I’d run into this nice career development outline earlier this year, but just stumbled upon it again today. I like it well enough, but I have one large beef with it. Why are ‘Personal Goals’ tagged onto the bottom like an afterthought? Work/Life balance isn’t an afterthought. If you’re in the office at 10pm for the fourth night in a row, and you look at your watch and think, "Hmmm. Guess I better go home and balance out the work/life thing.", then you’ve missed the boat.
From my perspective, the key to what passes for work/life balance is integrated values, not contextual values. That’s just a fancy way of saying that we ought to have a set of values that provides oversight for our lives–work and home. Actually, it goes further than just "ought." We all have values that govern our decisions–we just need to start acknowledging those values, and becoming more mindful of how we’re acting upon them, and adjusting our actions accordingly. There’s enough tension between home and work already. Why add to it by adopting different values for each context?
Fast Company had something to say about this last month. I like their take on it, because it’s a lot like my take on slackers. I say that unless you’re unusual, you’re slacking on something and so you’re a slacker. They say that unless you’re unusual, you’ll always be out of balance, so quit trying to "get balanced" and start working with what you’ve got.
There’s a better way to think about all this, one that requires us to embrace imbalance. Instead of trying to balance all of our commitments and passions at any one time, let’s acknowledge that anything important, and anything done well, demands our full investment. At some times, it may be a demanding child or an unhappy spouse, and the office will suffer. At others, it may be winning the McWhorter account, and child and spouse will have to fend for themselves. Only over time can we really balance a portfolio of diverse experiences.
Life is about setting priorities and making trade-offs; that’s what grown-ups do. But in our all-or-nothing culture, resorting to those sorts of decisions is too often seen as a kind of failure. Seeking balance, we strive for achievement everywhere, all the time — and we feel guilty and stressed out when, inevitably, we fall short.
The last two pages of the article contain a brief list of tips for an ‘unbalanced’ life. Of course, this isn’t carte blanche for abandoning spouse and child in favor of work. It’s about recognizing what’s important in your life and acting appropriately upon that knowledge.