I have a theory that it’s possible to have a successful career and to have a good work-life balance. When I first developed my theory, I wasn’t sure if it was possible, but then doing what hasn’t been done before is what I enjoy so that didn’t deter me (much). What did worry me was that I was being naïve – that by seeking out a good work-life balance, I was setting myself up to be less competitive than my peers in achieving my ambitions.
So I’ve been reading and talking to people, working out for myself what I believe the truth is. Part of the evidence for my theory is that I can concentrate better and problem-solve more creatively when I’ve had a good break away from a project. That break can take the form of simply not thinking about it overnight, or working on a different project, or having something in my personal life that draws my attention when I’m not actively engaged in work. (Running is a favourite – I can become quite obsessive about it at times!)
People I’ve been talking to about my theory have a range of views about whether a work-life balance is possible, particularly in senior executive positions. I haven’t yet had someone tell me that they consider themselves successful and they have a good or great work life balance – I’m still looking forward to that day. The peers that I have spoken to about it seem to fall into two broad categories:
- It’s Hard Work: these are people who believe that senior management positions demand a lot of time and effort. I know a lot of people who work long hours i.e., working most evenings and weekends.
I’ve got no problem with working occasionally in weekends and evenings, but I believe it should be the exception rather than the rule. To me, weekends and evenings are there for personal pursuits – having interests outside work make you more interesting, develop character (a key element of being a good leader) and give you a break from work, allowing you to go back refreshed the next day. This is more or less how I approach running – I aim to have enough time between training sessions to allow my body to recover so that it can do its best, rather than be held back by fatigue from the previous training session.
- Life’s too short: these are people who believe that there’s so much adventure and enjoyment to be had from life, that they don’t see any reason why anyone would want to put anything other than the minimum time and effort into earning a salary. They would also believe that you don’t need a gargantuan salary to live a good life, so they’re more than happy setting for a job that pays the bills
In a sense, I can really appreciate the “Life is too short” view of life. These people will have great memories and will live good lives. On a personal level, the drive to have a challenge is too tempting for me to ever be happy with just staying where I am. I thrive off challenges and thoroughly enjoy the process of overcoming them. I also use the words “enjoy”, “fun” and “entertaining” in relation to work. There’s something about challenging myself and working successfully with a team that makes me smile (and laugh, and cry!) Perhaps that’s part of the secret to having a good work-life balance – finding joy in your work.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins describes Level 5 leaders as having excellent work-life balances. This is in part because they have the discipline to get work done in the allotted hours, and to delegate when it becomes too much, but also because they really love their work and their team. Very often, the great teams will stay friends when they go their separate ways. Perhaps part of the secret to having a life balance is never compromising on it in the first place. There’s something to be said about starting as you mean to continue.
I believe that a work-balance should be a lifestyle choice – part of how we get to where we want to be rather than the target itself. The alternative lends itself too easily to a scenario where we put our families and personal lives on hold until we achieve “success”, by which time we’ve lost years or even decades of time with those we love, and doing things we enjoy.