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Jul 16, 2018 · 9 min read

What’s wrong with work/life balance? Everything.

According to author Beat Bühlmann, work/life balance assumes that a good life requires a careful balance between these two worlds; as if what you do for a living is something totally separate from just, living. The assumption is always that work is bad and private life is good. But there’s something missing from this equation: your dreams. If you’re on a voyage of self discovery, that’s exactly where you need to begin.

The premise of Beat’s new book, “Become the CEO of Your Own Life” is that the work/life paradigm is essentially a false construct. We don’t have two lives. We have one. Some of the activities in that life we think of as work, and the rest is non-work. But even that view is somewhat out of whack. Because work/life balance comes in later. The first question should be what do you dream about? What do you love to do? Where does your overall satisfaction and happiness live? The rest is how to get there.

“Find out what you love doing and make a plan.”

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Find out what you love doing and you’ll never work a day in your life.” After talking to Beat this becomes, “Find out what you love doing and make a plan.”

Starting with some basics, Beat points out that if you’re not the CEO of your own life someone else is. You’re ceding control of your best self to something or someone other than yourself. Good and bad influences in life will always vie for your attention and without a well-considered plan, things get complicated. The goal of the book is to provide a clear path to becoming your own CEO, to be thoroughly involved with the world, but not completely controlled by it.

An important observation here is that what we think of as career development is almost exclusively about work. It makes sense. So much of this material is sponsored by, or written for a business audience. And if your life is largely about work, at the expense of your personal life, these books, seminars, and retreats satisfy the desire to improve your performance and status at work.

But at the heart of this kind of career development work is “the wall”; the separation of work life and personal life. These programs concentrate on work/life balance which is totally dependent on the premise that work life and personal life are separate. And even more often, with these traditional development programs, there is really no specific discussion of the personal part of life. Instead, the intention is to help you manage your work more successfully so that you can have a personal life. But there is scarce or no real discussion about your non-working life and how to make that better.

Beat’s point of view is that this is a false dichotomy. There is no wall, and if you’ve created one on your own, you need to tear it down. He mentions the electronic umbilical cord that connects us with our work 24/7 which is a clear case of the wall between ‘work’ and ‘life’ tumbling down. In the other direction, he discusses the very real experiences we all go through in our personal lives that can overwhelm our emotional state at work. No matter how much work/life balance training we may have had, our actual lives are bigger than that. Think, the birth of a child, family problems, moving, a job search—there are an infinite number of events in our personal lives that are going to affect how we are doing at work. These are basic examples of how the line between personal and work life is constantly blurred.

[T]here has been so much written about work/life balance it’s almost as if dividing our lives in this way is embedded in our DNA. It isn’t.

At the same time, there has been so much written about work/life balance it’s almost as if dividing our lives in this way is embedded in our DNA. It isn’t. And “Become the CEO of Your Own Life” offers a solid path toward looking at your life for what it is. One life.

Beat has developed a personal development program called the Swiss PDP Approach. And it works. For many years, Dr. Bühlmann has been using this approach in trainings at world-class companies like HP, Dell, Google, and Evernote.

Here are several things that distinguish this approach.

  • It’s flexible, personal, and ever-changing. It relies on a simple but thoughtful organization of ideas that can change as you change.
  • It requires both the practical goals as well as the aspirational thinking that together make up a true picture of self discovery.
  • You do not work the The Swiss PDP Approach alone. Some of the early thinking is solo, but before you know it, you’ll be getting feedback from trusted friends. He calls them challengers.
  • It allows you to set your own timelines and intervals of achievement. It helps you be accountable to yourself at a pace that works for you.

So let’s do this.

Step 1: Your Life Map

Build it.

This is all about self assessment. Beat calls it making a Life Map. No computer template required. A couple of blank pieces of paper will do. And your Life Map starts on familiar ground; one part is personal and one part is work related. This is how most of us think of life anyway so it’s an easy way to get started. Personal on one side. Work on the other.

Around both topics, personal and work, simply write down the things you want to do, things you’d love to do. Don’t think too hard about how you’d accomplish each of them, that will simply derail the personal creative process of writing down what’s important to you. This is the place for dreams. Calling them ‘goals’ may switch you back into the world of OKRs and strict value-adding, measurable behavior—the kind of training and expectations offices swear by and is largely oblivious to personal discovery. This is different. What makes you feel good? What have you always wanted to do? In your personal life and in your professional life, this is about finding the sweet spots.

