I’ve been making presentations on the topic of work-life integration for a while now. The women I talk to are in search of the magic combination that will unlock the padlock to happiness and success. They are eager to find a life where there is no push-pull between work and home. The happy and satisfied life of their dreams sure isn’t the one they are living right now and many are convinced that there is some key strategy, skill, job, man, woman – something that will get them to that place that they aren’t quite at – yet!! All of the rhetoric out there does not match the reality but instead of dismissing the message, many women continue the search for the elusive ‘balance.’
As I prepare for another presentation on the topic, I offer you this: figure out how you define success today, knowing that this will probably change as your life changes.
My observation is that many men tend to travel on a linear path. Success, while often about how satisfied they are, is frequently tied to money, position, and title/power. Women don’t dismiss those things, but success might include things such as relationships, impact, community and family involvement, flexibility and autonomy.
Men often have a more singular focus that makes making choices clearer and easier. It’s as if the message is “If I’m OK, those around me will be OK.” Women are focused on a wider variety of things as if the message is “If everyone else is OK, I’m OK.”
Different genetically, men and women get contrasting messages from birth and socially have different influences. Understanding the differences and respecting them is key to effective communication as well as effective management. I think that creating a life where work, home, and community existing together in perfect harmony is a fantasy. Each entity (and more if you add more things into your lifestyle) wants 100% of your attention. And if you have kids – they sometimes want 120% of your attention!
Balance assumes that you can dictate an appropriate and perhaps equal percentage of your time, attention, energy, and focus to each aspect of your life. The truth is that you don’t always get to call the shots (“I’m sorry boss, I gotta run. It’s time for yoga and that helps me clear my head.”) and controlling other people’s needs, actions, and reactions is simply magical thinking. You are not going to be able to do it.
So what CAN you do?
Define success and see how close you can get to it. Improvise your plan when it doesn’t work as well as you had hoped. Understand that inventing as you go along is real life.
In fact, life is more like an improvisational comedy troupe than a scripted play where everyone knows their part. While it may feel like it’s not what you had hoped, or thought, or even wanted – as far as I can tell, we only get one life and you are living it right now.
It’s time to make the most of what you’ve got. Make your plans and have goals but rather than a clearly defined single outcome, think about a range of outcomes for defining your success. It helps to stay flexible. Real life requires it.
Improvise. Life demands it.