#ShowingUp with Anese Cavanaugh

Dare to laugh in the face of “work/life” balance..Want it? Define it….

There was an article in Crain’s Chicago a couple of weeks ago about the toll entrepreneurship takes on relationships, etc. how “hard” it is for entrepreneurs and “balancing it all.” It was a good sized piece and I was happy to see the “soft” stuff being given this attention in the press. This is often the stuff that I notice gets disregarded or put off as it’s not clearly linked to numbers and bottom line results, etc. It’s also often the stuff that is the most difficult to tie to value and “return on investment” with organizational clients. Once they do the work, they get it, but up front, it’s more ambiguous and hard to see where it ties in. I get it. You can’t actually “see” balance or the impact it has as clearly as you can see a P&L sheet and the story the numbers tell... But it’s so there. Everywhere you look, even if you can’t see it, this idea of “balance” and the impact it has or does not have, is there….in our relationships, our health, our teams, our joy factor, etc. It’s there. Now, I don’t actually call it balance, or even believe in balance, I actually invite clients to laugh in the face of balance, but I do have a pretty good hypothesis of why it’s so hard for people to achieve it…so read on….

I notice there’s this undertone when people talk about balance – the assumption that there should be more of “it” - in everything we do. And I’m always curious, “by who’s definition?” I mean, who’s defining it? Who got the license to define balance? Last time I checked the only person who can define balance for me – is me. My job is to be conscious and congruent in doing so. I remember when I first started coaching years ago, I had a “wheel of life” that I’d have clients use to assess their balance levels. Then they’d rate the areas, and we’d try to get them “balanced.” How could we bring all the areas to balance? I quickly found that this rarely worked, wasn’t sustainable, and something about it was just off. I noticed this common underlying belief that clients had that it should look a certain way, all areas should be balanced, etc. not true. If a client had a “3” in an area and that was okay with them, great! Leave it. But many would say that was out of balance. I would totally disagree. But ironically, it was the idea of what “balance” should look like, that would add to the feeling of imbalance. Yet one more place to judge oneself and another opportunity to make incongruent decisions based on what something “should” look like.

I see a version of this every day. People project their beliefs on others of what balance is and should look like. We all do this. (Myself included. I’m projecting my beliefs on you here. The difference is, I’m not telling you to do it, or making you wrong if you don’t buy into it, I’m just sharing it. I’m very clear that this is my belief and I offer it for you to take whatever pieces resonate – or not.) Just yesterday I was on the phone with someone who’s brilliant, works a ton, and loves what he does, but a customer was razzing him - as we spoke actually - about how he “should have a more balanced life, works too much, etc...” Geessh…if this guy bought into the other guy’s definition, it would only have added to his stress and lack of feeling “balanced.” Ironically, if he bought into it, that’s where he might begin to feel this feeling of “imbalance.” But by not buying into it, and knowing what he wants and where he likes to spend his time, allows for him to lead his energy and feel ‘balanced’ with no permission or apologies from others. Which guess what? More energy and attention for his business and the impact he wants to create. In fact, I know many successful business leaders who work 60+ hours a week, do their own email and lead very very busy lives, who are given “crap” for not being more balanced. Funny thing is…they’re totally happy and fine and living a life congruent with themselves…so who cares? But in cultural eyes, these people don’t fit the definition of balance. That’s just silly. And a waste of energy. And frankly no one’s business. Personally, I think being congruent with oneself, and feeling internal peace, and being conscious about where I spend my time, is what creates a feeling of “balance” or flow for ME. My life is by no means “balanced” by others’ standards, and the thought of even trying to put myself or my life into the box of balance makes me cringe and wiggle. So let’s be clear about balance…what is your definition? You have your own definition. It’s your spiritual right to define it and live it.

So, clearly, I resist the “official work/life” balance thing and instead go with consciously choosing “balance” our way, designing for it, leading our energy, and fully engaging from there (which then leads to a feeling of “balance” or flow.) So for example – if someone wants to work 100 hours a week, and loves it and makes it work in a way that is congruent for them and in alignment with their values, and they’re good, who cares? If in their mind, they feel balanced, have energy, and are creating the results they want, leave them alone….Of course this is just my opinion, but where I see us churn as human beings and where I see my clients churn is in this area of “doing it right”, being “balanced”, etc etc…in a way that’s incongruent with them, but fits the “should.” I find it’s a total waste of energy. And energy that could be spent creating impact in their company and enjoying their lives…but I do go on…

The reason why I think balance is so hard to achieve? Because of this cultural definition. No one said “This is the rule of balance” – but it is a cultural norm – there’s an essence of what balance is. And for something that needs to be defined by the individual, it makes perfect sense to me that we’d resist fitting into a culturally defined balanced life. Not only that, if it doesn’t come from within me, it’s going to be impossible to fully buy into and therefore impossible to sustain. I just won’t sustain it. That’s why it’s easier than you think to create balance. Stop. Right now. Notice what’s happening for you in your life, your business, etc. What is your true definition of balance? And are you congruent? Even this notion of separating out business and life creates dissonance for me – because there’s only one you in all of that, and you can save a lot of time and energy and “balance” by bringing all of you to your life, which includes all of it. No need to separate it out. You are who you are – in business, in life, in leadership. If you want to spend less time in one area or make some shifts, power to you, but give yourself the gift of not buying into having to do it a certain way. There is no perfect formula…only the formula you create – for you – from the inside out. So go on now, get on that “balance board” and “balance” it your way.