The Ever Elusive Search for Work-Life Balance

For many of us, the holy grail of success is achieving “Work-Life- Balance.” It is a topic of frequent discussion in my coaching sessions and is often first on the list when we start working together.
And yet, despite all the discussions, books, and articles, many of us feel this “balance” eludes us. It may be because we see it as an either/or – choosing between work and life to achieve balance.
What if, instead, we saw it, as James Michener did, becoming masters in the art of living.

“Masters in the art of living make little distinction
between their work and their play, their
labor and their leisure, their mind and their
body, their information, and their
recreation, their love, and their religion.
They hardly know which is which.
They simply pursue their vision of excellence at
whatever they do, leaving others to
decide whether they are working or playing.
To them, they are always doing both.”

Are We Having Fun?

First, I have news: I am excited to share that as a complement to my You Pivot™ Program, I have engaged with the University of Chicago’s Leadership & Society Initiative as a founding instructor and executive life coach.

Every now and then, the subject of fun comes up in a meeting with a client, with my client saying something like, “I am not having fun,” or “I don’t allow myself to have fun,” or, “I don’t have time for fun.” 

Adult life is often a whirlwind of responsibilities, deadlines, and routines, leaving little room for the joys of unadulterated fun. Yet healthy adults recognize the positive mindset that results from having fun is a necessity for mental and emotional well-being.

Recognizing this, I frequently recommend The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and Dalai Lama. One of my many learnings from these two wise men is that fun can mean different things to different people. The key is how we feel when we are doing it. 

My own story about having fun came up in a recent conversation with a good friend who said, “My husband keeps telling me I need to spend more time playing.”

Her comment resonated with me, as my husband and some of my male friends have said the same to me.

While neither of us considers ourselves “playful,” we both like to have fun. While our definition of fun doesn’t include going to the playground or even adult playgrounds like golf courses, we agreed that our time together in conversation is something we both describe as fun, as are our trips to exotic places and visits to art museums. 

This conversation made me wonder, 

  • Do men and women define the words play and fun differently to themselves?
  • Or is play an extrovert term rather than a gendered term? 
  • Is one person’s play or fun, another’s work? For example, an introverted, detail-oriented person might find it fun to analyze spreadsheets, while an extrovert would describe this as work.

Independence Day

One of the books I like to recommend to my You Pivot™ clients is Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. 

In this book, Cloud uses a metaphor of rose bushes and compares them to our businesses, careers, and lives. He explains that a rose bush cannot support all the buds it creates. The beautiful ones only become so because of pruning. 

Cloud describes three types of pruning: pruning the good but not great branches, pruning the sick branches, and finally, pruning the deadwood. Perhaps the last two types are obvious, albeit sometimes hard to do. The first made me pause; really, I need to cut off some good branches for my rose bushes to flourish?

As I think about Independence Day, I notice the parallel between necessary endings and independence. For some of our forefathers, my guess is the relationship with Great Britain was good but not great. It certainly had benefits to go with the taxes and other challenges. And yet, despite the benefits, the founders of our country had the courage to recognize that an ending was necessary, declare their independence, and fight for it.

So, for each of us, the question becomes…

Who or what do we need to declare our independence from (and perhaps fight to summon the courage to do it) so that we can flourish like a well-pruned rose bush?

P.S. Another favorite you might like in the same genre is a book actually titled Independence Day by Steve Lopez.

The Under-Rated Value of Patience

Patience is not one of my strong suits, so I looked up the definition before writing this story.

“the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”

As leaders, most of us are action-oriented. Something crosses our desk; we deal with it. If an issue arises with a customer, a vendor, or an employee, we take action. Same with our health. We have an injury or an illness, and we immediately ask, what can I do to “fix” this? How can I expedite the healing? 

And, sometimes, if we let things unfold at their own pace, we achieve a better result. 

What?? Isn’t that avoidance or procrastination, or even laziness? And…

  • Sometimes, that annoying email doesn’t require a response.
  • Sometimes, working to “fix” an ache or pain or a situation causes a new one to “fix” someplace else.
  • Sometimes action is needed, and sometimes doing nothing is simply the best strategy.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Secret of Life

I’ve had several conversations lately with clients and colleagues about life stages. In 1977, James Taylor wrote The Secret o’ Life. The full lyrics are worth a read, and here’s an excerpt: 

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.

Any fool can do it, 

There ain’t nothing to it.

Nobody knows how we got 

To the top of the hill.

But since we’re on our way down, 

We might as well enjoy the ride.

Isn’t it a lovely ride? 

Sliding down, gliding down,

Try not to try too hard, 

It’s just a lovely ride.

I am struck by Taylor’s wisdom at the age of 27 when he wrote this, and the lyrics remind me of a personal experience with an older man years later. 

 I was sitting on a bench at the old Union Station. The man sat down next to me, and we engaged in conversation. I asked him where he was headed, and he replied with glee, “San Francisco!”

“Wow,” I said, “that is a long way to go on the train.” His reply: “There is as much fun in getting there as there is in being there.”

