Work / Life Balance is a 360 affair. There are many variables to consider, all of which have to be kept in the air. This makes the project hard enough; it becomes impossible when we introduce extreme expectations into the mix. Without a clear idea of how much is enough when it comes to our needs and goals, we will always find ourselves tilting in one direction or another. Balance comes when we define and reach for our own brand of success.
We live in confusing times. In many ways, we have never had it so good. Yet, it is common to feel unsatisfied like something is missing. In today’s world of unlimited choices, it is easy to fall into a state of compulsive dissatisfaction always needing to do and have more. The result can be a Work / Life Balance that feels overextended and unsatisfying.
Most people gain a sense of satisfaction from achieving and enjoying their successes. But what, exactly, is our definition of success? Is it enough to satisfy us? And are we making the most of life as we reach for it?
In this issue, we consider reaching for the kind of success that meets our needs and provides us with ongoing satisfaction while in pursuit of success.
Achieving success on our terms requires us to sharpen our idea of what we are aiming for. Instead of trying to have it all and do it all, we aim for what is “enough” to satisfy our needs. When we go beyond what is “enough”, we waste our passion, energy, and enjoyment at the expense of our other needs.
The term “enough” has come to represent mediocrity, like saying “She only put in enough effort to get by.” When viewed this way, many of us (me included) are downright afraid of it. We fear that having “enough” means settling for less or losing our competitive edge and ambition. But what if we started to demand that our successes be “enough” to satisfy us?
Reaching for “enough” does not mean we should settle for mediocrity. It does not mean that we should settle for less or cut back our aspirations. Cutting back at work or home may only result in disconnecting us from our passions. High achievers don’t do that because it does not satisfy. Rather, they have a definition of “enough” across the range of their needs. Reaching real and deeply satisfying success in our work and life is reaching for “enough”.
“We are losing our capacity to define a reasoned sense of enough”, say Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson from the Harvard Business School. In their book Just Enough, Nash and Stevenson studied many high achievers to understand how satisfying success is created.
Their study selected high achievers who had reached success on scores that most of us keep. However, the high achievers also had to hold multiple goals driven by various emotional needs, like the rest of us, so they were not people who gave up family for the sake of a career. Instead, they chose talented people who work hard and also have a life.
Apart from being high achievers, these people demonstrated an ability to enjoy happiness and pleasure in their life; a desire to contribute to something besides themselves; the ability to display a sense of humanity by valuing the worth of others; and the perseverance to sustain these qualities for the long-term.
Nash and Stevenson studied people like the CEO who genuinely wanted to improve some social condition, to contribute to the wellbeing and success of her workers, while also improving her own power and fortune. They also chose schoolteachers, artists, and many people who fit this balanced approach.
One myth the high achievers immediately debunked was that the success is “only” about Winning Big. This limited criteria for success ignores the fact that people and organisations have multiple needs. A company that places profit as the only criteria for success fails to grow. Executives who place power and money as their only criteria eventually feel empty. Stay-at-home parents who limit their criteria to family service alone may feel that their other needs are not satisfied.
The high achievers shared the ability to be realistic. They had developed a skill for knowing which limits to break and which to accept, so they could reach success and satisfaction sooner. They avoided modeling their success on the highly published Celebrity Successes that flood our success literature.
Nash and Stevenson say that our success literature is letting us down because of its obsession with Celebrity Success Thinking. This kind of thinking, while extremely popular, is flawed. It is cheating us out of the satisfaction we deserve.
Celebrity Success Thinking fails to satisfy because it relies on stories of limit-busting, maximised performance. If we base our success on these, sometimes questionable, performances, the score only starts counting at the limits of maximum achievement. This leaves many organisations and individuals with a large territory for failure before achieving any sense of success. Nash and Stevenson provide a welcome reality check by saying, “It’s easy to feel stupid when you compare yourself to the celebrity successes.”
So how do we move away from a mentality of limitless Maximisation and Celebrity Success without dropping out?
The answer is in finding our definition of “enough”, and only we can do that. But before we can, we need to debunk Maximisation because there is no maximum, there is always “more”. Blindly raising the bar without limits makes us inflexible by pursuing some targets long after it makes sense to do so. Next, we need to ditch the idea of Celebrity Success (even in small forms) because it is not “enough” to satisfy us. Instead, we can define and reach for what is “enough” to satisfy our many needs.
So, how do we know if we are following our definition of “enough” or someone else’s? The answer is in how we feel when we reach a success goal. If it is enough, we will feel deep and lasting satisfaction. If it is never enough, we will soon start to feel empty again. We may then blame that empty feeling on not having enough, when we really have the wrong idea of “enough”.
Say, for example, we finally buy that speedboat but, before long, our satisfaction fades into a feeling of emptiness. If this happens, perhaps we were not following our definition of “enough” in the first place. Knowing the difference can save us a lot of time, money, and lost opportunity to enjoy satisfaction.
Reaching for “enough” is not just about defining quantity. It must define the quality of the content we are aiming for. When we define both content and quantity, we become clear on exactly what we want and how much of it is required to satisfy us. This is how “enough” can expand our satisfaction without needing to have or do it all, or to always go for the max.
Using “enough” as our game plan, someone may surpass us on one dimension, but having a multidimensional strategy assures us we are working on reaching our definition of success. Knowing this, we accept and even welcome it when our performance goes up or down in one area while we attend to other needs. It’s the big picture versus the small picture, the big win that doesn’t really satisfy versus the many wins that really do satisfy.
For example, our income may drop while we re-skill ourselves or decide to raise a family, or it may rise while we seize an opportunity to get ahead, or we may spend less while we channel extra income into our retirement. Is all of this normal? Absolutely! Will there be consequences? Of course! Handling them is part of managing our Work / Life Balance with a reasoned sense of “enough”.
To satisfy and enjoy our ideal Work / Life Balance, we cannot simply go for the extremes of an oversimplified, single dimension life, or one where everything is maximised in celebrity fashion. Being an ideal dad, a great husband, and a celebrity executive is a tough (if not impossible) task and always has been. Giving everything to only one goal and expecting complete satisfaction is just as difficult.
We have multiple needs that demand regular satisfaction. By defining “enough” right across the range of our needs and goals, we avoid neglecting any of them. We set ourselves up to reach our own brand of success. From there we can build on success and switch to the next need.
We will only ever have “enough” when we decide what “enough” is. And it will only ever be “enough” if it addresses all of our needs. Pursuing our own definition of success takes vision, confidence and commitment. We will build on this in our next issue as we experiment with setting our strategy for our Work / Life Balance.
Coaching Inquiries: What exactly is your sense of enough? What will it take for you to be satisfied? Is it reachable, or does it have hidden celebrity elements? How could you begin to define “enough” across the needs, areas and people in your life that matter?
This Provision, and each Provision in our series on Work / Life Balance, is written by Michael J. Alafaci of www.SolutionMaps.com • Copyright Solution Maps 2005. All rights reserved. You can contact Mike by email or phone, in Australia, at 61-7-3311-5361.
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, Email Bob or use our online Feedback Form.
I have to tell you I am really impressed by the whole series on Work / Life Balance. It often seems like you are looking at my life when writing and I am guessing many others are thinking the same thing. I am challenged to enact the ideas you promote. I feel I have been making progress over the last year in this regard and your articles help keep me focused.
I have been reading our Provisions for a while now and I love them. Thanks!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services