Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Lessons From Overworked Teens

Overworked teens

Overworked teens

Last night in a mini-Torah study, we discussed the story of the binding of Isaac. As you may recall, God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the very last minute, when the knife is in the air, God sends an Angel to tell Abraham that he passed the test, and he doesn’t need to actually harm the boy. We argued whether despite appearances, Abraham was being a good parent by following God’s commands.

So what does this have to do with overworked teens today? For me, this is a story of power relationships. Abraham felt powerless to refuse God’s commands, just as Isaac felt powerless to try to prevent his impending death. Today’s teens are unbelievably over-scheduled, which is why teen anxiety and depression are at record high levels. They are kids, and it doesn’t occur to them that they can say no to activities, especially when the activities are fun. On top of that, they are told they need to be in the hardest classes, and “stand out” to get into the top schools. And without the top schools, they will be at a significant disadvantage in the working world. The data do not support these myths. Sadly, many of these messages come directly or indirectly from parents and teachers.
My views on teen overwork are radical. I see it as a social justice issue. These kids are put in a position where their health is at risk for a perceived gain that isn’t real. As parents and citizens, we have a duty to protect our kids from our own anxiety about the future. And one way to do this is to model good behavior when it comes to the number of hours we work. The kids are aping the behavior they see in the overworked adults all around them. While they can’t choose, we can.
The next time you hear someone recognized for outstanding work because they “sacrificed family time” for a work project, think back to the story of Isaac. Is the sacrifice really needed to meet the objective, or is it a test of loyalty?
To help cut back your own hours, try the list of 5 things with an accountability partner.
Be sure to include a rock solid stop time. It will motivate you to do the important things, and not to let them slide because you can always sacrifice the home time to get everything done.

Ray Rice: Defective NFL Product?

Janay Palmer & Ray Rice

Now wife, Janay Palmer and Raven’s suspended footlball player, Ray Rice

I’m on my home from the latest workshop by my coach Steve Harrison. Had a chance to meet Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Wow, what an amazing experience.

It was an interesting experience learning how better to serve people through writing and coaching against the backdrop of the Ray Rice story. My understanding is that abusive people were themselves abused. It is my hope that this incident can help Mr. Rice break the cycle of abuse, both for himself and for others.

I watched the video. It was very disturbing. If you haven’t seen it, I think you should watch it Ray Rice Knocked Out Fiancee – FULL VIDEO. It will change your understanding of domestic violence forever. It won’t be theoretical, and it won’t be Hollywood. It is brutal. Watching the video could help you change someone’s life some day. You might hear a whisper, or notice something in someone you know, and instead of brushing it off, you’ll remember that image of Jinay getting knocked unconscious.

As for why the NFL and the Ravens gave Rice a slap on the wrist before the video came to light? I am befuddled by the handwringing. The NFL is a business. Ray Rice is the product. The domestic violence wasn’t seen as a human issue, it was a business issue.  Rice was a product with some characteristics that would make some customers mad.

I’ve been in those discussions. The product isn’t working quite right. Should we ship?

“No product is ever done.”

“There is a work around.”

“We need the revenue now, and will pick up the pieces later.”

Right or wrong does not come into play when it comes to these product shipment decisions. They are business decisions. In the case of the NFL, the products are people. We need to remember to put people first, always.

As I write this post on the plane, I watched an inspirational speech from James Brown, football host on CBS. Brown explained that domestic violence is not a football issue, and is not a woman’s issue. He pointed out that 3 women die every day from domestic violence, and called on men to step up and take responsibility. “You need to either get help [for yourself] or give help [to end domestic violence.]

Bravo James Brown. Real men do not hurt women, and we’ll take your challenge to become part of the solution.

Is Life Balance Better Than Work/Life Balance?

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

I have an issue with work/life balance. By putting work & life on the same line, it implies an equivalency between the two. And by putting work first, it provides a pecking order.

Work and life are not equals to be balanced or prioritized: Work is a part of life, a subset. The real issue is how to balance the different facets of life.

As I wrote in Busting Your Corporate Idol, life has three arenas: sleep, work, and everything else. A Balanced Life requires attention to each arena. 60, 80, 90 hour work weeks encroach on other arenas.

So much of the work/life balance field is focused on flexibility. But what about the person who has flexibility and chooses/feels compelled to work 60+ hours. Is this person happy? Maybe Is his or her life balanced? Doubtful. Freedom to pick your own 90 hours isn’t really a help. It may feel good for a time if you love your job to work all the time, but it isn’t balance, and it isn’t sustainable. (I know, because that was me.)

What I needed, and what many people need, is to work fewer hours. In my last post, I quoted an executive who said to Cali Williams Yost

Every time you say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?

