Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

Choose your date wisely

Choose your date wisely

The people you choose to be with are a strong predictor of what you value and how you live.

As I wrote in the last post, a shift in identity will start you down the path towards a balanced life.

However if everyone around you is bragging about how many events they missed because of work, eventually your hours will start to creep back up. To make the changes last, you’ll need a community of people to support you.

First and foremost, if you’re in a relationship, you’ll want to get on the same page with your partner. Does he/she support people-first values? Most of the time, they’ll be thrilled to have you around more. And if you are both on email till midnight together every night, you can start to make the change together. For example, checking email during dinner can be a pernicious habit. But, it is also is a clear behavior that is easy to modify if phone free time together is the priority.

However, if getting a new BMW every year is the most important thing to your partner, they may not support your change in priorities. Mismatched values like this are a red flag for the relationship. Some people work long hours as a way to avoid an unhappy relationship. Could this be you?

And whether or not you’re in a relationship, you’ll need people outside the family to support your change. One great place to begin is by finding a weekly activity to bring you out of the office. I’ve known many people who picked up a class or joined a team just as a way to get out of the office. There, they met their future spouse.

If you are at in Tuesday night volleyball league, everyone else there has decided not to work and to spend time on volleyball too. This is a great place to get to know people who don’t talk about work all the time.

Finally, be on the lookout for a community opportunity, meaning that if someone invites you to do something, say yes! A mindful approach to develop contacts outside of the workplace will increase your flexibility, and decrease any emotional dependency on the work pseudo-community.

What has your experience been with getting out of the office?

Previous Post: The First Step To Create a Life Of Balance

Upset about Penn State? Then Prevent It From Happening Again!

Today’s guest post is from me.  We’ll get back to Busting Your Corporate Idol on Monday.

“The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.” – The Freeh Report p 14

If you are interested in my thoughts on how the culture of Penn State enabled this tragedy, and is the embodiment of institutional idolatry, come back on Monday.  I realized that if that is all I had to say, I too, would be ignoring the victims of child abuse.  People come first, so let me share what I have learned about child predators.  Kudos to those news reports that have included experts on child abuse, who have taught me that this is no longer an issue of laws, it is an issue of awareness.

“The overwhelming majority of child sexual abuse victims are abused by someone they know and trust, someone most parents would never suspect.”

For those who prefer statistics, according to the American Psychological association, 60% of perpetrators are known the the parents, 30% are relatives of the child, and just 10% are strangers.  This particularly hits home for me.  I met a family friend’s husband at a wedding and later learned that he was sexually abusing their children.  His own children.  I met him and never in a million years would have guessed.  And she didn’t figure it out for years.

So wearing my business, problem solving hat, if 60% of the problem comes from known, trusted people, how to we as a society solve the problem?

I think a model system is the Safe Haven program, designed by the The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO).  The Safe Haven program was designed to “prevent opportunities for abuse to occur while minimizing opportunities for volunteers to be misunderstood or falsely accused. The guidelines hold coaches responsible for all players, for maintaining supervision protocols, and maintaining appropriate adult/child boundaries.”

Here are the three rules I learned in Safe Haven training as a coach for my daughters’ soccer teams.

  1. A coach is never alone with a child, ever.
  2. A coach never touches a child, ever.
  3. For girls teams, at least one adult woman must be present at every practice.  And if no woman is available, the practice is canceled.  In San Carlos, where I live,  my town, this is taken very seriously.  Once  when I was an assistant coach, the head coach spent the first 15 minutes of practice calling moms until he found one to come to the field.
What is great about The Safe Haven is that everyone involved with the soccer league, the parents, coaches, referees, and kids are all trained on these rules.  The program works exactly as designed – the kids are safe, and the coaches are never in a position where they could be questioned or falsely accused.

What to do if you come across the unthinkable?

