Is Work/Life Balance a Myth?
Jeff Mask, Vice President, Revenue Retention
There are moments in life that make you crystal clear on what’s really important. For me that moment happened 12 years ago when I almost lost my wife and son during child birth. I’ll never forget that feeling of intense fear and loneliness when my wife was whisked away on the gurney. I faced the brutal reality of life alone. A few years later, melanoma skin cancer was a battle that my family had to face, as well. This time, my wife confronted with the possibility of living life alone. During tough times like this, you get a deeper perspective of what life really means. These experiences helped solidify my commitment to my family coming first in my life. But even when you get wake up calls as harsh as ours, a plan has to be established to ensure you remain focused on life’s most important elements.
The myth of work/life balance
For small business owners, there is a constant need to find equilibrium between a demanding career and a vital personal life. Assuming you can put the two on an even scale, though, is deceiving. Whether you’re a solopreneur or employ 25 workers, the pull of business demands is ever-present. To be successful in both arenas doesn’t mean you have equal hours at home and in the office, it means you have found a rhythm that fulfills both sides.
Stability that sings
Several years ago, I was part of a successful men’s quartet. We sang all over, bringing smiles, entertainment, and awesome vocals to many people, but one thing we never attempted was vocal balance. In a quartet, it is not only impossible, but you really don’t want everyone’s voice balanced with every other voice, as you don’t want the volume and tone to remain the same. The crucial ingredient in every performance was perfect harmony. Sometimes my voice rose above the others instead of melodically blended into the background and sometimes our bass needed to be soft and breathy rather than loud and rich. While our voices were never “balanced,” we always had amazing harmony.
Striking harmony instead of balance
Like you, I have an intense work life, waking up early in the morning and often needing to work late, as well. Also, like many of you, I have a family who I love dearly and who come first in my life. I have found that the secret to having a successful family life and work life is to strive for harmony between the two, not balance. A dear friend, Anita Grantham—former vice president of culture at Infusionsoft—turned me on to the idea of work-life harmony vs. work-life balance, and my heart and mind immediately connected with this. In our quartet, when our voices were in perfect harmony, our total contributions were more beautiful. In fact we could hear and see things differently. I found this same experience when the four parts of my life are in harmony. For me, these four parts are my wife, kids, church/community, and work. In addition to these four main areas, there is a side area that I always keep in mind, and that’s “personal time.” This is time to ensure I’m healthy spiritually, mentally, and physically. I take the time to exercise and think to ensure that I’m refreshed and able to fully give to the other four areas of my life! In our quartet, we weren’t always in perfect harmony, in fact, sometimes one of us might have been a bit flat or sharp. When this happened, we had to quickly take the steps necessary to get back on track. You’ll find that as you seek harmony with the main areas of your life, there’s often going to be a give and take to stay to in order to stay in harmony. Here are a few things I do to ensure my life’s quartet is in harmony:
- Blend the parts together. If you segment life into separate compartments, it’s really hard to blend them together and have harmony.Instead, you should view the important pieces of your puzzle as one unit, with several parts. For example, commonly at home I’ll share my work goals with my family and teach the principles of goal-setting and goal-achieving during dinner. I share the ups and the downs and ask my kids to cheer me on. Conversely, at work I’ll share the latest kid story to provide a solid belly laugh for my co-workers.When (not if) the two parts collide and I’m pulled in two separate directions, each part is aware of and supportive of the other, which makes it much easier to find harmony.
- Be authentic. Sometimes, it’s easy to be nice to your boss but treat your kids not so well. Or maybe you treat your Pastor or a community leader with a great deal of respect but you’re terrible to your employees. Having a harmonious balance means that you’re authentic and you must strive to treat every part of your life as well as you can.Be “you” in every situation. You’ll have less stress, more peace, and more harmony in your whole life—instead of just parts of it.
- Give and take. Recently I took a business trip to London and was away from my family for several days. Before I left, I explained to my family that when I got back we were going to do a variety of activities and have an “at-home” vacation.When I got back, and committed to the staycation, my family didn’t even feel like I was gone that long.Sometimes you HAVE to work long days and give more than average hours to your work, but in those times you have to readjust expectations and to give that much more to your family.
- Communicate clearly. I’ve been in situations where the company culture was come in early, leave very late and work hard all the time to accomplish sales goals. For many small businesses, that demand is placed on you to ensure your business thrives.What I had to do was explain to the managers who I reported to that I would reach and actually exceed sales goals, but I had to do it my way.Since you are the one running that ship, you have to communicate clearly with your partners, employees, family and even yourself.Provide vocal and written insight into how you expect to achieve harmony in your life and communicate these goals and needs clearly so that expectations are set and you’re held accountable for what you said you’d achieve.
- Commit to harmony Jim Collins, in his extensive study of top companies, found that there are two types of CEOs (or executives) in great companies. Type one executives, make work their life. Type two executives have other passions and interests outside of the office demands. If you want to be the latter, you must commit to enabling harmony.
My harmony, can’t be your harmony and your harmony cant’ be mine. No matter what elements fit into your life, you must pick what kind of rhythm you want and need, commit to it and live it. Work/life balance is a myth and I’d dare say impossible. The important factors of your life can’t be equal at all times, but they can harmonize in a way that’s fulfilling.
Challenge: Write down the parts of your life that must be in harmony? Draw a pie chart with what the harmony is now. In three months, after you’ve started working on a better harmony, look at the paper and see how you’ve improved. Ask those closest to you to hold you accountable—and then listen to their perspective. You’re sure to hear the harmony much more quickly, and meaningfully.
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