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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

I teach Leadership Communications to MBAs and corporate leaders. I have had over 20,000 people participate in my courses over the last 12 years.  At the beginning of my course, I often ask people to make a short list of their current challenges. “Work-life balance” comes up for more than half of the people.

Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are running, we aren’t in balance.  We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.

All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.

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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance is a Stupid Idea

  1. It doesn’t exist – Humans have 2 legs, not 3.  Triangles are naturally in balance, humans are not.
  2. You wouldn’t want it if you actually got it – It is the journey that is meaningful, not the seat at the end.  We are journey creatures, not “sitting-on-a-sofa-at-the-end” creatures.
  3. It causes endless frustration.  The search for balance is asking for frustration. It is strong foundations that allow for tall buildings to stay up, not balance.

Instead of seeking balance, work on your foundations and work on your wings.

Build Strong Foundations and Trust your Wings

There is an old story that tells of 3 men.  The first, he built his house on the sand.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The second, he build his house on the dirt.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The third, he built his house on the rock.  When the storms came, his house stood firm.

Success is built on strong foundations.  Are you building your house on the rock?  Jim Rohn often said “work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  You should be learning and training for the job you wish to have, not the job that you have now.  If you don’t know anything deeply, learn something deeply.  If you know one thing deeply, learn another skill.

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Trust Your Wings

I remember my father taking me to the park to learn to ride a bicycle.  I was 8 years old.  I sat on the bike and he held the seat from behind.  He said “I’m holding you up, you can pedal”.  I started to pedal.  He was walking and then running to stay with me.  I said “don’t let go!”.  He said “I am not holding you”.  He had let me go.  I was on my own.  I made it another 10 meters and then fell off (on the soft grass).  I was angry that he had let me go, he was so excited that I had cycled by myself.  His joy won.

I’d have liked my father to keep his hand on the bike seat for longer.  I would not have asked him to let go.  He trusted me.  Now, I need to learn to trust me.  I am a preparation freak.  I like to over-plan.  It is a big challenge for me to put myself into a situation where I don’t feel that I am fully ready yet.  However, life has taught me that it is only there, outside my comfort zone, that the magic happens.

This is not a call to throw yourself recklessly into dangerous situations.  My granny would say “look before you leap”.  She was right.  Only a fool would jump between 2 cliffs that were 20 meters apart with a 200 meter drop.  If there is a 1 meter gap, and the other side looks interesting – make the leap.  My granny’s saying says “look before” but it implies that you should be taking the leap.  Trust your wings, make the leaps.

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Let’s Stop the Search for Balance

If we were supposed to be balanced, humans would have 3 legs.  We don’t.  We have 2.  We are constantly falling, but constantly finding our wings to regain our balance, only to lose it again.

Now, if you don’t know where you are going, or are walking round in circles then maybe you do have a bigger problem…  but that is not the aim of this post.

Keep on falling, keep on recovering.

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Featured photo credit: Eric.Parker via flickr.com

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Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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Last Updated on August 19, 2019

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

How to Succeed in Life on Your Own Terms: 7 Essential Steps

There is a great deal of advice in the world telling us how to succeed in life, but often we are given advice that isn’t tailored to our needs, desires and priorities. Success means different things to each of us, and living a life that feels genuinely successful to me might be very different to your idea of a successful life.

Naturally, when we follow the advice of someone else, which is tailored to their life goals and personality, we can end up with something that doesn’t deliver on the promise. We don’t get rewarded with our vision of success: we get theirs.

This is why I’m a proponent of self-discovery, introspection and personal sovereignty. So how to succeed on your own terms?

These 7 essential steps are not going to tell you exactly what to do, but they will provide you with the tools and the questions to ask so that you can discover your own path, so you know how to succeed in life on your own terms.

1. Know Thyself

One of Socrates’ most well-known quotes is,

An unexamined life is not worth living.

I argue that an unexamined life is not a successful one. Self-knowledge is something we could dedicate our lives to, but I’m not suggesting you sit around and navel-gaze in order to find happiness and meaning.

Thankfully, there are people who have created techniques and systems that less us fast-forward through a lot of personal philosophizing, and quickly identify some key aspects of what makes us, us.

You might want to find out what your ideal daily schedule is,[1] and you can take tests that reveal just that. Or you might want to figure out what you need to get things done – and yes, there’s a quiz for that too.

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None of these tests are infallible, and some are more scientific than others, but the process of asking yourself questions about your behaviors and traits is invaluable when it comes to determining your path to succeed in life.

For example, if you know you are an introvert and are unhappy in your current workplace, it might be worth considering why that is (an open plan office space perhaps) and what you would prefer.

It’s these little questions that will provoke answers in you that can guide the decisions that truly improve your life now and in the future.