What would you do if you found out a close friend, coworker, or aquantance was molesting kids?  One mother involved with the Penn State tragedy confronted Jerry Sandusky when she though he had molested her son.  Don’t do it.  Monsters like him are master manipulators.  You would have a better chance of winning a chess match against world champion Viswanathan Anand of India than you would of learning the truth yourself.  None of us are prepared for such things.  Call for professional help immediately.
Your company may have a policy to inform HR,  your boss, or local security.  Some good people at Penn State followed that procedure, and Sandusky continued to hurt kids for years.  In my opinion, if you see something obvious, just call the police on the spot, and call the chain of command later.  After all the national scrutiny on the failings at Penn State, this is one time to ask for forgiveness later for not following procedure.
You do not need to have proof to call in the professionals like the police or a doctor.  It is not your call whether someone should be prosecuted or investigated.  Present what you know and let the professionals work it out.
Another option is to call the hotline .  1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).  After reviewing a number of websites, this one seems to be the best.  From
 “A qualified crisis counselor will answer and assist you, if you:
  • Have questions about the signs of child abuse.
  • Need to find out how to report known or suspected abuse.
  • Have questions about the reporting process and what you might expect through the process.
  • Want a referral to an agency, counseling or other services near where you live.
  • Need help and want to talk to a counselor.
  • Are in physical or emotional crisis and need support and encouragement
  • Connect you to the best possible resources in your area.
In summary, 90% of child abuse is by people known to the child.  We can do our part to dramatically cut down on child buse by doing the following two things.
1. Set rules for your kids that prevent them from being alone with adults.  Pedaphiles often groom kids by offering special favors or attention. For more information on the danger signs, see
2. Make sure that you, and everyone you know, knows what to do if they see something. Call 1-800-4-A-Child.  We don’t need a witch hunt, but we do need to make sure to bring in a professional if we have reason to believe children are being hurt.  Pedophiles can remain undetected for years, and  hurt multiple children.  And abused kids are much more likely to become abusers themselves.
As uncomfortable as the topic may be, please pass this information on.  It is a concrete step we all can take to make sure that something like this can never happen again.

May Day Musings: From Fertility Rites To Workers Rights

Winding the Pole by Micdsphotos via Flickr Creative Commons License

May Day always confused me.  Holiday around the world to celebrate workers rights, non-event in the US.  Actually, May 1st is multiple holidays.  There are a collection of holidays of Pagan origin in Europe that celebrate spring, and include the Maypole dance, back from an earlier age before pole dancing became adult for traveling executives.  Then again, fertility rituals were a large part of pagan culture.   For example, in one Celtic myth the king would have sex with the goddess Brigid in her “hag form” in order to ensure prosperity of the kingdom.  Talk about taking one for the team!  (Ok, “she would resume her maiden form after his initial embrace” but even so.)  The king was “doing what it takes” for the good of the country in accordance with the prevailing value system.  It kind of reminds me of the manager or executive who does what it takes for the good of the company, where the bounds of acceptable behavior are again dictated by the prevailing company culture.


Musing #1: International Workers Day

A corporation is like an idol in that both have value systems that can change with circumstance, and both act as institutions to perpetuate their own interests.  The details of corporate culture vary greatly, but all share the same need to make money, and there isn’t really any reason why a corporation won’t push its employees to do more work for less money.  The other aspect of May Day is international workers day, which commemorates the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in Chicago, which occurred after an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they dispersed a public assembly during a strike and demonstration for the eight-hour workday.  (Clearly some of the Occupy protestors on this May first were also not content with peaceful protest, and also attacked the police.  Luckily, there was no police massacre this time.)

As a kid, my father explained to me it was a day for workers rights.  “What about the managers?” I asked.  They don’t count – they work for the company.  I have a false memory of dad explaining to me about the “company man,” as the guy who will do whatever the company asks of him.  (I think it’s a false memory, because my dad doesn’t talk that way.  He probably explained it in a different way, and my brain has re-imaged it in terms of the “company man.”

But the basic question remains – what about the managers and executives?  Even in its weakened state, there is a labor movement that pushes for better working conditions for employees.  For example, earlier this year I wrote about the after-hours email ban at Volkswagen that was negotiated by the German Trade Union.  But the after-hours ban does not apply to Volkswagen executives, who probably need an improvement in working conditions more than the factory workers.

Who speaks for management?

This issue of the eight -hour workday – it’s still something we are fighting about 125 years later.  What does that even mean in the information age when many people are expected to be on call 24/7, and after-hours email has become an ingrained habit for many people?  Earlier in the year, I wrote about the after hours email ban implemented by Volkswagen as a concession to the German Trade union to improve working conditions.  But the after-hours ban does not apply to the executives.  It’s funny – Henry Ford, one of the greatest industrialists of all time implemented a 40 hour week for his factory workers because studies found that working longer hours led to a decline in productivity.  And three months later, he implemented the same system for office workers.  (For more, see this great article by Geoffrey James published in Inc.)

