Two weeks ago I posted a picture of myself with my youngest in a baby carrier while working in my home office. (This post can be found on LinkedIn here.) The moment sparked a powerful reflection on my attempt to juggle work-life balance, and how terrible of a job I felt I have been doing. Since then, I’ve spent much time reflecting on this challenge with which every professional struggles. During my pondering, I discovered three fallacies that can cause significant harm to all of us in our lives.
- “We can compartmentalize our lives” – This fallacy lives deeply within the western business culture, dating back decades. Research continues to attack ideas of compartmentalization, multi-tasking, and the traditional 8-5 workweek. American life in the 21st century evolves to become a complex web of personal, professional, spiritual, social, and other areas of life blending together to create a beautiful picture. Many argue the way to conquer work-life balance is to create firm lines. Research and experience say this is impossible. The real answer is accepting the messiness of real life blending like a watercolor in more ways than not.
- “Productivity requires complete focus” – Ken Cashman’s book Leadership from the Inside Out shares a powerful story on ingenuity. A CEO dealing with monumental challenges in his profession makes a priority to swim laps every morning for his physical and mental health. He’s accepts the belief in holistic health, that physical wellbeing influences one’s emotional and professional life. The answers to difficult problems often come to him not in heated conversations in boardrooms, but while swimming laps in the morning. The idea is that when our minds are at rest, our subconscious deals with problems from new and unique ways, bringing brilliant solutions to business problems during personal time. I experience this same phenomenon while playing with my boys. The fun, lightness, and laughter from these moments create a spark in my mind solving a professional dilemma that’s plagued me for weeks. The answer to productivity may not be more focused time, but a break from a head-on approach.
- “Our best self is at work” – I’ve struggled with trying to be someone I admire in my professional life, such as Patrick Lencioni. At times the question pops in my head, “What would Patrick do in this situation?” When I try to become someone else, I place myself and my strengths aside to emulate what I think might work. Just like a right-handed person trying to write with their left-hand, it’s not very good! I am the best, most creative, ingenious, and efficient professional when I accept who I am, fully living out of this reality. A trait I admire in Patrick can be integrated into myself, while I will never use it the exact same way as him. I must assimilate the trait into who I am, the good and the bad, so it now lives as a part of me. Therefore, I function at work only as Chris Simon can, bringing my strengths and struggles to the table. This person is the same person at home, at church, with friends, and alone reading a book. My best self is myself, wherever that may be.
How did I conquer the Work-Life balance? The answer is simple, I stopped trying to balance it. Rather, I have accepted it will never be perfectly balanced; it will be messy, sloppy, and awkward at times. Something profound happened when I accepted the messiness: it didn’t bother me anymore. So often I would get frustrated when a personal problem barged into my work zone. That frustration would influence how I reengaged in work. Now I accept the instances as a part of life, something that will happen every day. When my son swings the door open while I’m working, I wrap him in a big hug, playing with him for a few minutes. I tell him, “Daddy needs to work for a while, and thanks for coming in for a hug.” I turn back to what I was doing with a smile on my face from his visit.
The work-life balance is a fallacy, a life someone made up creating an unattainable goal. Let’s shatter that belief, replacing it with an acceptance of the real world. Life is messy. Personal life slides into professional, and professional life slides into personal life. Fact. Once I accept the fact, interruptions become opportunities for joy! I conquer Work-Life balance every day, never allowing it to conquer me again. Are you ready to accept the messiness of life?