defn. a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often wryly amusing as a result.
Like starting a blog post about “work/life” balance and then finding that more than three months have gone and you haven’t finished it. And you haven’t finished it because you are so damn busy and tired to find even 15 minutes to write…
This very short article popped up on my LinkedIn wall today which sent me back to the keyboard. Branson (or whoever writes his posts) summed up what I was struggling to compose, only he did it in a short-sharp soundbite – something I decidedly suck at!
So my version follows – it wasn’t inspired by Branson’s words, but they were the motivation to get it done!
As a working father balance is something that is always on my mind. I don’t like to think of it as Work/Life balance. I think that’s a misleading concept. It implies that your work isn’t part of your life. It suggests that they are contrary and opposing forces.
I think that’s silly.
Some people are better than others at compartmentalising their work time and their family/personal time, but to suggest that they are completely independent of each other is, in my opinion, futile. Unless you are independently wealthy. Then your choice to work is completely in your hands. The rest of us need to work to eat.
So if it isn’t work/life balance what is it? I like to think of it as just balance. When you find balance your “work” time and “not-work” time form a kind of symbiotic and harmonious relationship.
defn. A symbiotic relationship benefits both parties.
defn. forming a pleasing or consistent whole, free from disagreement or dissent.
There are lots of theories on how to achieve work life balance. Google it (here’s one I prepared earlier for you) there’s literally 10’s of millions of results for it. Some of them are great, some are (in my personal opinion) just plain dumb. I was recently introduced to James Clear’s “Four Burners Theory” which resonated with me. So did a talk I attended given by Ian Narev, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s CEO and an exceptional speaker with a lot of experience in this space!
I’ve come up with my own theories on balance. I’m by no means an expert. I fail just as often (more often even?) as I succeed. But I have managed to maintain a healthy, loving relationship (16 years and counting… 9 of them married, 5 1/2 of them with kids), built a moderately successful career and been an active, involved and mostly-present father to my children (so far). We’re not going to talk about my health – let’s just say the bathroom scale and I aren’t really on speaking terms. So on balance I must be doing something right…
So how I do I approach things?
Understand, and agree to, your non-negotiables
Make sure that you and your partner/family/friends define the things that are deal-breakers when it comes to life. Then keep to them. Easy right? There is plenty of room for give and take along the way, but some things are just too darn important to miss out on. Like Birthdays. Like Christmas. Like “If we’re signing him up for swimming lessons, then you better be able to get him there”. They won’t always be the obvious things, so that’s why you need to talk about it. If you don’t agree on these things up front then you’re asking for trouble.
It goes both ways though. Understand, and agree on, your work non-negotiables. Before you take that promotion or exciting new role, make sure you understand what you are committing yourself to – do the pro’s outweigh the con’s? Can all of your non-negotiables live in happy harmony?
Balance is like the tides, it needs to ebb and flow
This is the biggest mistake that I see made, both by people and companies alike. They expect everything to run on an even keel all the time. They want to be able to do the 9 – 5 Monday to Friday, nothing more, nothing less. In my experience life doesn’t run on a regular schedule. Sometimes you need to do some work on the weekends. Sometimes you need to stay late to get something done. Sometimes you need to work from home so you can coach your son’s school touch team on a Friday afternoon.
This is where the symbiotic bit comes into play. As long as you are giving as much as you take (or vice-versa) then you will be able to happily embrace the bumpy, lumpy roller-coaster ride that is life and stay comfortably balanced throughout. A lot of this comes down to your employer so choose wisely!
Is it worth it?
Over the years Kerryn and I have given more time than we’ve taken back, particularly when it comes to our careers. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Maybe my perspective will change as I age, but from where I’m standing now I’m pretty happy with how things are working out.
Because it was worth it. Because we understood our non-negotiables and stuck to them while working our butts off to achieve the things that we wanted most in life. Financial stability, a roof over our heads, a family, the “luxury” of Kerryn being able to be a stay at home mum and not worry about rushing back into the workforce. Boring things, I know, but our things.
So remember to ask yourself, as you knowingly throw your balance off-centre, “Why am I doing this again?” and “Is it going to be worth it?“. For me the answer always comes back to whether it means I get to enjoy more of these kinds of days:
Do what you love and love what you do
Branson’s article says it better than I can, so I’ll just add one thing. Some of the most skilled, talented and engaging people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with genuinely loved their jobs. These are people that had found careers and roles that aligned so well with their personality, interests and passions that coming to work was an exciting prospect!
Steve Jobs summed this up:
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
I’ll add to that the words of a dearly-beloved colleague who was sadly taken from us far too soon. His words have always resonated with me:
“I’m lucky to be able to do a job I love, with people I respect, doing things that make a difference.”
How many of us can say that?
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