Are managers and executives stuck just taking what the company has to offer?  Certainly the pay is higher, but so is the stress and so are the hours.  The very idea of managers banding together and demanding a shorter working day is absurd.  Managers are too closely aligned to the company, and it is there primary responsibility to drive execution of the company strategy, and maintain the essence of the written and unwritten rules of company culture.

Nevertheless, managers and executives can choose their level of devotion to the company.  It is one thing to be professional, and to do the best job you can do.  It is quite another to make the company the top priority, ahead of family and personal health.  As I have written previously, overly identifying with the company and a company-first value system are signs of Corporate Idolatry.

Musing #2: The Celtic Festival of Beltane

The Festival of Beltane took place on May 1 in Pre-Christian Ireland and Scotland, the halfway point between the equinox and solstice, and was an elaborate celebration of fertility, renewal, and bonfires.  I love the internet.  It gives access to these great college essays, where someone clearly has researched the topic and gives a nice, well written summary of information I could only get by reading a lot of original source material.  The essay I reference above is linking the Celtic fertility goddess Brigid with St. Brigid  of Kildare.  The nameless author at UNC (for goodness sakes, put your name on your essay!) that monks in the middle ages converted the stories of this fertility goddess into those of a nun in early Chrisitian Ireland.  And one of the key transformations was in the area of sexuality.

Sex was not something the Celts shied away from in their literature or in their art. It was only with the advent of Christianity in the fourth or fifth century, the replacement of the Druids with Christian holy men and women, that sex became something to be avoided for sanctity’s sake.

Beltane Fire Festival by Calum MacÙisdean via WikiMedia CC License

And in a similar way, I suspect the wild fertility rituals in Northern and Central Europe became replaced with the Maypole dance.  The Beltane Fire Festival is an example of the fertility ritual being returned in the form of modern dance and great pageantry.  It looks very cool and very sexy.

Closer to home, my wife helped my daughter picked flowers from our garden for a May Day basket that her third grade class will deliver to neighbors.  Now that is a great people-first tradition!


What I Found While Unplugged

Sky Paradise #1 by Cuatrok77 on Flickr

I participated in the National Day of Unplugging.  As I wrote in an earlier post, my plan was not to unplug completely from the digital world, but to unplug from work.  For me, that meant no blogging, Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn as they relate to writing, my current career.  I reserved the right to remain connected to the digital world for “personal use.”  A very illuminating day.

 I became obsessed with my electronics in the early morning. I thought about them all the time as I was getting ready to go out for the day.   Anyone with a psychology degree please feel free to chip in here.  Here is my interpretation: because I was focusing on being unplugged, that is what I thought about.  Digital contributions: to tell me it was raining outside, and Google Maps on my iPhone to help me get to …

…my unusual destination.  This Saturday, by coincidence, I had volunteered with a group to attend the morning service at a Jewish retirement community.  I hadn’t been to services in years.  It was surprisingly restful.  Participating in the familiar rituals helped clear my mind.  I stopped thinking about electronics, and more importantly, I stopped wondering what I would write in my post about the day.  For me, I wanted to unplug from work, and the service helped me do that.  Digital contribution: none

I connected with a resident during the service.  I walked into a chapel with rows of wheelchairs, interspersed with single empty seats.  And the woman I sat next to didn’t respond when I said hello.  I must admit it –  I was a bit apprehensive.  A few minutes earlier, I learned that many residents missed their pets so I decided to show her pictures of my cats on my iPhone.  She lit up like a Christmas tree.  Later, I learned that she was born in Russia, and doesn’t speak English.  I was very happy I took a measured approach to unplugging.  Digital contribution: pictures on the iPhone.

The Big Moment came at halftime of the Syracuse  Ohio State game.  At a time when I normally would have been on Facebook, I walked into the kitchen and talked to my wife while she cooked dinner.  I told her the latest news from our friends.  We chatted and it was wonderful.  I think it was special because there was no agenda.  I didn’t need her to do something, and she didn’t need anything from me.  Usually when we talk, it’s about her work, or my work. Or, it’s something that needs to be shared about the kids or the bills or the household.  This was just for fun, and it was wonderful.

It was a completely ordinary but irreplaceable moment that never would have happened had I not unplugged.

Did you unplug?    Tell me about your day, even if you stayed plugged in. Comment below, or confidentially here.