Another year … another challenge

Another year has started. Another attempt to keep the balance in life. Many people make ‘good resolutions’ to start a new year. Things they realize they want to start doing or do different or better then the previous year. Mine? Writing down and sharing my thoughts, something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some years now but never got to it. Didn’t make time for it, always something else to do, then again, there is always something else to do.

Be it for our customers, the great company I’m part of, or more importantly with the family. Trying to keep my time spent in the right balance is something that’s a real life’s challenge and I’ve realized this more and more as I grow older. There’s always a reason to spend more or less time in one area of life. It’s what I feel is important that helps me in this. Do I want to be the best manager, the best consultant or the greatest family man in the world? Actually I want to be all 3 but if I have to choose it’s the latter one that will give me most fulfillment in life. I’ll try to get most out of the first 2 but will never jeopardize family and personal joy and happiness. But of course this is my perception on life at this point in time. For others it may be different because they are at a different point in their life or in a different situation. I can only hope they come to the same conclusion at some point. ‘Work is just work’ realising this may not be the case for everyone. There’s plenty of people in the world where work will make a difference between life and death, but in this discussion I want to focus on the ones where it does not have such an impact and who have the luxury of treating work as ‘just work’. After all my family and friends will love me, my job will not and neither will the people I work with. I also realize that when I come to that milestone in life where I will be forced to evaluate and look back on it (hopefully that’s still a long time away) those things and choices will really matter.

It can really hurt…

But it’s really not easy. If you’re used to pleasing people and it’s hard for you to face a disappointing person in front of you it can really hurt inside because you can simply not clone yourself. One of them will be disappointed at the end. But then it helps thinking you made the right choice and you did all you can do within your capacity to please all. It also comes down to setting your and their expectations, what can people expect from you and when. Let them know well upfront of this and also tell them why. Tell them why you make this choice, let them know who you are and what are your life’s priorities. Any reasonable person will understand and hopefully will take this into account when working with you. And if they don’t you may want to rethink the current working or personal relationship you have with them. But if they do understand they will then make their own arrangements to cope with the limited time you can spend with them. Just don’t blame yourself, it’s not worth it and you can’t do anything about it anyway at that point in time. Learn from it and do it better next time. Or not if you think you made the right choice already now. It’s in a way an ‘agile’ process, iterative and each time the result becomes better and better until you find the perfect balance :-).

(Re-)taking control of the situation

In my job I’m a people manager, I like to work with people and try to have a positive impact on them. Some I know already for a long time, some just recently, but for the first group I often recognize the same ‘problems’. I can only hope I give them the right advice, based on my own experience. I’m usually the oldest one so that helps :-). What I noticed is that it’s often the same root cause that gets them into the situation of imbalance. When we then talk about how to manage time to come to a sustainable work-life balance it’s mostly a matter of (re-)taking control of the situation. Occasions where it gets out of hand are usually to do where the individual was spending a lot of time for one project and the other person kept demanding and demanding more and more time, just because each time the individual kept delivering and delivering without mentioning the impact it had to other areas of his life or job. He simply just never said No. I’m not saying you should say no from the start but it’s often being open and clear on both sides of the conversation that helps to come to a situation where everybody understands and can feel comfortable with the working arrangement. I often tell our people ‘Don’t make someone else’s problem yours’. Of course as a consultant (or any other job where you work with any type of customers) you will always help out wherever you can, irrespective of whether it’s your fault (that’s one of the key tasks of a consultant), but you don’t want to get into a situation where this impacts your work-life balance. And if it does at the end because there was simply no other way you want to make sure this is an exception and next time the balance may need to shift to the other side for another reason. But then it will be easier to justify. You give and you take.

Keep the communication channel open …

And then there’s family time, and these are your most ‘difficult’ customers:-), but most important ones. You just don’t have control over them like you would have with your job or customers where you can put rules and principles in place. Don’t get me wrong, I love them with all my heart and they are the ones I will go through fire and worse to give them happiness. But it’s not that simple. You need to use your ‘gut’ feeling and look at the signals they give you (conscious or unconsciously). Your partner in life is a key stakeholder. Keep the communication channel open. You will notice quickly if something’s wrong so then it’s your job to start talking about it to clear the air. Spending quality and more important ‘dedicated’ time is really key. Make time for each other, make plans in a way to do things together (a nice dinner once in a while, maybe even a city trip, …).

Kids require a different approach. Their signals are even more difficult to recognize or may not even be there so more attention is required for them. You could almost say when they’re young they don’t realise it but trust me they do. I often feel guilty when I’m working to much or I’m only home 2 or 3 nights a week to put them to bed. What helps me is to talk about it, even as young as they are, they will understand it, maybe not now but in future they will. And tell them you will call them, if it’s only for a few minutes, they hear your voice and they will realize that you thought of them. And placing a phone call you can do from anywhere, or Skype or FaceTime or …. There’s no excuse for not doing that:-). There was a period in my life where I had to travel really a lot and it was around the time our oldest son became part of our life. I was away a lot and during those many hours on planes and in hotels I started writing letters to them, ones I could give when they grow older. I put things in there like my own feelings, what I was doing, the reasons why I was away, etc. So that one day they could understand the situation from my part. In a way I kept the communication channel open and that is really important.

Recognise and reflect …

I’d like to think that by sharing my thoughts and perceptions I’m helping people. And I hope I do with this little blog. Recognizing this situation in your own life will help you to reflect on it and maybe even use the tips I’m giving here to improve the situation. Recognizing is the first step, then you reflect on it and then you act on it. I will never pretend that I have the complete wisdom in myself but it’s by sharing our thoughts and experiences that we can help each other like it helped me.