Balance is beautiful.
One of the profound impacts of events such as the war on terrorism, corporate scandal, the struggling stock market, and 9/11 is that they bring us dramatically and undeniably face-to-face with some of the things that matter most in our lives.
For the past three decades I’ve taught corporate and public programs on time management and life leadership. Nearly always, it’s taken a little time up front to break through people’s comfort zone enough to get them to really consider their lives on a deeper basis.
Sure, people were frustrated with their lack of life balance. In fact, FranklinCovey surveys of more than 300,000 participants show that the increasing pulse of life balance frustration had even reached the point of the number one challenge for most.
Sure, they were frustrated with increasing corporate demands and family disintegration. Nobody liked the fact that corporate “success” seemed to demand increasing hours on the job . . . or that social statistics were showing that the divorce rate had more than doubled, teen suicide had nearly tripled, and out-of-wedlock births had more than quadrupled in the past 30 years—particularly when some of those statistics reflected what was going on in their own homes.
Still, the overwhelming need people felt to somehow justify their self-worth through “busyness” had led to an urgency addiction that made being “too busy” to do what really mattered most at home or at work, something of an accepted necessary evil—at least on the surface. But events of the recent past have changed that mind-set for many. When I approach a group now, there’s a much more immediate, unified resonance with the need to focus our lives on “importance” instead of “urgency.”There’s an increased focus on spending time with the family. There’s an increased focus on improving job performance.
But the burning question in everyone’s mind now is HOW? HOW can I have the best of both worlds?
HOW can I prioritize the family and also do a great job at work?
And HOW can I do it in the midst of today’s challenges, including job insecurity, family issues, and economic stress?
For women, the challenge is particularly intense. The pendulum has swung dramatically from the pre–World War II era when women were essentially wives, mothers, and homemakers . . . to the ’70s, when many became convinced there was no real fulfillment except in the “glittering” corporate world . . . to the ’90s, when some began to feel they’d literally thrown the baby out with the bathwater and tried to become “superwomen” and do it all ...to the 21st century, when even though women have more choices than ever before, many feel successful in the workplace but inadequate as mothers, or resentful of or unappreciated in their work, and/or compelled to work because of economic pressure or social expectation.
How many women today really find joy in their work?
How many genuinely feel good about the quantity and quality of the time they’re giving to their families?
How many make job choices that are not primarily economically driven?
How many feel they’re really making a significant contribution in the workplace or in the world?
Women have unique talents and abilities that enable us to excel, both in the home and in the workplace. But our very uniqueness—including the ability to give and nurture life—provides intensified challenges when it comes to creating work/family balance. There are issues that every woman has to address, and one woman’s life balance answers are not necessarily another’s.
For decades, life balance has been a huge issue in our society. Even now, in a time when most of us are quicker to connect with what matters most, there’s still a gap—sometimes an enormous gap—between what we say matters most and the way we actually spend our time and money.
If you want to get an idea of how significant this gap may be in your own life, just take a minute and pull out your planner or calendar. Pull out your checkbook or credit card statement. Look at where you’ve spent your time and money over the past few weeks. Do those spending decisions really reflect the things that matter most to you?
For many people—unfortunately—the answer to that question is “No.” And the consequences are evident in their lives.
In our work, we’ve seen immensely successful executives who have climbed the ladder of success, only to leave behind them broken marriages and children who won’t even give them the time of day, and others who see themselves as family focused, but are trapped in mediocrity at work. We’ve seen parents who feel guilty because they miss their children’s ball games to attend meetings at work . . . and others who feel guilty because they miss meetings to be at their children’s ball games.
We’ve seen women who have left home to pursue careers and feel guilty about not being with their children . . . and others who have left the workplace to be with their children and feel that their inherent talent and capacity are unrecognized, unappreciated, and unused. We’ve seen working husbands and wives who are very much like two ships passing in the night, experiencing pain in their relationship as they struggle to figure out who does the dishes, carries out the garbage, and changes the diapers in this new two-working- parent society.
We’ve seen couples moving from excitement about the birth of a child to enormous distress at the realization that they both have to keep working in order to maintain their current standard of living. We’ve seen single parents who feel they’re drowning in the struggle to be Mom, Dad, bread winner, and rational human being all at once. We’ve seen people whose hearts yearn to spend more time with their families or contribute to society in more meaningful ways, but whose time and energy are held hostage by huge debt loads, habits, and lifestyles that keep them from doing it. We’ve seen others who give “lip service” to values such as family strength and financial independence, but then go out and spend in unplanned ways that create huge indebtedness and strain relationships in the process.
And we’ve seen all of these things play out on the sands of a shifting economy. In recent years, for example, organizations were almost forced to become more “family friendly” in order to attract and retain the brightest and most productive employees. But as we’re writing this book in a “down” economy, companies that are on the “family friendly” path are essentially there by value and choice, and many people are happy to simply have a job.
As we have explored these intense and often poignant life balance issues over the years, it has become more and more apparent that work, family, money, and time are not simply isolated arenas in which people can make incremental improvements and reap huge success. They are the essential elements of a highly interrelated and complex system. And while events such as the downturn in the economy or the threat of war may cause the pendulum to swing, drawing our attention to one element or another, the bigger picture of history and our own experience affirm the truth that over time, work, family, money, and time are all important and you simply can’t sustain quality of life without reasonable success in each of these vital areas.
This information is from a study conducted by the Profiles Department at FranklinCovey. A complimentary copy of this report is available at www.franklincovey.com/lifematters.
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. Golden Books, New York, 1997, p. 17.