Forget Finding A Balance
Everyone always talks about getting their work/life balance just right. It’s a nice idea, but in reality nothing achieves absolute balance. Nothing.
That’s a radical idea perhaps, but just take a look at the natural world. Whether it’s physics, chemistry or biology, everything in nature relies on some form of ‘balance’ in order for it all to work, but it’s never a nice, neat ‘equal’ or ‘level’.
What image does balance conjure up in your mind? Do you imagine a set of scales that are nicely level? An equal balance each side? And when you think about your own work/life balance what would that look like for you, if you could get it right? An equal split between work and everything else in your life?
Well, it’s time to think again!
A balanced life is a myth, a lie. Balance does not mean the scales should, or need to be, or ever will be level.
When I was driving rally cars, it was vital that the rally cars weight was distributed and as perfectly balanced as possible, so when the car was flying over a crest, the nose didn’t dip or rise. That way the car was kept in the best balanced for its best possible performance.
But when you think about getting the balance right in your life, for your best performance, you have a lot to juggle; work, family, children, friends, hobbies. If you set out to balance it all just as you’d like it, how do you imagine that balance would look?
If you are thinking your life would be so great if you could achieve a better balance – that lovely level set of scales, with everything perfectly set out so you split your time and energy evenly, forget it! Getting a nice level balance of everything? It’s not realistic, or even possible. It’s time to think again.
At some point you must have said to yourself, or your friends or colleagues “I need more balance in my life”. I bet you have. But what do you actually mean when you say that? Do you really mean that something is missing in your life?
When we say our lives are ‘out of balance’, what we’re really referring to is a sense that our priorities, the things that matter most to us, are not being met, isn’t it? Perhaps seeking balance is not what you are after, at all. Perhaps your focus should be directed away from trying to achieving a balance, and more towards seeking a purpose, meaning or significance?
I was recently coaching a client who had had a really top job as a Sales Director for one of the major mobile phone providers. She earned huge money, worked her socks off, smashed seemingly impossible targets month after month. She was extraordinarily good at her job, she enjoyed it, but it was enormously stressful and when she fell pregnant she thought “I need to get some balance back in my life with this new baby arriving”.
She was keen to be a hands on mum, dedicate herself to her newborn and be around for her daughter all the way – she wasn’t interested in having a nanny – it wasn’t for her. So, after her brief maternity leave, with some nursery care in place, she went back to work. She was under just as much pressure at work as she’d ever had, and now she had a small baby added into the mix.
We all know it’s hard to be a working parent, right? After just a few weeks she was frazzled and was struggling to find a balance between work and parenting. How was she ever going to continue being a brilliant Sales Director, and also be a brilliant, amazing hands-on mum? How was she going to be brilliant at both?
She came to the realisation that she would have to choose where and how she would split her time, to get what she wanted. Her answer became clear. She wanted to be a great mum and spend quality time with her daughter more than she wanted a highly paid stressful corporate job. So she quit. She set up a small online business working from home.
She realised that chasing the work life balance (as she perceived it) was not a realistic possibility for her. She is now a relaxed, happy, wonderful mum, and owner of a great online business.
The reality is that time on one thing means time away from the other. That makes balance impossible. Let me explain.
If I ask you now to stare at an object in front you. At the same time, I want you to stare out of the window. You can’t look at two things at the same time, right? Ok the try this; type a message on your phone and at the same time, say out loud what you want for dinner. You can’t!
However good at this you think you are, You will have to stop one action, engage in the other, and then flick quickly between the two. When you disengage your vision or attention from one object and locate and fixate your vision or attention onto a new object, you are experiencing Attentional Disengagement.
And that’s why speaking on the phone while driving is so dangerous – you are splitting your attention between two tasks, so neither can ever possibly have your full attention or focus. Research has shown that having a phone conversation while driving affects our visual scanning and reduces a driver’s ability to detect, discriminate among, and respond to visual targets by as much as 30%. So please, don’t do it!
Attentional disengagement means that every time your brain is distracted, it takes time to disengage from one action, and initiate another action. The more tasks you ‘juggle’ the longer your disengagement gets.
The more focus you lose on each task. Extraordinary results require focused attention and time.
When you decide to live in the middle of a balanced line (with those scales totally level), you are prevented from making extraordinary time commitments to anything. Your efforts to attend to all things, means everything gets short changed.
Pursuing a balance means nothing can get pursued at the extremes. The magic never happens in the middle. Magic happens at the extremes. Look at any world class sporting hero and you won’t see them training or practicing for half of their available time. Giving half of their energy, half of their focus. They’ll throw everything at their goal. Everything that it takes to get them to the top.
When you are truly honest with yourself and define what it is you are striving to achieve, ask yourself if you have time to sit in the middle? For those wanting to achieve extraordinary success, it does require extraordinary amounts of focus and commitment. But that’s not going to suit everyone. A lot of people don’t want to operate at the extremes, so it may be that finding the middle ground is right for you. Don’t ever expect amazing results from the middle from the road.
Be sure about what you are trying to achieve, and give it all the time it demands. It will require getting things extremely out of balance!
Change the word from balance to priority. Stop trying to balance and start prioritising.