Maximum Satisfaction and Minimum Frustration: The Secrets to True Balance

by admin 18. July 2013 13:34

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you. — Ralph Waldo Emerson


Balance is often equated with working less. If you're working 24/7, then you clearly do need to work less, but balance is about a lot more than reducing time spent at work.

 I’m told the word has also come to mean 50/50, as in, "I must spend the exact same amount of time and expend the exact same effort on my family as on my career in order to be balanced." Obviously, this is ridiculous. The 50/50 concept must be read into the word; it is not there as a matter of definition. Moreover, why 50/50?  People have more than two things to balance; they have friends, hobbies, pets, causes, and all manner of other activities in addition to career and family.

Balance also doesn’t mean 100/0. It’s perfectly possible to be a great lawyer without devoting 100 percent of your time and efforts to that; ditto with being a great parent. Men don’t put themselves into these all-or-nothing boxes, and neither should women. In fact, work and family are synergistic: Many work skills and experiences make us better parents, and vice versa.

There are no hard and fast rules for balancing work and life. Some work responsibilities are more important than seeing a kid off to school one morning or driving another to a softball practice; your career will benefit, and your kids won't mind one bit. Similarly, some kid responsibilities outweigh work requirements; the vast majority of work stuff can wait for a broken arm or an important recital. Not everything is urgent—on any front.

You can achieve the balance you want if you recognize that you have the right, the ability, and the responsibility to define and then construct for yourself a life that works. Other people can make demands on your time, but only you can control how you allocate it. So why not allocate it—consciously, intentionally, and without fail—to the activities that will move you closer to achieving the balance you crave?

We can all find time for the things we love. I would argue that we all do find time to attend to the things we care most about. The problem is that we don’t always do this consciously or consistently, and we often substitute somebody else’s definition of what’s important for our own.

The fact that too much of our time seems to get spent on things we don’t even like, let alone love, is, I believe, more a confusion of priorities than a lack of time. Lack of time as an excuse for not getting to things that matter is a red herring, nothing more than a comfortable delusion. People with enviably balanced lives have no more time in the day, days in the week, or weeks in the year than you do. Prioritize what matters most to you, then allocate your time accordingly, and you’ll achieve the balance you want.

It Doesn't Have to be One or the Other

Beware of that all-or-none mentality that can creep in when you measure alternative actions against your priorities. For example, I never had any doubt that my kids were more important to me than my career. That didn't mean, however, that everything child-related took precedence over everything career-related. Instead, I tried to figure out which parts of traditional mothering were important to me as a mother and to my kids in their development into independent, happy, productive members of society. This was my definition of “good mothering” and my priority. Whenever a time-allocation issue arose, this was the frame of reference I considered and measured it against.

With my priority firmly in mind and a clear framework against which to measure tasks and decide which ones were the important ones, I allocated my time as wisely as I could. I didn't need to see my kids’ first steps or hear their first words in order to take—and demonstrate—great pride in their development as walkers and talkers. So, for me, putting them in daycare and continuing to pursue my career was an easy and guilt-free choice. School plays? I'd rather be working. Teacher conferences?  After a memorable conference with an elementary school teacher who evidently had our son confused with someone else (the teacher referred to him as a “quiet, reserved boy,” and I politely asked her if she had ever met him), my husband and I decided that he would handle this aspect of parenting. (He was also a busy professional, but one whose competencies include bedside manner).

The point isn't the particular choices I made, but rather that I made choices that used my strengths (and compensated for my weaknesses) in the context of my priorities—and then I lived by those choices. The balance wasn’t perfect at every individual moment, nor did it have to be. It’s the long-term balance over the course of the journey that counts.

True balance is about maximizing satisfaction and minimizing frustration. A balanced life is like a balanced story, a balanced diet, a balanced argument. The point of the word is that the thing in question works, it's pleasing, it has the right relative placement of the important and the less important. It does the trick—as defined by you for you.

Next month: the work side of the balance equation

Debra Snider is an author, speaker, no-longer-practicing lawyer, former senior executive, blackjack player, and mother of two grown children. Her published works include two nonfiction business books, one specifically for lawyers, and the novel A MERGER OF EQUALS, which readers have called “one of the most enlightening and true works of fiction about corporate life and love” and “virtually impossible to put down.”  A Chicagoan until 2005, Debra and her husband of 36 years now live in Nevada.  Click here for more info on her biography, books, and appearances.

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