Lean Into Work-Life Balance

Why Women Can't Have It All was the most read story in the history of the Atlantic Magazine. Included as a bold sidebar piece was The Myth of Work-Life Balance. These articles along with the recently published best seller Lean In by Facebook's COO have launched a clamor of social and major media commentary. From these writings and discussions there are a few key points to take in and a couple of invalid conclusions to avoid for improving your own work-life balance.
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A Desirable Definition That Works

Let's immediately counter-explode the myth that there is no such thing as work-life balance. Those that dismiss it as folly, as was done by the Atlantic title and several other recent articles, do so either on the basis of an erroneous definition or no clearly stated definition at all.

The most commonly assumed definition by the critics of work-life balance is that it represents a static time allotment between work time and personal hours, such as time assigned for family, friends and yourself. This assumes as an example that work-life balance means allotting 25% of your time to each of those four areas of your life. In discussing the topic with tens of thousands of individuals I've yet to have anyone say they thought this to be a realistic definition or even an approach they would want.

We all know that life is much more dynamic than that and expect that trying to live in such a tightly structured way would be unrewarding and boring. So this assumed definition of fixed time allotments for work and personal areas is one almost nobody thinks of as a positive definition of work-life balance in the first place.

So if some set proportional dividing of time between areas of life does not define a positive work-life balance, what does? As we've discussed previously a universally well received working definition of work-life balance is "Meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment." More specifically meaningful achievement and enjoyment in each of four areas of life: work – family – friends – and self. This definition recognizes that life-fulfilling outcomes produced are as important as time spent.

Achievement is life fulfilling. It provides the things that sustain our life: food, shelter, clothing, transportation as well as the sense of pride and self-worth we crave psychologically. But to be fulfilled we must also Enjoy - laugh, love, celebrate success and life itself, to make the living and achieving worthwhile.

Spending time does not, by itself, create value. How you choose to use your time will determine the value you create. By choosing to routinely invest time to both achieve and enjoy at work and with family, friends and for yourself, you will have a more productive, happy and positively balanced life.

Life circumstances will shift the time or emphasis you want between these areas as your desires, interests and needs change. You probably will lean into your career more when you are starting it than when you are about to retire. You may emphasize personal areas of your life differently if you are single, than if you choose to get married or chose to have children. Certainly you should lean out from work and more toward yourself, family or friends on the weekend or when you are on vacation versus a typical work week.

You will create better outcomes from these choices if you instill into your daily goals the two core components of a positive, life-long work&345;life balance…Achievement and Enjoyment.

Positive Career and Life Advice for Women and Men

The Atlantic article by Anne Marie Slaughter, currently a renowned professor at Princeton and Susan Sandburg's book, Lean In, focus particularly on women and the demands of parenting combined with a career. Both parenting and working offer up great potential for achievement and wonderful enjoyments over a lifetime for women and men.

If you choose to take on the parenting role, recognize that your children really do need you and that you probably will want to lean into them, hopefully with a very cooperative partner. Slaughter's key point is that when you do so, you may want to lean out, at least in some time commitments, from your career. In her case she switched from the 24 hour, always on demand role of Director of Policy at the U.S. State Department to a more controllable position as a professor in the academic community.

The good news for women, and all of us, is that the upcoming generation of current and potential Dads is supportive of their spouses who want careers and these men expect to have lives themselves outside of work including positive parenting. Work-Life Balance today is an all-gender issue that is desired and supported by and for both sexes.

Sandburg's Lean In Book, focuses on why and how more women can move up in the hierarchy of our organizations. One very valuable component of her Lean In message is "Don't leave before you leave." As specifically applied to women it means don't hold back pursuing the promotion, the bigger responsibility, the higher paycheck now because someday you might have a child.

You should aggressively strive for that manager or partner position and excel at every role you engage. Then when it's time for children in your life you can choose to stay or leave or modify your work-arrangement based on the meaningful job and upgraded experience you've built up. There is a growing trend of organizations creating options that work for a woman to better balance work and family the way she wants. Give yourself the best choice of those opportunities by not leaving before you leave.

This point is true for you guys too. When in a job, stay leaned in fully until you leave or change it, even though you contemplate potentially changing career interest or moving to another area or having children in the future.

You Can Create Your Own Best Work-Life Balance

Don't let these debates artificially define away a positive work-life balance for you. It is attainable and maintainable…and it's changeable.

You make it happen by leaning in to each of your life quadrants, work, family, friends and self to different degrees at different times. If you have a personal partner you are sharing your life with, regularly coordinate how much you will modify the way you lean in and lean out together to achieve and enjoy more every day.

And do not assume enjoyment will happen. It happens no more automatically than achievement. To accomplish a positive work-life balance you must know what it is for you and have it as your goal every day: "I will achieve something today, and I will enjoy something today." If you do that today, you are going to have a pretty good day, and if you do that every day for the rest of your life you will have a good to exceptional life, filled with positive balance.

Jim Bird

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Balance Each Relationship

Achievement is critical but not enough. A parent who only pushes a child to achieve and doesn’t regularly take time to just enjoy with them will limit the positive balance and connection in that lifelong relationship. The same is true in your relationships with a friend, a co-worker, or life partner. Routinely take some time to just enjoy.


"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

"Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking."

Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs (1955 - 2011) was an American inventor, entrepreneur and pioneer. Co-founder and leader of Apple, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios. He revolutionized the personal computer, smartphone and animation industries.

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