Balance (Or How I Can’t Seem to Get There)

I spent the morning at a women’s leadership event, fortunate to be invited to give a quick intro to the first speaker. As I sat at the reserved table with the others who were speaking, we were asked to do a quick table exercise. The questions we were asked to consider what this: “A year from now, what is one thing you will wish you had done today?”

My two colleagues provided their perspective. The woman noted that in a year she planned to do a triathlon and that she would likely wish that she had run that morning. The man shared that, when faced with the striking statistic that parity for women in the workplace would take 100 years to achieve, he would wish that he had done more in his work to improve things for his daughters and granddaughters. I thought it through and commented that a year from now I would look back at deteriorating metrics reflecting my lagging commitment to writing and wish that I had blogged.

My first year of blogging, I published 64 posts in six months. The following year I published 65 posts in twelve months. This year I’ve published 19 posts in eight months. I wish I could say it is because I’ve run out of things to say, but that would be untrue. What is more accurate is this: I’ve stopped giving myself either the time or the focus to write. Often exhausted and without the calm to center my own thinking, I have fallen into a habit of just not writing. And today, when faced with my year from now self, I knew I would wish I had done better.

My failure to find balance in my life appears to be a poorly kept secret. Just this week I had a dozen of my colleagues complete an anonymous assessment to support the Franklin Covey “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” training. The assessment includes 78 statements and asks responders to reply with a range of answers from strongly disagree (0%) to strongly agree (100%). As I paged through my results there it was, a black and white reminder of just how obvious my imbalance is. My highest score (at a unanimous 100%) was on the statement “is a hard worker.” My lowest score (with a 53%) was on the statement “balance all aspects of life (e.g., work, leisure, family) to maintain overall effectiveness.”

Everyone sees it, not just me.

I wish there was an easy answer, a switch I could flip or a pill I could take to make it easier for me to create balance and boundaries for myself. I am envious of the people I know who do that well, the ones who manage to create satisfying engagement in their work, their hobbies and their families. I have hard working colleagues who coach their kids soccer teams, who never miss golf league, who lead their church choirs or quilting clubs. I had a friend once who managed to write a novel while working a full-time leadership job in IT. But here I am, unable to prioritize sitting down for a couple of hours twice a week and embrace my passion for words.

It seems so ridiculous not to do something. Not to do something better.

So, I sat down in my library tonight. Even fighting a cold and fever I convinced myself to take the thoughts swirling in my head and push them into the keyboard. It may not be my best post — it may not be something that reflects the most astute thinking or the most universal theme — but it is a reflection that I am more than my work. It is a small reminder that I am a woman who enjoys the simple act of finding the right words and stories to convey slivers of life.

And, a year from now I won’t have to wish that I had done it, because I did.

 

My Why

Late last year, I caught a video on my Facebook feed called Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace. I rarely click video links because I tend to browse social media when I am around other people and the audio can be distracting and frankly I just prefer to read and add my own audio track. But, this video was posted by someone I respect and so I clicked.

Over the course of 15 minutes I listened as Mr. Sinek shared his point of view on the 75 million individuals born after 1984, including stating that they were troubled and hard to manage, mostly due to bad parenting and technology. It was interesting and thought-provoking; I recommend you watch it. But my biggest take away was not some new enlightenment around Millennials, it was something much simpler.

I decided I wouldn’t want to have a beer with Simon.

As someone who enjoys both interesting people and ideas that’s weird, right? There was a smart, articulate person — someone who I was certain could get an audience with nearly anyone and whose videos have generated millions of views — and my first thought was that I would turn down the chance to sit down with him one-on-one. To be honest it made me feel a bit awkward, but I couldn’t get past the fact that while I liked his ideas I didn’t much like his attitude. Listening to his words and watching his mannerism I came away thinking that he was the kind of person who thought he had everything figured out. And, frankly, I prefer to talk with people who believe they are still learning.

And that’s why I was bemused when, a few months later, I found myself on treadmill watching TED videos and there he was again. This time his name was attached to a talk called How great leaders inspire action and faced with three words that I love (leader, inspire and action) I clicked. I may not want to chat with the guy, I reasoned, but that was no reason to say no to good content.

I’m glad I clicked.

At the center of his talk was the idea that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” In his version of the golden circle you start with a clear why, and then the how and what follow authentically and lead to great results. I loved it and immediately started articulating the importance of why with my team. As an idea, it fit nicely into my mental model of leadership and eventually I found the time to listen to Start with Why, the 2009 book he wrote around this idea. Perhaps not surprisingly, as I’ve listened to the book I found myself wondering, “What’s my why?”

(Note: It’s harder than you might imagine to answer that question without sounding like a self-important blowhard.)

But I managed to push that feeling aside and I’ve decided that my why is simple. I believe in the unique human possibility to grow and — through that growth — create something of value. I see it as my “why” to seek out and support that opportunity for growth in every aspect of my life. Nothing is more exciting for me that finding someone (myself included!) at a growth cross-roads and being able to give them a nudge of support to make it to the next level. Talking to someone days or even years later and hearing their growth story can put a smile on my face for hours — finding out that something I did helped them get there can last for days. My why comes through authentically in every part of my what — my fervor for academics, my approach to marriage and mothering, my non-linear career, my blog and my love of mentoring. I regularly get asked why I’m not a teacher; I answer that I teach every day, anyone who is willing to learn.

 

It may be one of my life’s ultimate ironies that someone who struck me as having nothing to learn gave me a framework to articulate my why — a why framed in the power of growth. But, I think it just reinforces the fact there is something to be learned from everyone and every situation if you can get past one small challenge.

You have to be willing to click the link — and listen long enough to hear it.