In Tough Times, Your Happiness Hangs In The Balance

“I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams.” Susan Sontag

As the economy continues to be difficult and the world continues to be unpredictable, some businesses and some professionals are going under while others are flourishing. Still others are working harder than ever just to stay even. Wherever you might be on that continuum, these are tough times when it comes to balance.

According to one executive search firm, professionals such as us are working 10 to 15 more hours each week. And if you’re too focused on your work and letting your family slide, the world doesn’t care. “Fortune” magazine described the new corporate style, “the high commitment model,” that suggested “your life should revolve around work and not much else.”

Of course, there’s a price to pay if that’s the approach you take in your business. Management consultants Tom Peters and Nancy Austin say: “The majority of passionate activists … have given up family vacations, Little League games, birthday dinners, evening, weekend and lunch hours, gardening, reading, movies, and most other pastimes. We have a number of friends whose marriages or partnerships crumbled under the weight of their devotion to a dream.”

My response to all of the above is “how sad” and “how totally unnecessary.” You don’t have to give up your life to make a living. And you don’t have to sell your soul to make it all work out. As famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung once said, “Hurry is not ‘of the devil,’ it is the devil.”

I’ve been a full-time professional speaker for 21 years, and I’ve given more than a 120 programs each and every one of those years. I have employees in different locations, and I have other business interests I manage. So I know what a full calendar is all about. Despite that, my wife and I are happily married; we have four children and four grandchildren that we see often, and we take six weeks of vacation each year. It’s a challenge to keep things in balance, but we’ve learned a few things that work. You might want to consider these things as well.

=> 1. Think about what you want out of life.

I see too many smart people who work too hard, live too fast, and then feel strongly ambivalent about their success. They’ve never taken the time to figure out what they really, really want. All they think about is their upcoming projects and what else has to be done.

If you’re living an overly busy, hurried and hectic life, you may be wasting your life. That’s not to say that your schedule isn’t filled with good and important things. But you may be letting all those “good” things crowd out the better things.

What about you? Are you living your life by default, letting your pressures control your life? Or are you living your life on purpose, using your priorities to create your life? Take some time to think about what you want.

=> 2. Look at how your career is affecting your family.

Not only now but five years from now. Every project you work on, every commitment you make has a personal consequence. Are you aware of those consequences?

I remember in the early days of my speaking career, one of my daughters would often interrupt me when I was working on a program. She’d say, “Dad, Dad,” and then ask a series of questions or want to do a variety of activities. More often than not, I’d say, “Not now … Later … I’m busy … Leave me alone.” And eventually she did. We had a very strained relationship for several years.

Time does pass more quickly than you think. You’ll soon be facing the consequences of your present work decisions. So make sure you make those decisions in the context of how they will affect your personal and professional life.

=> 3. Refuse to be proud of your busyness.

That’s a tough one. As a professional speaker, I’ve been guilty of comparing my calendar with other speakers to see who is the busiest or who has the most bookings. It somehow gives a sense of pride to know how hard we work and how much in demand we are.

Forget the comparisons. And take your focus off the busyness. No tombstone ever read, “He led his department in the number of hours worked six years in a row.” Nobody cares, and you’re the one paying the price if your work and family life are out of balance.

I like the way Lee Iacocca put it. He said, “Over the years, I’ve had many executives come to me and say with pride: ‘Boy, last year I worked so hard that I didn’t take any vacation.’ It’s nothing to be proud of. I always feel like responding: ‘You dummy. You mean to tell me that you can take responsibility for an $80 million project and you can’t plan two weeks out of the year to go off with your family and have some fun?'”

=> 4. Weigh the pros and cons of greater “success.”

Corporate promotions usually come with a corresponding increase in workload. They may not be worth it. The same is true if you’re self-employed. More projects, customers, and staff may look like you’ve achieved a higher level of success — but have you really? You may have simply acquired more stress than it’s worth.

One of the ways my wife and I learned to do this was through the use of a “need” budget. We determined how much money we “needed” — not wanted — to make in the speaking business. We set that as our healthy but somewhat conservative goal several years ago, and we’ve never changed the dollar amount since then.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. It almost felt un-American to say that that was enough, that we don’t have to have any more business. In fact, to grow much beyond our “need” budget, it would cost us in terms of our mental and marital health.

The result has been quite wonderful. By setting a goal based on need — rather than desire — we’ve stripped away a lot of the stress. We’re able to achieve the goal without too much difficulty, and we’re able to ask if it’s worth it when other potential business comes in. It allows us to keep things in balance because we’re making conscious choices.

=> 5. Schedule your recreation.

It may sound strange to put some fun time on your calendar, but I’ve learned if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t happen.

It’s too easy to say to your friends and family members that “We’ve got to get together real soon.” But if you don’t immediately ask “when,” it probably won’t happen for weeks and weeks or months and months. And it just takes one project or one meeting in the middle of a week to prevent you from taking off the week or going on that vacation.

We don’t want that happening to us. So my wife and I sit down four times a year to schedule our recreation. We make sure we get all the people we want to see on our calendar, and we put those fun, just-the-two-of-us getaways on the calendar as well. We even schedule our vacations two years in advance.

I’ve always seen work as a blessing. I love it. And I love helping people make a difference in their lives and their businesses. Unfortunately, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the busyness that you can forget to make a life AS you make a living. It’s easy to burn out and lose your balance. Don’t do that. You mean too much to your family, friends, and customers.

Action:  List three things you need to REMOVE from your schedule so you have a greater sense of balance.

And list three things you need to ADD to your schedule so life has greater meaning.

Finally, write down WHEN you will do each of the above.