The Myths of Balance


As I pursued my study of balance over the years, I began to notice its myths. What follows is an excerpt from my book, Navigate Chaos, available October 10 on Amazon. I hope this insight helps you find your balance.

(You’ll notice some questions throughout. They aren’t rhetorical. Answer them for yourself or join the conversation about them in the comments or on LinkedIn and Twitter.)

Many of us attribute a lack of life balance to current circumstances. Like I did, perhaps you blame the boss, the client, or your colleagues. We tell ourselves it will get better when circumstances change. Dismiss this notion. Until you accept personal responsibility for your balance, you will never have it. Let’s reveal and dismiss three other commonly held beliefs related to life balance.

1. Balance is attained by working less and playing more.

As an executive coach, I’m often asked how I define balance. That’s the wrong question. Balance is not universally defined. It means different things to different people and changes depending upon the circumstances of your life. The better question is, how do you define balance?

My clients often respond to this latter question with a general statement about spending less time at work and more time with family and friends. Defining balance in such terms is not attainable. While working less may help in some cases, there is always the potential for more or less.

It’s important to understand that Balance isn’t a thing. Balance is not black or white. Our sense of balance is a personal assessment that is neither true or false. As Chalmers Brothers astutely explains in his book Language and the Pursuit of Happiness, “we often treat our assessments as though they are assertions – as though they are facts.” And in this case, we treat our assessment of balance as though we have it or we don’t without even defining what it is.

To effectively manage the tension of balance, it is necessary to articulate the standards by which we define healthy balance. Until the incident with my son, I never took the time to assess my personal mission, values, and priorities. After doing so, I was better able to define balance based upon the current circumstances and priorities of my life. Only then could I begin to make tangible (and measurable) progress toward healthy balance. As you will soon learn, balance is best defined and more readily achieved when your demonstrated behaviors are consistent with your professed priorities.

How do you define healthy life balance?

2. Life will be easy once I find proper balance.

Finding sustainable balance does not mean that life will not throw significant challenges your way. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. However, the preventive maintenance associated with balance can sustain and improve your health and relationships. And when life throws adversity your way, you will be better equipped to handle it.

A mentor and friend of mine helped me understand that healthy balance promotes pre-crisis integrity. In other words, if you apply the discipline necessary to sustain healthy balance, you will be better equipped to handle adversity when it inevitably arises. This may be in the form of a looming deadline or crisis at work that requires focused attention for a brief or extended period. Alternatively, this may be adversity at home, illness, loss of a loved one, a child suffering, a financial set back, a broken relationship, or some other unexpected event.

Whatever the case, healthy balance does not preclude you or those closest to you from experiencing difficult times – we all do. Healthy balance can, however, equip you with the strength and perspective to persevere and overcome. Without healthy balance, or pre-crisis integrity, the next incident or adversity faced, may just be the one that pushes you over the edge. And as described in my recent post about realities of life balance, it may be the incident in which you fall, run out of gas, or sustain irrevocable injury.

Are you mentally, physically, and spiritually prepared for the next unanticipated event or adversity?

3. Personal and professional success is mutually exclusive.

While balance may not be necessary for professional success, it certainly is not counter to it. A simple Google search reveals numerous studies and analysis demonstrating the positive impact of healthy life balance practices in organizations. The most common benefits include enhanced productivity, improved morale, reduced absenteeism, and lower turnover. Organizations that promote and support healthy balance policies report higher engagement and trust – which correlate directly to enhanced business results.

Such concepts are not novel. Steven Covey astutely recognized the significance of balance in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People where he conveys that balance is the key to effectiveness. Dr. Covey was referring to the balance between Productivity and Production Capability, or what he referred to as P and PC. If you do not pause to “Sharpen the Saw,” the 7th and most important habit, you will diminish your productivity.

Effective life balance will enhance, not hinder, your productivity at work and at home. It is the key to sustainable personal and professional success. In my experience, balance was necessary for professional success. Once I learned to manage the tension well, I became more engaged at work and more fulfilled in life. I had the best years of my professional career and can honestly say I have no regrets relative to the father, husband, and person that I am.

How might effective pursuit of life balance enhance your productivity and professional success?

As you practice managing the realities and myths of balance, consider the questions posed here and join the conversation in the comments or on LinkedIn and Twitter.