22nd April 2014

Life Balance, and a New Angle on Integrity

I’m not a fan of the term “Work/Life Balance”. I want to begin by restating this concept simply as “Life Balance”. Let’s dispense with the word “Work” right up front. I think this traditional term implies a choice of absolutes, and I think that’s a bit misleading. Instead, I prefer to think in a more holistic way about the challenges a lot of people seem to face, and the quest for balance in our modern lives.

So I want to outline a way to think about balance that I’m drawn to; a way to think about a balanced life that’s struck a chord with a lot people we’ve discussed it with at our Accelerating Executive Presence Program (www.acceleratingep.com). I’m not sure where this Balanced Life concept comes from – it could have been Epicurus, Steven Covey or the Buddha, or perhaps it derives from all three.

But first, I want to take a position on the other word in the title –“Integrity”. I can’t think of a more provocative word in business, topical on a day when our State’s Premier Barry O’Farrell resigned over what people might see as a breach of integrity (though he called it a memory fail). But rather than get tied down with thoughts of truth or morals, I want to focus on alternate and more interesting definition of integrity – that is, the sense of being whole, undivided or unimpaired. In a Buddhist sort of way (or even a structural engineering sense), integrity meaning together, or complete or even robust – like “that bridge has great integrity!”

So here’s my angle – start thinking about your Life Balance through this lens of Integrity – living a complete life, with all the parts together; think about it this way:

  • Imagine your life is depicted by a big box
  • Inside this box there are four other boxes, ideally of equal size
  • Each of these four boxes represents the major dimensions of your life – your Professional Life; your Personal Life; your Family Life and your Community Life

The boxes could look something like this below:
Now, we know that these boxes are always in tension, pushing up against each other, often vying for more space within the outside box. We see a lot of people who let the Professional Life box just keep growing, in the process diminishing the size of the Personal Life box (I’m so busy at work I don’t have time for exercise). Or maybe, it’s the Family Life box that feels the pressure (late home from work again, the kids are asleep).

And here’s where the Integrity thing comes in – Integrity is realising the importance of the all these boxes as being the “whole you”- the complete, integrated you. Being together, or being unimpaired, is keeping these boxes in balance and giving them the time and focus they need for you to be a complete person. This becomes a new angle on your own Integrity.
The challenge we all seem face is twofold – firstly, recognising the outer box is limited. Limited by time. One of my mentors used to say: “I stay, time passes. No. Time stays, I pass”. Sorry, but you can’t change the size of the outer box. Time is a finite resource. And it’s passing while you read this article.

The second challenge is striking the balance between these boxes, at times going with the forces at play and at other times pushing against them. And look, while most people get it and like the boxes concept, their next questions are usually around making it happen. How do you bring about the changes you know you need to make?
Here’s a few tips we’ve picked up along the way:

  • How do you turn up for meetings on time at work? The answer usually is, that’s it’s in your Outlook or other calendar. So why did you miss the kids soccer game or school play? My errant ways here led my wife to turn all those personal commitments into Outlook invites – no excuses now, and those events rank equally with business meetings.
  • The people who manage to have the right sized Personal Life box (hobbies, exercise, sport, meditation) build these activities into their schedule – they don’t fit them in. They don’t let the inexorable pull of being busy and important at work expand their professional box at the cost of what they need to do to stay balanced.
  • Perhaps you get creative – the boxes can at times overlap. Why not go for a bike ride with the kids on the weekend? (tick both Personal Life & Family Life there) or do something in your community that your family can be involved with as well like a school working bee? (tick Family Life & Community Life). How about a three box overlap, like becoming Volunteer Surf Lifesavers? If your children are young, then they can become nippers and if they’re old enough, they can train to be lifesavers and patrol and exercise with you (tick Personal, Family & Community all at the once!)

You’ll probably realise an awareness that at different stages of your life, you need to spend more time in one of the boxes at a temporary cost to another. (I’m too busy to do anything in the community right now; I’ll just write a cheque instead). If this is the case, the challenge then becomes how you change what might be a habit or a comfort zone before it’s too late (I’ll do more exercise in the new year; I’ll call my mother on another day when I’m less busy at work).

You could try the Life Balance boxes – draw them up, and start to think about what you might need to do to get the boxes into a better balance. And stay with me on this alternate definition of Integrity. Being whole and complete as a person means that you’ll seek to get a balance that works for you, and being out of balance is lacking Integrity – not in a Barry O’Farrell way, but in the sense of you not being the complete person you owe it to yourself and others to be.

Best of luck!

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