I find it sad that the executive felt that he could not have life balance; he wasn’t even trying. He just assumed that he needed to make sacrifices for the company. (Which regular readers will recognize as corporate idolatry.) It doesn’t have to be that way. This executive had flexibility, and after talking to Yost, agreed to allow his employees more flexibility. But he was still overworked, and so were they!

So it’s time to call a spade a spade. We are overworked, and in order to achieve Life Balance we need to choose to work less. Yes, it is our choice. It does no good to blame the company, the economy, or globalization. No one will tell you to work fewer hours. You need to take back that time for yourself. You might be surprised to know how many managers have told me that they see their employees working too much. They won’t life a finger to stop it, but would comply with a request for less work in an instant.

Balance is not stationary. Life Balance is someone riding a unicycle while with a bunch of bowls on her head, with sticks in her hands, each holding up a ball. She is constantly moving. Life Balance is the same way. We are always moving and adjusting. Your Life Balance will look very different from my Life Balance. Of course they will, because we are different people.

I think that until we give up on the misdirected goal of work/life balance, we cannot achieve what we really want, a balanced, healthy, and meaningful life.

What do you think is the best phrase? Life Balance, work/life balance, or work+life fit?

Thank you Patricia Kempthorne, Founder/CEO of The Twiga Foundation, for your helpful feedback on the concept of Life Balance

You Might Also Like

The Secret Flaw In Work/Life Balance

Discover How I Avoided Burnout

What Do You Want Your Legacy To Be?

 Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 4

When 85 and on your deathbed, who do you want to be there with you?  The answer to that question can impact the choices you make today.  Think of it as a project plan – envision the end and plan backwards. Are the people you want to be there the people you spend time with now?

Ever see or read Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman? I saw it in my twenties. I thought the play was great, but I really didn’t understand it until years later.  I too had the same dream as Willie Loman, the protagonist, “to  come out as the number one man.” I wanted to be at the top of whatever I was doing – the best scientist, and the best product manager.  (Hey, part of me still wants to be number one, so if you could buy my book when it comes out and help make Busting Your Corporate Idol a best seller, I’d appreciate it.) I thought Lowman was a loser who couldn’t cut it.  Now I am more sympathetic, because I know how seductive the corporate life can be.

The play brilliantly depicts Willie’s struggle to hold off a lifetime of regrets by clinging to his illusions.  The vision of a salesman’s funeral is what keeps him going, a funeral attended by a lifetime of customers and buyers, crying and weeping at his passing.  Willie wants to be important and liked, and has sacrificed everything in pursuit of the relationship with his buyers. He sees himself as critical for his company’s success, but is fired from his job.

Willie Loman loved to use his hands, but eschewed that path for his life. His house was paid for, his friend offered him an easy job, and yet he chose suicide. And at his funeral, not a single buyer was in attendance, only his family.

Loman’s two son’s travel different paths: One chooses to work with his hands and be happy as a “dime a dozen” guy.  The other strives to “beat the racket” and achieve the greatness in business that alluded his father. Each brother has made a choice, a choice that may never have occurred to Willie Loman.

I reject the “dime a dozen” characterization as unnecessarily pejorative.  I think it represents the great fear of many high achievers – “If I don’t keep working this hard I won’t have any value.” It just isn’t true.

So, what do you want your legacy to be?

<Previous  Next>

 

The Way I Stopped Big Ticket Impulse Purchases

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 2

The changes I made in my life would have been much harder without the support of my wife.  First, I made changes in my identity to start putting people first.  And there were implications – it was possible that I could get promoted more slowly because I wouldn’t jump up and volunteer for the extra project that would require that I work over the weekend.  And then one day, on a drive home from Yosemite National Park, I announced that I just wanted to resign and stay home with the kids.

We planned my exit from the corporate world for two months, looking at the finances primarily, to see if we could pull things off with only her salary to live on.  What was key, however, was not the raw numbers per se, but our shared values.  We decided that reducing the stress in our lives was the top priority.  And we were fortunate that we’d gotten a big stock windfall earlier in the year.  Rather than make a big purchase, we used the money to buy freedom.  If our values required a new beamer every two years and expensive shoes every month, I would still be working to maximize our income.

It was amazing how much less money we spent after I became a stay at home dad.  Off the top, we saved money on childcare, gardening, lunches, eating out, and dry cleaning.  But we saved even more money on big ticket items that we didn’t really need.  We’d be in Costco, and buy something expensive on a lark.  Looking back on it, I think these purchases were a palliative for stress.

And while not everyone has a family, as we shall see in as the chapter progresses, everyone has the ability to grow a community of people who share their values.

<<Previous  Next>>