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.”

Do They Really Like Me? Does It Matter?

Many years ago, Sally Field famously accepted her Oscar, declaring, “You like me,” she said. “You really like me, ” strongly emphasizing the word ” really. ” What she actually said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me right now; you like me.” 

We probably misremember or misheard the quote because it isn’t just actors who are motivated by being liked; we all are. Psychologists say this misquote is sticky because it exemplifies a central human need.

And whether we are liked impacts our ability to have long-term, lasting success. Likability is an essential component of EQ, and it impacts the legacy we leave.

Of course, when taken too far, a focus on likeability can also impact our ability to have lasting success. 

Last week, I watched Death of a Salesman for the first time in many years. It is a tragic story about a salesman in the 1940s who believes that likeability is all one needs to succeed. And, not surprisingly, he finds out that it isn’t. 

Yet, we see the importance of likeability play out in business and, most visibly, in politics. 

Here in Chicago, we did not reelect our last mayor because lots of people don’t like her. Contrast that with Mayor “Ritchie” Daley, who served five terms from 1989 to 2011. Mayor Daley was extremely popular. As a result, he could do things people didn’t like (like swoop in and close an airport in the middle of the night, without any authority to do so) because people liked him, even if they didn’t always like what he did. (On side note, the airport closing turned out to be something the citizens of Chicago liked because it became a lovely park and concert venue). And our parks and the overall beauty of the city are part of Mayor Daley’s legacy.

Working with CEOs and C-suite executives, I observe the same phenomenon. Like Sally Field, the leaders who are really liked and respected by their teams get results. They get a pass when they make a mistake, especially when they own it and admit it. And more importantly, they get support when they want something to happen.

As we consider our own leadership, we should ask ourselves, perhaps daily: Even though I may already be respected, what can I do today to hone my EQ skills and increase my likability?

January Reflections – Bold Subtraction

As January draws to a close, and we reflect on the goals we set, perhaps even create a new habit or two, is it also time to reflect on the nature of our goals?

Most of us tend to think in terms of additions.

  • What new thing do we want to do?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • What new accomplishments do we want to achieve?

The challenge with adding and not subtracting is, for most of us, there simply isn’t room. So, before you give up and join the ranks of folks exiting the gym before Valentine’s Day or stop setting goals, as one of my clients recently said, “I put the same things on my goal list every year; it seems silly to bother,” is it time to consider a bold subtraction instead?

Here are some questions that may help answer the bold subtraction question:

  • What did I give only my time, and not my passion, to last year?
  • How does this answer compare to previous years?
  • If my passion/time ratio has declined, what must I do or learn to change this? Do I want to continue to invest the required energy in this endeavor? 
  • If I boldly subtracted this passionless activity from my life, am I willing to go bravely forward not knowing, and instead discovering, what I will replace it with?

The Fresh Start Effect

Temporal landmarks inspire us to reflect on our lives in a big-picture way motivating us to set goals for better behavior. 

Researchers describe this phenomenon as the fresh-start effectAccording to the fresh-start effect, people are likelier to take action toward a goal after temporal landmarks. Psychologists studying the fresh-start effect show that it works because highlighting meaningful occasions creates a clean slate for people to make better decisions. 

This month is one of those important temporal landmarks. A new year, a new beginning, an opportunity to choose:

  • What matters to me? What am I willing to change or stop so that what matters to me gets my attention?
  • What important thing have I been neglecting? Health perhaps?
  • What actions am I willing to take to turn my resolutions into actions and my actions into habits that extend beyond Valentine’s Day?

Stay In Your Swim Lane

The phrase “stay in your swim lane” has become a familiar refrain, especially in the corporate world. A euphemism for focus on your responsibilities, stay out of mine. 

It has also come to mean sticking to your area of competence and experience. 

But what if you want to try something new?

You Pivot™ clients want change; that’s why they sign up for the program. Sometimes, the change they seek results in a shift in the same lane; sometimes, it’s not only a new lane, it’s a new pool. 

Following is my personal swim lane story. I’ve had three major pivots in my life. My first significant pivot was a shift from executive in the financial services world to consultant in the same space. I was swimming in a new pool of entrepreneurship rather than corporate executive, but the lane, i.e., financial services, was familiar. 

My next pivot was to a new pool and a new lane as I began working primarily with C-Suite leaders of privately held companies, first as a consultant and then as a leadership coach. This pivot was challenging in new ways as I had to overcome the swim lane expectation. After spending 20+ years in financial services, that was my expected swim lane. I wanted to be industry agnostic, and it took a while before I had a diverse group of clients from different industries.

