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

Upward Management Do’s and Don’ts

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 15

Earlier in the chapter, I shared how I was productive but perceived as “not committed” at my last job before I left the corporate world.  In a way they were right: The company was not the most important thing in my life.  But, I was committed to producing high quality, professional work.  Frankly, I would have stayed longer if I had been promoted.

I’m happy with how things have turned out, but sometimes I wonder if I should have been more like Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, who used to hide her 5:30 departure to take care of the kids.  I wanted to make a statement, and went out of my way to let everyone know that after-hours was out of bounds.

Successful Upward Management requires firm boundaries and clear communication. For example, I did not answer emails in the evening. I didn’t ask permission not to answer, I just didn’t. My manager once told me how he learned not to expect a response from me to weekend emails until Monday morning, and he was surprised that he was ok with it.  Here is a little secret – I did check email once a day on the weekend, but I did not answer because it was never an urgent issue. I trained everyone not to expect an answer, and they stopped sending me email.

Poor upward management came when I got arrogant: I told my manager my strategy. It pissed him off, and rightly so.  I was showing off, and I think my arrogance held back my career in an unnecessary way. Had I to do it over again, I would have remembered that they are more senior, and should be treated with some deference and respect. I don’t mean ass kissing, but I tended to treat them like we were equals, which we weren’t.

I think my desire to champion workplace flexibility was a holdover from an earlier time in my career, when I thought that I was above politics. I could have quietly gone about keeping my life in balance.  I had what I wanted: a life that put people first, and I was no longer caught up in corporate idolatry.

Moreover, work was not the center of my identity. I had a growing community of friends outside of my company. Together, these helped me set boundaries, and limit my work to 50 hours a week.

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The Weakness Of a Leader Who Is Too Strong

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 16, conclusion

Any way you slice it, Abraham was an extraordinary man.  He insulted the god/king to his face and wasn’t executed on the spot.  Whether it was by divine intervention as the stories tell, or because he was too powerful to kill, Abraham had it going on.

How did Abraham overcome a culture that was thousands of years old to form a new way  of thinking that today has over 4 billion followers?  In the words of Popvox CEO Marci Harris  “A dedicated team with shared vision can make amazing things happen, and still be standing long after others go home.”  Abraham’s vision had a strong element of putting people first, and the laws of God that he taught applied equally to all men, whether a king or a begger.  Abraham’s tent was open on four sides so anyone could come and talk with him, and he personally washed the feet of guests from the desert on the day he was circumcised at the age of 99.

While Abraham’s wealth, influence and followers increased over his lifetime, his story illustrates the weakness of the movement: it was hard. God was now an abstraction, unknowable and un-seeable.  It was harder for people to believe in the abstract God than it was to follow the multiple gods of the surrounding cultures, gods that everyone could touch and feel.

Early Judaism depended on single leaders to foster a group identity.  This did a great job of creating the religion, but it was hard to maintain in the long term.  Within a few generations of his death, the Abraham’s people, the Israelites fell back into idolatry.  This reminds me of descriptions in the book Good To Great of companies that achieved great results under a charismatic leader, but fell apart after the leader left.

What it took for the Israelites to get to the next level was a new leader, Moses the lawgiver, who brought written laws and “process,” to help create a way of life to support the values taught by Abraham.

And the same process holds for those of us trying to overcome corporate idolatry.  Each of us on our own can shift our identity to prioritize people over the company.  But for those changes to last, we need a community of like-minded people.

Who is your community?

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Life Lessons From Abraham: The CEO Of a Startup Religion

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 15

Abraham was raised in ancient Sumeria, a world where the dominant culture was pagan.  Gods were everywhere, from Anu the sky god, to regional gods, to small amulets and magic charms that were a big part of everyday life.  Abraham’s cause was not simply a matter of a single divinity- it was a completely different way of life. And if we look at the number of followers as a scorecard, I think he was onto something.  According to the Big Religion Comparison Chart, there are 14 Million Jews, 2 Billion Christians and 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet, all of whom look at Abraham as the father of monotheism.   For those of us looking to bust  our modern idols, there is a lot we can learn from Abraham.

For Abraham, monotheism was not an abstract, metaphysical question about the number of deities.  Abraham was the CEO of a start up religion, and he was looking to change the world.  He had an unshakable identity and powerful personality that attracted followers.  And like any good startup CEO, he could lay out a vision and make others believe.  By intellectual reasoning, Abraham showed that something created by man should not become the object of worship.  For Abraham, there was one creator who put forth rules of right and wrong that did not change.  This was very different than the pagan world, where right and wrong changed depending on the deity, and is also different than the corporate world, where right and wrong behavior is defined by corporate culture.

As I argued in Chapter 2, the universal values are The Golden Rule tempered by The Rule of Self Preservation.  In the next post, we’ll look at the limitations of Abraham’s identity-based approach to change.

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You May Be Closer To Work-Life Balance Than You Realize

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 7

If you asked David before his stroke if it was healthy for someone to work 100 hours a week, I think he would have said “of course not.”  But I doubt if he  perceived himself at risk.  This is one of those positive illusions we discussed in Chapter 5.  People are not very good at evaluating themselves.  For example, most people think they are above average drivers, and “25% of people believe they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others.”[i] Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight boxing champion was asked if he was concerned about injury during a comeback in his 40s.  His answer: “You always think it will be the other guy who is hurt, not you.”

So I won’t bore you with statistics about the dangers of sleep deprivation and stress.  But I will let you know why learning the statistics have so little impact on behavior:  We are not of one mind.  While scholars like Plato and Freud have written about the different properties of the mind for thousands of years, the metaphor I like best is the Rider on an Elephant.[ii] The Rider is the rational, conscious mind, and the Elephant is the unconscious (emotional) mind.  The Rider can point the Elephant in a certain direction, but if the Elephant doesn’t want to go, it won’t.

At the end of the day, our emotions are in control.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t change them.  David’s stroke was an emotional jolt that led to rapid life change – he recognized how precious life was, and started to put people first. The moment I recognized my corporate idolatry changed me at the emotional level, which led to steady changes in my life as well.  And here’s the really good news: you don’t need to have a health crisis or a religious experience to change the elephant – a positive emotional carrot can be just as effective.

If you are reading this book, or even this post, you have already begun the process of reorienting yourself towards people first values.  There can only be one top priority, and consciously deciding that people, yourself, your friends, and your family come before the company is a critical step on the path.

What are things you have done to put people first?

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[i] Switch: How To Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.  Broadway Books (2010) p 114. Amazon

[ii] The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.  Online PDF p. 4 http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/happiness-hypothesis-ch1.pdf retrieved November 12, 2012