Study the best seller lists
of the past few years and you'll notice titles that range from Peter Lynch's
"Beating the Street" to Thomas Moore's "Care of the Soul: How to Find
Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life." This juxtaposition captures the
dilemma facing all of us in the business world. How does one swim with the sharks,
squeeze the margins of an angst-filled financial world, and still lead a life
of wholeness in spirit, mind and body?
Nor is this a new question.
Marsilio Ficino's 15th Century treatise, "The Book of Life," sought to help
the Medicis and their merchant counterparts create a renaissance of spirit amid
the draining demands of commerce and a new creature called capitalism.
Whether a Renaissance banker
or the CEO of a high tech conglomerate, whether a guild master of stonework
or a manager of information services, the issue is still one of balance.
But balance is not an equal
measure of work, love, prayer and play. Nor is it a state that can be achieved
and frozen in form for all time. Rather, this amorphous thing called "balance"
is an ongoing, deliberate set of decisions that make the journey of life much
like the metaphor of sailing.
Consider the single person
sailboat. When there is much wind, the little boat appears off balance, moving
forward at an angle, sails filled to bursting and the sailor leaning back over
the craft, with one hand on the sheet and toes hooked under the railing. What
allows the sailor to stay in the boat is that he is connected to all the important
parts of that craft. When the wind shifts, so too must the sailor.
Life is also like that.
We give ourselves tremendous mental stress when we think that life must balance.
Having a different image allows us to see where we might be out of control.
Briefly, there will always
be competing and unequal demands upon our time ... much like the tug of the
tiller or the push of the wind. Depending upon the course we have chosen for
ourselves, we respond to these demands. We might decide to change direction,
seek harbor, or give full rein to the beating waves and blustery wind. The quality
of these decisions depends upon the direction of our sailboat, the prevailing
winds, the depth of the water, and the need for overhaul and
Direction refers to the
goals, created by our values, which we have established. The wind and the depth
of the water represent those people and events, outside our control, which make
demands upon our time. Lastly, overhaul and repair stands for the need to cease
and desist, to nurture and renew our physical and spiritual self, and to reexamine
the course we are sailing.
If we consider sailing as
a metaphor for the "balance" we all seek along life's journey, then what is
needed are navigational aids. What could help all of us on such a journey is
a process, a formula, whereby we might take stock of our decisions, weighing
them against our personal values, goals, and physical requirements. Since we
are all bound by the same relentless 24-hour day, we would be best served by
looking at not how much we can cram into the blocks called "time", but how wisely
do we choose what we put into our finite day.
Step 1: Answer these
questions to help you determine what is of value to you. Value has more to do
with who you are and how you live your life, not what you have achieved. For
example, you might value lifelong learning, financial security, service to others,
loving relationships, and spiritual growth. Once you have identified what is
of value, you have a screen with which to filter through goals and activities.
One of the best ways to
identify values is to create an imaginary sounding board composed of 4-5 people
whom you value and admire and who, in turn, sincerely respect and like you.
If each one were to give eulogy, what type of person would they say you were
and why. What values arose? What goals or activities supported those values?
Isolate those values and write them down. You might even be able to rank order
Step 2: For the period
of one week, keep a pad of paper handy and make a note of every task you perform
and what role you play. For example, my roles are professional speaker, writer,
wife, mother, friend, office worker, manager, daughter, sister, student, volunteer,
and just plain ME. The latter refers to a role that nurtures and cares for me,
not necessarily anyone else. Amazingly, I've discovered that every task is related
to a role and that almost all tasks come in 15 minute increments.
Step 3: On a scale
from minus 5 to plus 5, rate these roles and accompanying tasks according to
enjoyment and personal value. In looking at the tasks of a week, interesting
Are the various tasks and
roles you've played congruent with the values you've identified? Are you putting
more time than is reasonable into some tasks and roles? The operative word here
is "reasonable." For example, a special friend lost her husband and had no one
to help her with grief and anger, not to mention funeral arrangements and lawyers.
My value of service and loving relationships and the role as "friend" and also
surrogate "daughter" created many tasks and demands. For me, it would have been
unreasonable not to spend considerable time with Jeanne. The sailboat headed
in her direction.
Another example. I discovered
that I was putting far too much time in the role of "office worker" rather than
in the role of "manager". Instead of assigning tasks and growing others, I was
taking work on that did NOT need to be done by me. Time to alter course
and allow my associates to hold the tiller.
Finally, by putting so much
emphasis on the role of professional speaker and its tasks, I had let drop ME.
Time to make decisions for overhaul and repair, saying "yes" to a day off, to
a day of contemplative silence. I realized that without the silence, all I bring
to the platform and my audiences are echoes of words rather than insights.
Step 4: Now that
you have identified what is, make a list of questions to ask yourself when you
begin to take on a role and task. My list looks like this:
- Does it support my value
for lifelong learning and make a difference? Will it stop another person from
- Will it stretch my abilities?
I recently accepted an assignment
that will cost time, money and effort as well as time away from home. I accepted
it because it will move me into trying something that I have never done before
... an activity directly related to my role of professional speaking and service.
- Does it allow me to be
with people whom I care about?
How often have we all said
"yes" to an engagement because we feel "guilty"? The reality is that we find
the people tedious, demanding, and downright boring. I have finally determined
that if I have limited time with my family and friends, it is perfectly fine
to periodically decline such invitations.
That's right-- "Irresistible".
Does what you are about to say "yes" to come without a significant doubt. Does
the request come without compromise or force from either the offeror or me.
There is no emotional blackmail, no "should", no social obligation. Irresistible
requests are gifts to be gratefully accepted. If our time is filled only with
"resistible" demands, how we will ever be able to accept the irresistible?
- Is it fun and will it
allow for creativity and a change of pace?
- Will it create organization
and structure in my life? Am I the only one who can do this?
- Will it nurture my physical
well-being and respect my natural pace?
I have discovered that unlike
many of my colleagues, non-stop travel is exhausting and not fun. My body requires
seven hours of sleep, regular exercise and down time. I can take only so many
back-on-back engagements before I must say "no". Trusting that I can say "no"
is a lesson I struggle to learn.
- Is it authentic to me
and of service to others?
I was asked if I would run
for the Board of a nonprofit. Knowing I have strong organizational and leadership
abilities not to mention an ego- saying "yes" to serve the membership SEEMED
appropriate. However, when I tested the request against the other questions
listed above, more negative responses appeared.
The art of balancing an
unequal life means that we seek answers to all these questions before choosing
the next activity to put in our life. Yes there will be days, even months, when
the pressure of every day pushes us into knee-jerk reactions and work seems
to be working us. External forces and folks seem to be pushing us for more,
for faster, for further. Once realized, stop. Lower the sails. Breathe. Ask
yourself these questions. Remember, there is a big difference between the leading
edge and the bleeding edge. Alienation from our authentic, deepest self and
each other draws blood. Connection to our core and the humanity around us draws