By the time I created the You Pivot™ Program, I had been swimming in my executive coach lane for many years. The shift from leadership coach to executive life coach – supporting leaders who are in transition and want to pivot – was seamless. 

As I think about my You Pivot™ clients, most have stayed in their lane. Some have chosen a shift to a new role in the same industry, and some have stayed where they were with a fresh perspective. A few have ventured out of their lane, e.g., from corporate executive to founder of a new enterprise, from business leader to not-for-profit leader, or even out of leadership to direct volunteering. 

The peer pressure to stay in your lane can be intense. I have a client who has been a not-for-profit leader for many years; colleagues are pushing her to move to her next NFP leadership role, to stay in her lane. She wants to explore other pools and has begun this exploration since we have been working together.    

In summary, while staying in your lane is easier and holds merit in some contexts, it is essential to recognize that there are situations where breaking free from such constraints is not only acceptable but advantageous. 

Embracing flexibility, being open to new experiences, and a willingness to investigate other “pools” can lead to personal and professional growth in this ever-changing world.

Are Your Expectations Too High Or Too Low?

How do you know if your expectations are too high or too low?

  • Sometimes, we set our sights too low and don’t achieve as much as we can.
  • Sometimes, we expect too much from ourselves and feel we don’t measure up.
  • Sometimes, we expect too much from clients, vendors, and others, and they feel they can’t please us.
  • Sometimes, we expect too little or don’t ask for what we want from others and take on too much ourselves instead.

How do we know which it is? For me, the litmus test is this:

  • How often are my expectations of myself or others met?
  • What does my gut say about that percentage? Too high? Too low?
  • What must I do next to align my expectations with what is possible?

Why Do We Doodle?

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.

Humans have doodled throughout history. Yet, there tends to be judgment around it. We see someone doodling and often assume they are not paying attention. 

And the research says otherwise.

“To Doodle: to make spontaneous marks to help yourself think; a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus.”

I was recently sitting in a presentation, noticing some listeners doodling, and truth be told, doodling myself. 

I remembered this Ted Talk by Sunni Brown that I watched years ago. And suddenly felt good about my doodling. 

Sunni wants us to doodle more! How much more effective could we all be if we listened to her and made a conscious effort to doodle more?

Are You a Journaler?

I am told that people who like to express themselves in writing keep journals. I am not a journaler. I never have been. Yet, I like to write.

I was curious about this, so I asked some journalers and non-journalers why they journal. Here is what I learned.

My husband is an engineer by training, and he is also an artist. He designs and makes beautiful knives. He is also a fly fisherman, another form of artistry. He tells me he keeps a journal of both activities to track progress and preserve memories.

I have a friend who keeps a journal of poetry.

And I have another friend who keeps a journal of her travels.

Perhaps these Sunday Stories are my journal.

Webster defines a journal as “a record of experiences, ideas or reflections kept regularly for private use.” I found this definition unsatisfying and perhaps dated.

Do you write in a journal about something that matters to you? What is the reason you do it?

As The Leaves Begin to Fall…

The weather here turned cold today, ending what seemed to be an endless summer. As the leaves begin to fall and we transition to winter in the Northern climes, it reminds us of the cyclicality of life. Time to reflect on what has passed, celebrate our successes, and remind ourselves that whatever may have been our failures, we get an opportunity in the new year to begin again.

In my experience, putting some intentionality around what I want to happen increases my chances of looking back at this time next year and noticing and measuring progress and success. With that in mind, I offer the following questions to consider before the year comes to an end. 

  1. Was there a significant experience in the past year that impacted you? How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired? 
  2. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you are especially proud of from this past year?
  3. What is one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year? Why is this important to you? 

What Are You Waiting For?

For those living in Maui or who haven’t been and may have wanted to go, the tragedy there is a sad reminder — if something or someone is important to you, seize the day; tomorrow may be too late.

If you listen to the doomsayers, the world may end soon, either from climate change or AI control of the markets, atomic mishap or, or, or…fill in the blank.

While the pessimists will tell you there is no way out, the optimists fervently believe it will all sort itself out. Regardless of which point of view you align with, the fires in Maui did happen, and the death toll is still unknown. 

For me, the message in all this is to pursue a life that focuses on what matters to us. I often ask my You Pivot™ Clients to consider not what they think should matter but what actually does matter to them. And then, go after it, create your Tomorrow Story, and figure out what life changes are required to get from here to there.

Sometimes getting started is hard. People often feel selfish, putting themselves first. They have others they want to please or feel an obligation toward. Yet, every time we fly, the flight attendant reminds us that we can’t support others if we don’t put our oxygen masks on first.