Taylor’s lyrics and the words of the man on the bench have stayed with me, and I often think of their words in these situations:

  • When I am too focused on getting to the outcome
  • When it’s time to pause
  • When it’s time to remember to be in the moment

As I embark on a trip to Japan in May, I plan to practice the in-the-moment secret, beginning with a hiatus from Sunday Stories. I will publish my usual end-of-month quote next week, and I will see you in June

Nurture Your Butterflies

When was the last time you wasted time? When you were “wasting time,” did you feel joyful and creative, or — if you’re like me, did you feel even a tiny bit guilty for “being unproductive?” 

How much better might it have been? How much more would you have enjoyed your time — how much more would you have gotten out of it — if you didn’t feel guilty about it or feel the need to explain it?

Here’s a fact: downtime is vital to our lives.

As human beings, we often find ourselves caught in the never-ending cycle of productivity, constantly striving to achieve more.

Contrary to popular belief, wasting time can actually be beneficial for our overall well-being. However, wasting time poorly is a sin (or whichever word you prefer) because not only are you forgoing the productivity, generosity, and art that comes from work, but you’re also giving up the experimentation, creativity, and joy that comes from wasting time.

If you’re going to waste time (and I hope you will), please do it well; and find inspiration by nurturing your butterflies within.

The Privilege of Choice

I frequently ask my clients, What are you willing to give up to get what you want? 

The ‘give up’ may be something we believe. It may be fear (of failing, being wrong), comfort with what we have or know, or it may be tangible, a cost associated with a choice.

When we are talking about giving up something to get what we want, the key questions are these:

  • How much do I want the “something” I say I want?
  • What am I willing to give up to get it?

We live in a world of abundant choices. From the clothes we wear to the career choices we make, we are constantly faced with decisions that shape our lives. While having choices can be a privilege, it can also be a source of fear and anxiety. The fear of making the wrong choice or FOMO can paralyze us and prevent us from taking action.

The fear of making the wrong choice is a common experience that can prevent us from taking risks and pursuing the change we desire. However, we also know that making mistakes and experiencing setbacks is a natural part of growth and learning.

Here are some strategies for navigating the privilege and fear of choice:

  1. Consider what REALLY matters to you: Take the time to reflect on your values, passions, and goals. When you are clear on what matters, you can make choices that align with your authentic self.
  2. Prioritize and simplify: While having choices can be empowering, it can also lead to decision fatigue. To avoid this, prioritize your options and simplify your decision-making process. Consider what’s most important to you, and focus on the choices that align with your priorities.
  3. Take action: Making a choice involves taking a risk, but that doesn’t mean you have to be reckless. Instead, just as you do in business, gather information, weigh your options, consider the potential outcomes, and then take action.

In summary, having choices can be both a privilege and a source of fear. By cultivating self-awareness, prioritizing and simplifying, and taking calculated risks, we can effectively navigate the complex world of life choices.

How Do You Define Professional?

I am a member of a peer group of other coaches. Each month, one of our members poses a thought question to the group. Recently, he asked, “How do you define professional?”.

As intended, both the question and the answers caused me to pause. The answers included:

  • Respectful and honest
  • Speaking candidly while being kind
  • Keeping my self-awareness higher than my self-confidence
  • It depends on the circumstances; what may be professional in one case may be considered unprofessional in another
  • Showing up and doing your best even when you are tired, stressed, or otherwise dealing with challenges in your life

This last response triggered a memory for me.

Years ago, a woman I knew told me she learned her father had suddenly died just as she was about to go on stage to give a speech. She proudly told me that she put on a smile, went on stage, delivered her speech, and afterward sat down and cried.

I felt unsettled about her choice, and her comments stayed with me.

  • Was this “professional” or something else?
  • When does our desire to “be professional” overtake our responsibility for self-care?
  • How do we recognize the difference and apply the “it depends on the circumstances answer?”

What Do You Do When You Feel Stuck?

We’ve all been there. We are working on a project and can’t get to completion. Or not to a completion for which we are satisfied The project could be something short-term, an assignment for a client, writing the next blog, or it could be something big, perhaps a life decision.

  • Some of us power through, get to an acceptable answer and move on.
  • Some of us pause, ruminate, beat ourselves up for not getting the “right” answer, or even stop altogether.

Whatever your default modus operandi, I invite you to consider an alternative: meditate on it.

Meditation can be

  • Sitting quietly in the traditional form of meditation for a few minutes today, for several days, weeks, or even more, depending on the scope of the challenge.
  • Scheduling what one of my clients refers to as “library time,” time with yourself to write, think, and plan.
  • Or, it could be reading something that inspires you, going for a walk or going for a run.

Whatever it is for you, next time you get stuck, consider meditating on it.

Are You Making a Pearl?

I was sitting with a client this week who was feeling unsettled and a bit stuck. Further, she had been feeling this way for some time and was frustrated that she hadn’t figured out what to do about it. 

As I listened to her, knowing that she is an action-oriented person, my intuition was that she wasn’t stuck; rather, she is going through a process of development and change and figuring out her tomorrow story. 

And, then I thought, hmm, that’s what an oyster does when it makes a pearl. 

According to the American Museum of Natural History, a pearl forms within the shell of an oyster when an irritant becomes trapped in the mollusk.

As we discussed this more, she realized that when she felt this way in the past, it led to a pivot. Ah ha. 

We seldom change without a catalyst. And sometimes, that catalyst makes us uncomfortable and becomes an irritant we wish would go away. Yet, when it doesn’t, we might very well be forming a pearl.