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 happy success. They are eager to find the 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 have created and many are convinced that there is some key strategy, skill, job, man – 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.’
So as I pack up to give another presentation on the topic, I offer this: figure out how you define success today, knowing that this will probably change as your life changes.
My observation is that most men tend to travel on a linear path. Success, while often about how satisfied they are, is frequently tied to money, position and power. Women don’t dismiss those things, but success might include things such as relationships, impact, community and family involvement, flexibility and autonomy.
Many men have a more singular focus 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 variety of things and it’s as if the message is “If everyone else is OK, I’m OK.”
Different genetically, men and women get different messages from birth and socially have different influences. Understanding the differences and respecting them is a key to effective communication as well as management. But the challenge of work and 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. Kids 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. But 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 the plan when it doesn’t work as well as you had hoped. Understand that inventing as you go along is real life.
Life is more like an improvisational comedy troupe than a scripted play where everyone knows their part. So while it may feel like it’s not what you had hoped, or thought, or even wanted – as far as I can tell, we get one life and this is it.
It’s time to make the most of what you’ve got. So make your plans and have goals but rather than a clearly defined single outcome, think about a range for defining success. It helps to stay flexible. Real life requires it.