Monday, July 2, 2012

A Return To Personal & Professional Balance

Time and time again, I meet men and women in leadership positions who are so busy that they skip multiple meals in the hopes of getting caught up. They rush here and there, thinking that a “slow” week is when they have only worked 70 - 80 hours. I have come to the conclusion that they are attempting to live their life at the speed of software. I have also come to the conclusion that time sickness, a term coined by an American Doctor named Larry Dossey, is now at epidemic proportions in the world of leadership.
When I talk about returning to personal and professional balance during executive coaching sessions, I am not talking about getting X number of hours at work to equal X number of hours at home or in non-work activities. If you are a leader or executive, this is not going to happen. Things do come up at work and one does have to deal with them, whether we like it or not.
In the beginning, we must remember that balance begins when we experience certain things in our lives, namely a sense of being part of a larger community, having strong healthy relationships with those we love in our life, and having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis. However, it is common for people to ask me in executive coaching sessions the following two questions: If I want to feel and live a more balanced life, then what do I do other than be busy?  Where do I begin?
While my answers are not definitive, here is what I have learned from my own personal journey and by working decades with others.
First, give yourself permission to live a more balanced life. Often I find people feeling guilty about taking time for balance. Many suffer from time sickness in combination with what has been called obsessive compulsive productivity disorder, i.e feeling guilty if they are not working the whole time. 
For me, the way to change this is to give ourselves permission to re-evaluate our definitions of what it means to be successful in our whole life and, in particular, in our work lives. More often than not, the business definition of success supersedes the personal definition of success, or ends up just being one big mashed together definition, namely busy, overwhelmed, or burned out.
Furthermore, I don’t think we know what it feels like to live a balanced life anymore. I think we have lost touch with community well being, social well being and physical well being. There are days when I think we have lost touch with really being and are instead focused and consumed by the act of doing. At times, we get caught living a one dimensional life, i.e. just having a work life with a done or not done list guiding our every step.
I also think we no longer see the lack of balance as a problem as much as the acceptance of a dysfunctional normal. I think we need to give ourselves permission to reclaim the experience of balanced living and having a sense of well-being. This will be a huge step and commitment is critical to change.
Second, I think we need to learn to decelerate. Having a home office is a gift and a challenge. At the end of the work day, it is just twenty steps from my desk to the kitchen sink. I have been know to go directly from the work list to the home list in seconds. Living in this constant “go mode” makes me feel exhausted on so many level.  
One way I have found to break this cycle is to institute a 30 minute walk after work.  When I am done my last phone consultation or project at the end of the work day at the home office, then I take a 30 minute walk around our small town. I like to think of this as my afternoon commute.  I often stop by our small public library to look at the new books and then I always walk through the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, just to have more time in nature.  I find giving myself permission to have this exercise time and opportunity for reflection and contemplation to be very helpful.
Third, I believe more and more executives need to reclaim having a life outside of work. I am not thinking of having a home “To Do” list and a detailed family calendar. These things are a given with life. Instead, I am thinking of having  something to look forward to other than work, i.e. the return to “leisure activities” like personal hobbies. It is funny, but when I meet a healthy effective leader who does not suffer from time sickness, I often discover some one who has a few very deep interests outside of work. And many of these people have hobbies that intrigue and inspire them. Over the years, I have meet quite a few wood workers, and gardeners but also people rebuilding antique cars, birders and artists.
For me, I find balance outside of work by gardening big time on weekends, cooking, walking and reading. All of these activities keep me young in mind, body and spirit. They invigorate me in ways different than work.
In a time period where more and more people are living life at the speed of software, I encourage you to rediscover ways to find healthy balance in your life.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

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