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Jul 9, 2008

Fighting Work-Life Balance Stress: Attack Of The 50-Ft. Goals

ArrrghAs I sit in my war room pondering what work-life balance means to me, I’m struck by the cruel irony that I imagine all goal-oriented people must feel … my goals cause me a lot of stress.  Not an ounce or two of “oh, I’m running late” kind of stress, but a full metric crapton of “Dear God, can I actually do all this?” kind of stress.  The kind that turns your stomach in knots – the kind that I can wager we’re all familiar with.

I know where this comes from.  It comes from “Out There.”

The “Domesticated” Definition of Work-Life Balance

It’s hit me this morning that a lot of what I associate with the word “balance” has to do with perfection.  That balance means I have X amount of time with my kids, X amount of time with my wife, X amount of time with my goals while managing X amount of time with my day job.  That balance means everyone’s smiling, everyone’s happy, everything’s ideal and perfect.  Naturally, perfection is a pretty foolish bar to set, since it’s impossible to reach, but emotionally it’s hard to break away from that.

I should know that.  I mean, I really should know that.  I even talk about balance in my time management program.  But still, the emotion remains, and it’s a strong one, rooted in the sum of 32 years of messages from television, movies, pop culture, and the faces we all put on when we’re out and about in society.  the sum of all the messages you get from “Out There” rather than conscious decisions you make “Inside.”

I mean face it – when you think of someone who’s balanced, the image you get is of someone who “has it all together.” Who has plenty of time.  Who has a more “perfect” life than you.  And at some level we know that’s bullshit, because people have the same internal problems the world over.  But on the outside, we’re conditioned by everything we see, hear and feel that somehow things just come easier for other people, and that their lives have an aura of perfection.

Don\'t Be A Good DogAgain, that’s bullshit.  I’ve done coaching for people making five and six figures a month, and I can tell you they shake in their shoes the same way we all do.  But modern culture has domesticated us, training us to believe that “If you just work hard, stay in school, follow all the rules and work a little overtime, everything will all balance out and you’ll have it all.  Good dog.”

The Enlightened View of Work Life Balance

I have a confession to make: I used the word enlightened in that header just to see how it looked.  Very Zen Habits. For a full four seconds I actually felt more sophisticated.  :-)    Seriously, though, I think there’s a better way of viewing balance, one that’s less rooted in how much time you’re spending on areas of your life and one that’s more rooted in both how much fulfillment you’re extracting from life as well as how much you’re contributing.

And that’s a big shift, because it pulls away from the domesticated view that balance means having it all and turns it more towards being and doing things that are more meaningful.  And frankly, that’s a hell of a lot less stressful.  It takes all the “You have to impress everyone around you” out of the equation.  Which is hard as hell for an extrovert like me who depended on success as a survival mechanism for my formative years, but I’m working on it.

The Point Of It All: Question Your Goals

This hasn’t been a very how-to post because I’m talking more about something I’m working through internally here – the idea that maybe some of my goals (or many of them, honestly) don’t really support what I want out of life.  They just support what I think I want out of life, because that’s what I was taught would make me happy.  But more and more I find that happiness comes from breaking away from the stay-in-school-get-a-good-job-look-good-to-others tips I grew up hearing.

I don’t want to be another “good dog.”  Thankfully, in most senses I’m not, but when it comes to some of the more personal issues I realize that I’ve let my goals be pushed on me by the expectations of society rather than what I really, really want and need.  And I’m sharing this because I’ve learned over the last 3 decades that we’re more alike than different and if you’re feeling something specific, odds are a lot of people are feeling it too.

So that’s today’s stress-reliever for you.  Look at the work-life balance “rules” you set up, the goals that are causing you stress, and ask yourself if those are really the goals that will make you happy.  Ask yourself if you really need to achieve X, and Y, and Z … or do you just think that will make you happy?  Ask yourself how those goals might change if you didn’t worry what other people thought about you.  Ask yourself if you might need to let go of some of those goals, and choose ones that fit the real you better.   (If you find it hard to ask these questions, just read Clay Collins for a bit and let him push you out of your comfort zone.)

While challenging your goals may be will be something you feel initial resistance to, in the end it will cut down on your overall stress levels as you connect with what you really want, what will really make you feel fulfilled.  50-foot goals are great, but they’re not always what they are cracked up to be.  To hell with productivity – we all want meaning a whole lot more.

