens, neighbors, friends, volunteers, colleagues, sons/daughters, fathers/mothers, brothers/sisters, and so on. We are so many things to so many people. How can there be balance in that?
Here’s the difference in philosophy. Stop looking for balance, start looking for the acknowledgment and intention to embrace all that you are, and make choices that honor your multifaceted nature. Work’s been crazy lately? Choose family today. Work will make it, they’ll be disappointed, sure, but they’ll make it. Family has been taking all your time and you’re falling behind at work? Choose work. Your spouse might be frustrated, but your relationships will most likely survive it. Haven’t talked to your siblings lately? Carve out 15 minutes to say hello or send them a text. Have intention to honor that part of your life. It’s not all or nothing. It’s sometimes. It’s now, not later. It’s not always, but on occasion.
Duncan and his team are pushing hard to build a new company and build their spot in the marketplace. They work all the time. Will their company die if they took some time with family? Took a day off, stopped to call their sibling, made their neighbors some cookies? Probably not. Would their lives be better. Probably so.
If we’re doing the dance of life well, if we are living a life well lived, then we will experience the friction of making choices that create small disturbances — not the giant vacuum of only embracing one portion of who we are.
ADDED BONUS: A great exercise in intentional choices
If you’re looking for a way to increase your intention with your time, here’s a 5 step process that can aid you in becoming more aware of where your time is going and making more intentional choices about where you spend your time.
Step 1: List out all the roles you play in your life — i.e. spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend, neighbor, employee of x, business owner, change agent, citizen of x, etc. (There’s no wrong way to do this, how you identify the roles that matter to you are up to you).
Step 2: Circle the top two roles that are consuming all of your time (work, for example). Put a square around the roles that you would love to give more time and would bring more value to your life then you are currently experiencing (Spouse, for example). Underline the roles that are important to you and don’t require much of you, but if you had more intention in those roles, you would bring added joy to yourself and others (neighbor, for example).
Step 3: For all of the roles you marked, make a goal for each one. A few examples; for work, I want to take half days on 4 consecutive Fridays and have a longer weekend. For sibling, I want to make a monthly connection with each of my brothers by calling or texting.
Step 4: Under each goal, jot down 1–2 small actions you can take this week that will aid you in accomplishing that goal. Examples: pull out the work schedule and put the half-days in your calendar; set a recurring reminder on your phone to text/call your brothers once a month.
Step 5: Share this list with someone that can help keep you accountable. Then go do the list. Take the actions, make the choice to embrace the many roles you play and live a more full life.