Ask five people what work-life balance means to them and you’re likely to get 5 different answers. Shoot….if you were to ask me what work-life balance means across five different stages in my life you would get 5 different answers.
Balance is hard. It means different things for different people. It means trade-offs. It means prioritization. It means treating two different things equally.
Wait. No it doesn’t.
Not al all.
In this case, screw equality.
I was recently lying on my yoga mat and doing a full-body expression of pigeon pose (Anyone else curious what Norm McDonald’s character, Pigeon, from Mike Tyson Mysteries, would say about pigeon pose? Okay – just me. Moving on.) when the instructor reminded me of a really powerful thought as I was switching from a pose for the right-hand side of my body to the left-hand side of my body: balance isn’t forcing equality or similarities; balance is honoring differences.
The right side of my body was much more flexible on that particular day & I adapted to honor that. Rather than trying to force the left side of my body to be the same as my right, I mentally paused and allowed myself to enjoy the stretch across both sides of my body, even though both sides of my body felt very different & we’re trained to believe that we have two equal sides.
As I thought about it more, I realized that this concept of balance has far-reaching impact across interactions with ourselves, our colleagues, and our clients.
Interacting with Yourself
There’s two key types of balance I focus on in my crazy world:
1) the balance of doing something versus doing nothing
2) the balance of juggling the many “somethings” in my life
When it comes to doing something versus doing nothing, I rarely choose nothing. I work until 11pm most days because it’s a damn competitive world and hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. I don’t take pride in the number of hours I work but I do take pride in getting shit done and following through on my commitments. And we all know by now that when it comes to success, there are no shortcuts.
How does this work for me? I plan nothing. And by this I mean that I actively plan to do nothing for a day or two a month. This restores my mind and body – giving me the freedom to rest my adrenals, my mind, and my body. In addition to planning nothing, I also avoid traveling for two straight weekends like I avoid the plague and unapologetically sleep in one weekend day a week. Without that, I quickly get drained. You see – it’s my nothing that fuels my somethings.
Health, Family, Work: Pick Two of Three.
I didn’t coin this phrase, but there’s a lot of truth to it. You can’t have everything – at least not in the same season of your life. Most of the successful people I know have worked extremely hard in the formative years of their career so they earned the right to focus more on health and family in later years.
How do we solve the challenge of creating a healthy work-life balance? We don’t solve it. We make choices that work for us and over time we define balance in a way that suits our needs for that particular season of our lives.
When I was applying to business school, I focused on work and family. My health took a back seat for a season. I slept very little and worked out infrequently. When multiple big business opportunities arise at once, my focus shifts towards work and health and my time with my family shrinks significantly for a season.
These seasons can last years. Starting a new company or making a move into a senior leadership position? Expect to have a tough choice between spending time with your family and spending time to be healthy. It won’t last forever….every season passes, but go in eyes wide open and recognize your goal is not to have every season be equally balanced – but to achieve balance over a lifetime.
During times of heavy work, don’t be afraid to be smart about your efforts. If you’re rocking and rolling in the evening – go ahead and make it an all-nighter and cancel some morning meetings so you can sleep in. Tired at the office and not feeling effective? Go home, get in a workout, get some sleep, spend some time with family & friends and try again. By honoring the different working hours your body craves, you’ll get more done in a shorter period of time -- allowing yourself to have the privilege of more free time.
Interacting with Your Team
Balance in team interactions does not mean treating everyone the same. It means respecting different styles and honoring strong performance. As companies grow, I see a stronger desire to treat everyone the same, which is dangerous. As I’ve grown, I see an increasing need to treat everyone fairly, but quite differently.
Some people are happy in their current role– they don’t want to be pushed or take on more responsibility. That’s okay….but they sure as heck aren’t going to be treated the same as someone who is at the same level, but aspiring for much more and moving mountains to make it happen. Some people respond well to challenges; others need more steady reinforcement. Some people rise to the challenge of big moments while others need more support as the stakes get higher. As a leader, it’s up to you to understand your team well enough to give everyone what they need to be successful.
Your goal is not to treat everyone the same. That’s fool’s gold. Higher performers should unapologetically get more perks, more freedom to work from home, more freedom to set their own schedule, more freedom to opt out of certain company norms. People who take exception to these “inequities” are typically not strong performers who only see the trees and not the forest. And while it’s tough to cut down a forest, the reality is that sometimes trees need to be cut down for the benefit of the forest.
Interacting with Your Clients
Yep – clients you like and have a relationship with get more. Unapologetically so. These clients deserve more of your attention and more of your energy because they give you energy and make you a more positive person all around. The reality is that we all only have so much emotional energy to go around, so invest your energy with people who enhance this energy.
So what should we do with the difficult client who needs a lot of hand holding and emotional energy? If cutting the client trust isn’t an option you should for sure have this cost baked into your fees. Don’t feel bad about avoiding the discount. Exchanging fewer discounts for more energy expended is called balance and your own time energy and effort deserves to be protected.
Big opportunities should also get more of your time. If a prospective client only has the potential of being a $20k/month client, it’s not a good idea to work all night to get something out the door, only for you to be tired and out of sorts for your meeting with a $1mm/month client. If you are 3% less strong for your big client, you’ve already lost the war before you find out if you’ve won the battle for the $20k/month client.
Balance isn’t equality and it isn’t consistency. So maybe it’s time to cut yourself a break and stop trying to treat every day equally? Maybe it’s time to go hard after what’s really important to you and give more of your energy to the people, teams, and clients that bring out the best in you. Honor the differences in your life to create the balance you need.