That’s it for now.  More how-to goodness to follow, so subscribe to this blog by email or RSS to stay on top of it all.  And if you haven’t left a comment lately, I’d love to hear your opinion on letting go of the stress that comes with how you define “work-life balance.”

15 Responses to “Fighting Work-Life Balance Stress: Attack Of The 50-Ft. Goals”

  • Jul 9, 2008 Brett Legree

    From Fight Club:

    “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

    As you say, Dave – work towards something that means something to *you*. We all need money at some level, but there’s more to it than that. I make a pretty good salary.

    But it does not make me happy, which is what started me on this damn-fool idealistic crusade ;)

    Brett Legree’s last blog post..a cog.

  • Jul 9, 2008 Michael Martine

    Lots of passion and reality both in this post. Good stuff! I am coming to hate that massive dread I feel because of the weight of everything I have to do. All the “tricks” we are taught do not ever really make that go away.

  • Jul 9, 2008 Betsy Wuebker

    The trouble with referring to “it” as balance is the implication that you must continually take from one part to replenish another which has a deficit. I aspire more towards integration. Seems a lot less like work in every way, even when I legitimately am working!

  • Jul 9, 2008 Catherine

    I’m not sure what I feel about all this. It’s something I battle with, certainly. Just wanted to leave a note to let you know I’m thinking on it.

    Catherine’s last blog post..Fun Stuff for Bay Area Kids

  • Jul 10, 2008 Kate M

    I think you hit on something here. Lately I have been thinking about this a lot.

    Getting actual real enjoyment out of what you do is key to success. Not all the time – sometimes we just have to get our heads down and work – but in the overall scheme of things I would say that everything works better in every department when we are getting enjoyment out of what we do.

    This, and contentment are totally what I strive for every day as the ultimate goals in my life.

    Kate M’s last blog post..Growing pains….

  • Jul 10, 2008 Ulla Hennig

    One of the things I try to do is not to say “I have to” but “I want to”. I want to spend time with other people – if I feel that I have to – why do I do it? I even want to go to the doctor because I think he’s going to heal me (I hope so).

    Ulla Hennig’s last blog post..Yellow Rose – The Symbol of friendship

  • Jul 10, 2008 Daniel Richard | WE

    Dave, you are right on with the part on questioning our goals.

    One of the things that I had done prior to starting the blog that I am working on with my friends is that I went on to ask my peers various questions that got them thinking and challenging them to take a step out of their comfort zones and doing something worthwhile.

    It’s after 2 months and talking to 40 over people that I had decided to bring the reach to a wider audience on a step by step basis, and bang: now it’s growing. :)

    No way to becoming a “good dawg”. It’s better to be greeted with a “good day” rather than something else that points us to be only like animals.


    Daniel Richard | WE’s last blog post..Need We Have Any Reason (to Build People Up)?

  • Jul 10, 2008 Dave Navarro

    @Brett -
    Again, that movie is a great one.

    And who’s the bigger fool – the fool, or the fool who follows him? :-)

    @Michael –
    Dread sucks.

    @Betsy -
    That’s a great point, and maybe it’s better to refer to it that way. Let me chew on that one …

    @Catherine -
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. :-)

    @Kate -
    Sounds like you’re striving for the right things!

    @Ulla –
    That’s a great way to reframe things. “want” is a powerful word.

    @Daniel -
    Preparation pays off, doesn’t it? How many readers are you up to?

  • Jul 10, 2008 Crystal

    Mmmm, this may be a post to read every morning for a month or two, to lower my blood pressure and relieve my impatience about getting my goals met! LoL

    As you said, my to-do list is ever-growing, so it’s not like I can ever finish it, or determine a percentage complete. I rarely feel like I’m making progress and am often frustrated by how much didn’t get done.

    At the end of the day, it will be truer to my goals to measure how fulfilled I feel about what did get done than to count the tasks that got completed—or the tasks that didn’t.

    Big thanks! I’m breathing easier… (and thanks for the retweet, too!)

    Crystal’s last blog post..Why We All Need Passive Income (Even If Just A Little Bit)

  • Jul 11, 2008 Linda R. Moore

    Yeah, I hear you. A few weeks ago I wrote a series about downsizing expectations and figuring out what, specifically, I needed to be happy. Goals are one thing, but setting ones that are in line with what *I* need are another entirely.

    Linda R. Moore’s last blog post..Movie review: Crash

  • Mar 1, 2009 Jason

    I’ve fallen into the same problem with chasing success. Its so much easier to just be, and do good things.

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