Life Balance: Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Miriam Bamberger, CPCC, and Heather Bradley, CPCC, are the co-founders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
A 30-something lawyer is walking to work one bright, sunny day when, out of the blue, a bolt of lightning shoots out of the sky and zaps her. She collapses, dead on the sidewalk. While dying, she sees the proverbial white light, and she walks toward it, finding herself at the Pearly Gates.
"Why did you take me now, St. Peter?" she asks. "I'm only 35, I have my whole life ahead of me."
"Thirty-five?!" says St. Peter, incredulously. "From your time sheets, I thought you were 75."
Does this sound familiar? Does your life consist only of work? How is it working for you?
If you are very satisfied with the balance in your life, great. Keep doing what you're doing. If you are not very satisfied, keep reading.
Many of us identify with the lawyer above. It's ironic: We successfully create the lives we do not want, but we cannot figure out how to create the lives we do want.
Work/Life Balance Doesn't Exist
Before going any further, we have a small, yet powerful, word change to make: We are removing the word work from this discussion, and simply referring to the concept of life balance. Of course work is a large and critical part of life. That's the point: Work is a part of your life, not the flip side of your life or something altogether separate. There may be times, such as during a case or major filing, when work does consume every moment. Ask yourself: Is this situation temporary or business as usual? And, more importantly, are you satisfied with it?
More Than One Right Way
The same circumstances can impact people in different ways. Imagine three attorneys who all bill an average of 50 hours a week. Each one loves the nature of her work. What differs, however, is the individual level of satisfaction in each situation.
Attorney #1 is very satisfied with her life balance and, in particular, the number of hours she works each week. She actively and eagerly chooses this path, but, ironically, she faces strong resistance from others who think that life balance means working less.
Attorney #2 is very dissatisfied with the lack of time she has available for other important activities, and would like to reduce the number of hours she works. She feels trapped, thinking, "Attorneys work lots of hours and that's just the way it is."
Attorney #3 is satisfied with her weekly workload, but wishes she had a less rigid schedule that would allow her to integrate work with other important things. She also feels trapped, but in a different way than attorney #2. She thinks, "Attorneys don't schedule their work around the other things in their lives. Everything else gets scheduled around the work."
None of these attorneys is wrong. They simply define life balance differently. Each of us has a unique picture of what life balance means and how we want to achieve it. The Flourishing Process can help you sort out what's right for you.
|What is your definition of life balance?||What choices do you have to make?||What steps do you need to make?|
Step 1: Clarity
What is your definition of life balance? Many of us fail to enjoy the life balance we want because we fail to define what it is that we really want. While life balance is dynamic, it does not need to be a moving target.
Look at your level of satisfaction with all areas of your life: your health, fun and recreation, personal growth, relationships with family and friends, your physical environment, and your professional satisfaction. If you are not satisfied with your current situation, ask yourself:
- How would you like it to be different?
- How will you know when you are in balance?
- When you are in balance, what will you have gained? What will it cost you?
If your life balance picture includes less work, what would you do with the additional time? Be specific. Avoiding a concrete answer will perpetuate a continuous downward spiral. No one—including you—will be able to satisfy needs that are undefined. Take a deep breath and be honest with yourself. After all, this conversation is protected by the ultimate attorney-client privilege!
Step 2: Choice
What choices do you have to make to get the life balance you want? It can be easy to paint an idyllic picture. It is another thing to make it real. One of the biggest barriers to creating the life we want is not fully committing to it. We say we want more of this or less of that, but we don't fully commit to the new set of tradeoffs required.
Making these decisions isn't always easy. Values such as financial freedom and passion for our work often collide with one another and are complicated by the "shoulds" imposed by others. How you react to your circumstances is up to you. Each of us makes our own choices, whether it is actively and deliberately moving toward what we want or passively maintaining the status quo.
Think about what you want to be different with your life balance.
- What choices do you need to make to achieve it?
- What tradeoffs do you need to make? What are you willing to say "yes" to? What are you willing to say "no" to?
For example, to get the life balance you want, you might need to say "yes" to dinner with friends once a week. In turn, that might mean saying "no" to staying at the office every night until 10 p.m. Or, you might need to say "no" when someone in the office asks for your help to be able to say "yes" to working out three times a week.
Step 1 – CLARITY
Step 2 – CHOICE
Step 3 – ACTION
On a scale of 1 (low) to 10
I say "Yes" to:
I say "No" to:
Today, I will:
Step 3: Action
Making it Happen
Break your goals into small steps so you can start seeing progress quickly.
- What can you do, or stop doing, right now, to move you toward the life balance you want?
- What are realistic time frames for your immediate and long-term life balance goals?
- What structures will help you maintain the life balance you want?
- Where do you need to ask for help?
- What is the one thing you need to continually monitor to keep your life balance commitment to yourself?
One of the greatest frustrations in today's society is our inability to squeeze more than 24 hours into a day. We are bombarded with messages convincing us that we can have it all. We cannot. Time is a limited resource; you must make choices. Only you can decide which ones will get you satisfaction.
Miriam Bamberger and Heather Bradley are the cofounders of The Flourishing Company, which helps emerging professionals sharpen their leadership skills to generate immediate and lasting changes in their ability to successfully manage complex work relationships. For additional information, visit: www.TheFlourishingCompany.com.
In 2003, MCCA® initiated an integrated strategy to assist members in taking responsibility for their professional development. This article is the fifth in a series that will address a collection of specific skills to assist members in proactively managing their own careers. Each article is supported by a companion teleclass known as Diversity & the Bar® Briefs.
The life balance teleclass is scheduled for October 22 at 4:00 p.m. (eastern standard time). Registration is on a first-come basis and will be limited. For additional information, contact MCCA at 202.371.5909.
From the September/October 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®