The Overachiever’s Guide to Work Life Balance

When Harvard Business School Professor Howard Stevenson almost died, he woke up to the real meaning of work life balance: It’s about priorities. That is: What is most important to you.

Balancing a bunch of things and expecting A+ results in all of them is a recipe for disaster. Yet, many of us try for this, daily.

Basically, Professor Stevenson had an “aha moment” on steroids.

Have you had one? An “aha moment on steroids?” Mine was standing in front of my students at the George Washington University School of Business…with sunglasses on. I was in quasi-survival mode.

Thanks to the migraines I’d been diagnosed with earlier that year, flourescent lights were to me like sunlight to vampires. Searing pain went through my head every time I basked in their lovely, humming glow.

Sunglasses bought time — an hour, max. By the end of each two and one-half hour class, I was a puddle.

I was hovering pretty near the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Staying out of pain — period — was a priority along with some other basics. Stuff I used to get wrapped up in did not matter as much anymore.

The experience taught me a great deal. I was weaker than I thought. I was stronger than I thought.

But the point was this: I had no choice. Being out of control? I had the opportunity to experience that when along came my son, and then daughter, into my life of coupley townhouse love years prior. But the real being-out-of-control-lesson?…It was the pain.

It….was…just…there. “Hellloooo!” Now what was I going to do about it?

That event on Saturday. Out.

Someone upset about it? Too bad.

Driving at night. Out.

Things that used to be choices, that I could move around on my schedule like pieces on a game board, were now off the board completely. In a weird way, the migraines made work life balance easier.

I was miserable, but, work life balance was much clearer. It went like this: “No, no, no, no, no” – and “yes” to staying out of pain, being with my kids and family, and doing work on good head days.

It made me realize….What kills people about “work life balance” are the choices.

When you take the choices out of it, it’s a lot less hard.

What choices are killing you?

Why? Do you think they are the wrong ones? Do they – on some deeper level – not reflect your most important values?

Howard Stevenson came face to face with his most important values in a rather abrubt way. I came face to face with my most important values in a rather ungraceful way, wearing Oakleys.

Is there a way to get in touch with core values without physically maiming ourselves?

To wrap up:

The solution to work life balance issues is the presence of your top values in your life and work, not trying to balance a hillion gazillion things well.

Do you agree? And how, on a daily basis, can you integrate your priorities into your life?

Quick exercise:

To take it further (with no pain or near-death experiences) check out the exercise below.

1. Left column. List your top three values down the left column on a page of paper. The values could be as broad as: Happiness, Love, and Fairness/Ethics or more specific like “Give to the community” “Be Authentic” and “Live up to one’s /my potential.”

2. Right column. Think about your life and work now, and if they match your top three values. Provide examples next to each value. E.g., If the left column says “Happiness,” the right column might say, “I feel happy daily with my life. I wake up daily and feel content and appreciative for my kids, family, and life we have created.”

3. Last. Rate each item 1-10. How are you doing with each value, 10 being the best score? You’ve got something to work toward (or not) in 2013. As your most important values, are these resolutions you consider worth having?

About the Author

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Kathy Korman Frey is the founder of the Hot Mommas® Project: The world’s largest collection of digital mentors and role models for use by trainers, educators, and women around the globe. The project’s curriculum measurably increases confidence up to 200 percent. Frey is the instructor of the nationally award-winning Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership at the George Washington School of Business in Washington, DC. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband, two children, and dog in a state of semi-controlled chaos, and is currently working on an adventure fiction book series for girls.

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