Jul 9, 2008
Fighting Work-Life Balance Stress: Attack Of The 50-Ft. Goals
As 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.
Again, 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.”