After you’ve done this for both personal and work-related goals, take a minute to add what might be next steps for each of these things. On the personal side, if you wrote “live abroad” as one of your ‘wants,’ you might add “learn a language.” On the work side, if you mentioned “improve computer skills” you could look into “find a course on SEO.” This way you will have a slightly better idea of what may be involved in making this thing happen.

And good news, there is help along the way. A powerful feature of the Swiss PDP Approach is a written guide to self assessment. It’s particularly helpful to people who have only taken work-related training programs because this guide teaches you how to comfortably open up and dig into the personal side of your life.

Edit it.

Your original Life Map is valuable. It’s intuitive and fresh which is all good. But you will want to take a second look. Sometimes after doing the first version, and getting used to this way of thinking, you may have other ideas or second thoughts. Sleep on it. And be open to making changes where they feel valid.

Even better, get feedback. It could be your best friend, your uncle, someone you’ve known for a while, but probably NOT your partner or your mother. These are your challengers. They are specifically invited to look over what you’ve done and let you know if you’re on track. Or if you’re being dishonest with yourself. Show challengers your Life Map and ask them if it feels true. It’s very common that this step leads to serious revisions. It’s natural. We see ourselves one way, and our self portrait is often a little fuzzy. Sharpen up the image with observations from people you know and trust.

Step 2: Your Life Cycle

With your shiny new, tuned up, and revised Life Map, you’re ready for the next step: an integrated timeline of your own design.

Start by setting up intervals that make sense to you. A three-year period with a bucket for each year. Or maybe a one-year period divided into four three-month chunks. It’s up to you (and you can always change it).

This stage in the Swiss PDP Approach is really key because it forces you to prioritize your goals over time. This step is when you take your Life Plan and think through each item enough to put each goal on a timeline. And there is absolutely no distinction here between personal life and work life. Personal and work goals are treated in exactly the same way. This is truly where the ‘one life’ approach comes into play.

Let’s say you are looking at a year in four three-month intervals. You look at your Life Map, both the personal and the work-related material, and start setting realistic timelines as to when these efforts can be started and completed. Do this for everything you’ve written down on your Life Map. It sounds so simple but now you’re seeing your whole life, on a timeline without a personal/work dichotomy. You’re seeing what you can do in the next three months to get where you want to be.

Turning plans into actions

Now simply look back, or forward, to something that, without reservation, makes you feel really good.

The Swiss PDP Approach is deceptively simple. And yet it often produces excitement and rejuvenation in individuals and teams that have only experienced more traditional life coaching.

Sometimes this process leads to fine tuning a life and sometimes it leads to major changes in direction. Here’s an example of the latter: A friend of ours was going through the self-assessment process and she was in for a big surprise. She was professionally successful and by all accounts, had a pretty good life. But along with getting repeatedly promoted, something else was failing. Her outlook on life. Entire days were turning into chores. Personal relationships were becoming strained. Something was up.

So with the help of a trusted friend as a coach, she shed the present and evoked a dream. It was sort of a blank empty space for a while. Then, gradually the mental ‘screen’ began to fill with images that made her laugh and cry. Emotions were very strong. Excitement, relief, and pleasure rushed over her all at once. She gathered herself and told her coach that all she could think about was her dogs.

She’d raised three Golden Retrievers from six weeks through the older years of 14, 13, and 16. Her heart had made this dog movie in her mind and it seemed to last an hour. It was probably 3 minutes. When she came back to Earth there was a new peace, a calmness she hadn’t felt in years. She knew where her heart wanted to go, and she went with it.

She started volunteering at the SPCA. She got into puppy training on the weekends. She worked with breeders to set up a website on new health guidelines for different breeds. She was a new person. She couldn’t wait for the day to begin and only reluctantly let it go. She said thank you and goodbye to a very sweet job and started Vet School. See? This really does work.

Here’s something you can try right now: Put away your to-do list, whether that means shutting down your phone or closing your desktop. Same for your calendar, which is really kind of a to-do list over time. If you can, take a walk. Just don’t sit at your desk. Now simply look back, or forward, to something that, without reservation, makes you feel really good. If it doesn’t come to you right away, take your time. You’ll know when you get there. And when you do, stay for a while. Instead of describing it, feel it. Fantastic. Now you know where you’re going. All you have to do is make a plan.


“Become the CEO of Your Own Life” by Beat Bühlmann is available at https://swiss-pdp-approach.com/

Written by Neal Cavanaugh on July 16, 2018.

Taking Note

"Taking Note" features insights and encouragement to help you regain control of your days, lead a more satisfying life, and focus on what matters most.

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Taking Note

"Taking Note" features insights and encouragement to help you regain control of your days, lead a more satisfying life, and focus on what matters most.

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