2. Figure out What Matters to You

What lights you up? This is a question that often gets forgotten as we age. A fortunate child will be given the stimulation they desire in the form of bright toys, affection and entertainment. Little by little, the things that bring a child joy get replaced by what society demands on their behalf.

When we return to that question, and ask ourselves what really matters and what brings us joy, we can move closer towards a successful life. It can help to think back to your childhood, and the times in your life when you were in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a flow state.[2]

In a state of flow, time slows and our focus is directed like a laser. We are fully present.

Whilst not everything in life that matters to you will conjure up a flow state, it’s a good indication of the kind of activities and experiences you can try to incorporate into your life on a regular basis.

A successful life is made up of moments like this, and when you know what matters to you and brings you a sense of joy and purpose, you can go about creating more of that.

3. Play to Your Strengths

Why spend your time only on mitigating your weaknesses, only to feel average? Instead, playing to your strengths and amplifying those skills and qualities you already have will help you go from average to extraordinary.

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If you’re great at big picture thinking and love dreaming up new ideas, but often lack attention to detail, acknowledge that. Then instead of trying to improve your analytical skills, focus instead on developing your existing skills of imagination and insight. When you need someone with a keen eye for detail, you can collaborate with those people.

Jackson Pollock was an extreme introvert, with no real desire to get his artwork in front of people. Fortunately, he had Clement Greenberg, who was much further towards the extrovert end of the spectrum, to popularize his work and get Pollock the publicity he needed.[3]

Start by identifying your strengths and what comes naturally to you. Then work on developing those and becoming known for those strengths. You can always find someone who will help you in fill in the gaps.

4. Listen to Yourself

It isn’t always clear to us that we’re on a path that leads us to failure or to success. People can spends decades in a job that is unfulfilling and slowly breaking their spirit, without even realizing it – until it’s too late. This is usually because they haven’t learned how to truly listen to themselves.

The challenge we face is that we’re listening to so many other sources of information; whether it’s the news, television, social media, family, friends or colleagues. Many may want to help, but that doesn’t mean they know what’s best for us. Only you know what success means for you, and working this out begins with listening to yourself.

Listening to yourself requires practice. It’s a daily effort, which over time, does get easier. That inner voice of wisdom will get clearer, and the decisions you make will feel more convincing.

To start, you could try to set aside 10 to 15 minutes when you first wake up, in silence. Rather than look at your phone, checking emails or social media, simply sit in silence, listening.

Ask yourself a simple question like, what am I feeling right now, in this moment? Notice the answer that bubbles up, without getting lost in the story. Starting an inner dialogue, without judgment is one of the key tools you can use to start making better decisions in your life.

Learn more about listening to your true self in this guide: How to Listen to Your Inner Voice for Greater Fulfillment

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5. Listen to Others (But Not Everyone)

Listening to yourself is one thing, but listening to others is crucial in order to learn, empathize and be of benefit to your community.

Truly listening to others is not just waiting patiently until it’s your turn to speak. Active listening requires focused attention, and the intention to understand where the other person is coming from.

When you do this, you can ask better questions and discover more about the world and everyone in it, as well as learn how to interact with others in order to succeed in life on your own terms.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone you come across. Trolls on the internet may come into the category of people not to listen to. Some people’s opinions will do more harm than good, as not everyone has your best interest in mind.

It’s worth identifying a shortlist of people whose opinions you will listen to. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times best-seller Daring Greatly, recommends taking a 1-inch x 1-inch square of paper and make a list of people whose opinions matter to you. These are the people who love you and will genuinely support and help you. According to Brown,

“If you need more paper, you need to edit.”

6. Make Time for Reflection

It’s easy to go through life without taking inventory of what you’re actually accomplishing. Missing this crucial step means we end up jumping from one goal to the next, without feeling like we’re getting anywhere.

Make time, ideally each day to reflect. You might keep a paper journal, or an online document. Either way, jot down:

  • What went well today
  • Something you’re grateful for
  • What would make tomorrow even better

Doing this can have measurable benefits to our overall sense of well-being, as well as keeping us focused for more success in the future.[4]

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It also helps combat feelings of lack and doubt, that arise when we compare ourselves to others. When we look at someone who appears to be more successful than us in an area of life, we can forget how far we’ve come and how much we have to be grateful for.

Making time to reflect on what you have accomplished is critical to keep you on track, and just not looking at what others are doing.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Change Your Mind

Arguably the most important step of all:

Remember that there’s nothing wrong in changing your mind and correcting course.

The path to a successful life is not straight and narrow. It meanders and there’s no harm in going back and picking a different (and better) route.

“I think our life is a journey, and we make mistakes, and it’s how we learn from those mistakes and rebound from those mistakes that sets us on the path that we’re meant to be on.” — Jay Ellis

Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them and change your mind. Ultimately, there’s no better way to succeed in life on your own terms.

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Featured photo credit: Shirly Niv Marton via unsplash.com

Reference

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