Why Work-Life ‘Balance’ is About Way More Than Balance

Forget about work-life balance — seek brilliance.

By Denise Green.

When I ask all my new clients what they most want to achieve during our work together, nearly everyone names “work–life balance.” Then I ask what balance looks like to them. Usually, it involves less time at the office, and more quality time with self, friends, and family. When I dig deeper, I always discover that they really want something much more than balance. The more they get in touch with their own fears, emotions, values, and heart’s desires, the farther off course they feel.

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I met Samantha in my leadership workshop, “Conversations for Brilliance.” I could tell she was an inspiring, wicked-smart leader with that coveted combination of emotional intelligence, expertise, and work ethic. After the workshop she asked if I’d be her personal coach, saying that she wanted better work–life balance — more free time, more energy to work out, and more quality time with her young daughter and husband.

She also wanted to feel less stress from her grueling job and commute. Samantha described herself as a people-pleaser. She’d been the peacemaker in her family growing up. This identity carried over in her work life. Her can-do attitude, coupled with resourcefulness, expertise, and a talented team, helped her become a dumping zone for troubled projects, as well as an incubator for bringing nascent ideas to thriving life.

This role had a cost.

She was exhausted, depleted, and deflated, feeling like she was taking more and more on for little personal and professional gain. She was constantly tired and was frustrated that she couldn’t lose her pregnancy weight, despite eating well. After a couple of intake sessions, it became clear that our work would involve helping her draw stronger boundaries and use more declarative language at home and work. I also urged her to see a holistic medical doctor who would run a bazillion blood tests to find the underlying imbalance that was resulting in fatigue and weight gain.

At the end of our program, she gave me one of the best compliments I could ever receive when she said, “Thanks to you, I have my mojo back.” To her, “mojo” meant a sense of power, strength, and integration. A feeling that she could make life happen, instead of having life happen to her. A feeling of being energized versus depleted.

Samantha’s story is unique, just as yours is. But the underlying desire to thrive is universal. As you may have experienced, striving for so-called balance — just the right amount of hours spent at home and work — usually leads to frustration and guilt. So, let’s set aside notions about work–life balance and play a bigger (yet, ironically, more achievable) game. I suggest we aim for Whole-Life Integration. My new executive clients are sometimes surprised when I ask them about sleep, diet, family, friends, and fun. I tell them my goal is to help them be their best selves, and to do that, I have to focus on the whole person. Many clients are more than ready to have these conversations. Evan, a vice president of operations at a global wine company, hired me to help him be a stronger leader. For years, we had a great partnership helping him communicate strategy, lead through change, and engage with his team. But he quickly grasped the personal potential within a coaching partnership. He came to recognize the voice inside his head that told him he “wasn’t good enough” and “wasn’t doing enough.”

It’s a voice we all have, and one that can cause us great pain. Evan learned to see it for what it was and practice gratitude for all that he had and had created. He began to trust himself and allow praise from his loyal team members to actually land. He stopped saying yes to every activity that came across his path, and learned to deeply value simple walks and routines with his loving family. He partnered with my holistic MD, Morgan Camp, and lost about thirty pounds, gained energy, and improved his sleep.

My one-word term for Whole-Life Integration is brilliance. Brilliance happens when we feel a sense of freedom and agency over our lives: ease, instead of struggle; freedom, instead of being trapped in a toxic body, relationship, thought pattern, or job.

Brilliance is the opposite of burned out, and a serious upgrade from blah. It’s about reigniting that spark in all of us that has dimmed over the years. It’s about integrating and strengthening all aspects of our lives so we feel like we’re capable of stepping into our glorious, radiant potential.

Brilliance may seem impossible but it’s not. You were born with a spark, and then life piled on. This book is about how to clear the muck so you can shine brilliantly again. We all know people who are very strong in one aspect of their lives, yet weak in another.

A person who has incredible financial success but poor relationships and high stress, for example, is not leading his most brilliant life. A leader with a great mind for strategy but little empathy for others won’t be able to truly develop a loyal, world-class team.

Denise is a speaker, writer, and executive coach dedicated to helping people ignite their potential, and go from burned-out (or blah) to brilliant. After a successful career in Corporate, Denise founded Brilliance Inc., a coaching and training corporation. For over a decade, she and her team have helped thousands of people feel less stressed, and have more ease and fulfillment in all areas of their lives. She knows what it’s like to overcome major setbacks: after a car accident in 2003, she was told by a doctor that she might never be able to work. Denise has been referred to as a mini Tony Robbins because of the humor, compassion, knowledge, and pragmatism she brings to helping people to transform their lives for good.

Denise R. Green, founder Brilliance Inc. Excerpted from Work-Life Brilliance: Tools to Break Stress and Create the Life and Health You Crave.