What if you could wake up tomorrow with the career/position you always wanted...the salary you've always wanted...would that determine success for you...for your family...for those that know you? How will you know when you get there given that there is always something else to strive for...someone else making more money or with a better position than you have? What are you willing to sacrifice along the way to get to this goal and what will you have missed or lost while you were trying to get there?
I believe these are questions that we do not stop and ask ourselves often enough along our career journey. For as long as I can remember I have been driven, had a sense of urgency, hate being late, continuously thinking ahead, project planning anything that needs to be done, worried that everything won’t get done on time or to the quality I want it to be, worried what others think of me and lastly…over-thinking things. It has only been in the last few years that I can honestly say that I am feeling more comfortable with my ability to appreciate what I do, how I do it and that it is OK if everything doesn't get done, if I am a few minutes late, if I have to say no to something.
I saw a Dilbert recently that really described how I used to approach my career:
Too often, leaders spend so much time focusing on getting ahead that they do not stop to ask themselves if all that they are doing is actually contributing to their happiness. It is almost to a point that when you get in that “career focus” mode that you think that your personal happiness (or the happiness of those that love us) is something that can wait for another day. Keeping up with our own expectations of what our career is supposed to be….what we need to do to impress our boss….what we need to do to get ahead.
I had breakfast with a leader a while ago to catch up and see how things were going. Little did I know that this person is going through a very difficult time in their personal life...to the point that their marriage is in trouble…they are both working constantly…the family responsibilities are overwhelming…they are over committed on boards outside work…and the question was “How do you do it? YOU have 2 teenage daughters, a husband, an executive role and outside commitments – how do YOU do it?”
I am always clear that I am not a role model for work life “balance” nor do I believe that any of us have it figured out on how to make everything work. What I can say is that I am LUCKY! In my 25 year relationship with my husband he has been patient, understanding, supportive, collaborative and he has an amazing sense of humor which keeps things light when things could be falling apart. We both continuously evaluate our priorities and we have had to be real about what we WON'T take on as much as what we WILL take on.
For example: When we moved from Halifax to Toronto the girls were small and we had no friends or family in the area. We were moving from full support to no support. The two big decisions that made life changing decisions for us was that he would stay at home with the girls and that we would not take on any extracurricular activities as a family. Both of these decisions went against any other traditional family we knew. We were both adamant that the family came first and that we needed to slow down and enjoy life. Running from activity to activity and constantly blaming each other because homework wasn’t done, groceries were not bought, laundry was piled up and that we had no time to enjoy our life together was just not acceptable any more. We were going to live life on our terms and if that meant that how we lived did not match what we were “supposed” to do…then so be it. I can’t tell you what a difference those two decisions have made in our overall happiness and well-being. None of us are over scheduled and if we have a lot to do we take it on because we feel we can manage it and we enjoy it.
I shared my perspective with the leader who was struggling and my heart was broken for them because these are tough decisions, especially when the merry-go-round is spinning faster and faster and you have no idea how to get off it without a catastrophe.
The best I could say is...
"...figure out what is important to you….what you need to stop doing…what is ok if you do less of it…and ask how are you going to make time for yourself so you can renew and be lighter?"
I am not sure I helped but it is best advice I could give. We all have to figure it out for ourselves and some people never do. Not sure I have it all figured out…and I am guilty of pushing through long hours and lose perspective of what is important even with all the self-awareness and tools I have put in place.
When I got back from breakfast with this leader there was an article from Tony Schwartz on HBR.org that I thought perfectly described what we had talked about. It is called “A Simple Way to Increase Your Joy” . I sent it to this leader and they said they really appreciated it. What I took away from it was that we have to find ways to appreciate what we have and find our own joy in small, simple things. If you can find ways to find your joy you can “…replace a vicious cycle with a virtuous circle.” Maybe that is the way to slow the merry-go-round down….more to think about…another chance to be better…
So....what defines success for me? I choose happiness...and if I have that...the rest will all fall into place!
Leadership questions for YOU:
- To get ahead in a career is our achievement and our personal happiness mutually exclusive or do you believe there are ways to have it all?
- What advice or coaching would you give to a leader who is struggling with the demands of a career, a family and an equally driven – working spouse?
- Do you believe that joy begets joy and that we can turn around a vicious cycle and replace it with a virtuous cycle?
Thanks for reading and remember....YOU make a difference!
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