Like a lot of working parents, I find myself constantly juggling both professional and personal goals, trying to find time for everything that matters, and sometimes feeling like I'm screwing it up big time. So for a little wisdom and practical advice, I turned to Cali Williams Yost, the CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexibility strategy consulting firm. (Her new book is Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You).
Me: Why is it a problem for us to think in terms of work-life "balance"?
Cali: When your goal is work-life "balance," it causes more problems than it solves. In fact, here are what I call the 10 Tyrannies of Work/Life Balance:
1) Balance is always discussed in the negative-what you "don't" have.
2) Balance keeps you focused on the problem, not the solution.
3) Balance assumes we're all the same.
4) Balance infers that there is a "right" a answer.
5) Balance leads us to judge others (and ourselves), often unfairly.
6) Balance results in unproductive guilt.
7) Balance suggests that the goal is an impossible 50-50 split between work and the other parts of your life.
8) Balance leaves no room for periods where there's more work and less life, and vice versa.
9) Balance ignores the fact that work and life are constantly changing, and
10) Balance will never be taken seriously by corporate leaders, who only hear "work less" when you say "balance."
Plus, have you ever noticed that when the term "work-life balance" is written out, there's either a "-" or a "/" between work and life? The truth is that work and life are one and the same today. Not separate. You may want them to ultimately be as separate as possible, but you need to start from the premise that it's all one big ball of time and energy that you need to deliberately and consciously manage.
Me: What is "work+life fit" How will I know when I have it?
Cali: Work+life fit is the way work "fits" into your life, day-to-day and at major life and career transitions. It's like snowflakes. Everyone has a different work+life fit reality. No two are the same. Thinking about the goal as work+life "fit," frees you from the ten tyrannies of balance above because you:
1) Talk about what you could have.
2) See solutions.
3) Know we're all different.
4) Realize there's no right answer.
5) Stop judging yourself and others, harshly.
6) Lose the guilt.
7) Embrace and plan for the ebb and flow of work and life, and
8) Increase the likelihood that corporate leaders will support the need to flexibly manage work and life better and smarter.
How will you know you "have it?" I love that question because it points out another mindset shift we need to make. Again, balance does infer that ultimately if you work hard enough there is an answer. But there is no right way. Managing your work+life fit is an ongoing practice. You never "have it." You can only optimize it for a particular set of work and personal circumstances at a point in time. Then realities will change (they always do), and so will your fit. Once you realize that there is no right way, it relieves the pressure and allows you to experiment more freely with what works best for you.
Me: What are 3 tips you have found helpful for increasing your work+life fit?
Cali: The Three Steps to a Better Work+Life Fit® are outlined in my book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You (Riverhead, 2004), but here are a few highlights to get you started:
1) Regularly spend time asking yourself "What do I want my work+life fit to look like? What's working? What's missing?" and begin the process of connecting with what that ever-changing vision looks like for you. My experience from doing this work for over a decade is that most of us can easily rattle off what we don't want, but very few of us have any idea about what we do want. I outline in the book steps to begin to create your work+life fit vision, but it can be as simple as sitting down in a quiet place a few times a week and simply asking the questions and listening to what you hear. It's truly amazing how we all know what we want.
2) Consciously examine your definition of success to make sure it's supporting the work+life fit you want, and not undermining it. In other words, make sure you aren't your own worst enemy. This is tricky territory for high achievers because "success" is very clearly defined especially related to prestige, money, advancement and care giving. Maybe right now the work+life fit you want requires you to give up a part of your job or perhaps not take a promotion. How do you feel about that? Or maybe you aren't able to be at every one of your child's soccer games. Are you consumed with guilt? Our personal definition of success needs to be as flexible as the way we manage our work+life fit.
3) Create a plan for making your work+life fit vision a reality that's a win for you and your job. The biggest mistake I see people make is if they want to work from home one or two days a week, shift their hours or reduce their schedule, they expect their manager to figure it out. No! You need to come to the table with an initial plan that outlines: What type of flexibility you want to manage your work+life fit, how the work will get done, how you will communicate with your manager, team and customers and when the plan will be reviewed. In my book, I outline step-by-step process of what you need to think about when creating a solid plan. Taking the lead will greatly increase your chances for support and success.
Cali Williams Yost is the CEO of the Flex+Strategy Group / Work+Life Fit, Inc., a flexibility strategy consulting firm. In addition to her book, Work+Life: Finding the Fit That's Right for You (Riverhead/Penguin Group, 2005), Yost created the award-winning Work+Life Fit blog, and is an expert blogger for FastCompany.com. You can follow her on Twitter @caliyost.