Once upon a time, busy professionals thought of work/life balance as a “matter of time.”
Put in the hours, the weeks, the years…and I’ll achieve my goals. Life will wait.
Today? Not so much. Our personal and work lives wage a relentless fight for energy, priority and purpose.
We realize that while all the more complicated our lives have become, it comes down to two words: yes and no.
- What will I accept?
- What will I reject?
- What do I value and how is my career, my employer, my time and my energy reflecting this?
And it’s more than trying to move forward with balance of the pulls and pressures; it’s carrying the weight of your work – and decisions – on your back.
I had the honor and privilege of leading a panel on this very topic at the 2019 Engage! Cleveland Young Professional Development Week Conference, which took place the first week of November in Cleveland.
The “Crafting A Real Work/Life Balance” panel consisted of an esteemed group of business and civic leaders:
- Teresa Metcalf Beasley, Esq., Member & Chair, Public Law Practice Group, McDonald Hopkins LLC
- Edward Stockhausen, Chief Advancement Officer, Open Doors Academy
- Lisa Zone, Managing Director, Dix & Eaton
It was incredible to get to know our panelists on a personal level, for such a personal topic, and we learned from each other before ever taking the stage.
While diverse in our backgrounds, leadership paths, and life stories, we soon found common threads, including: the challenges in bringing one’s whole self to work, and the reality as passionate pet owners, it’s really our dogs’ world, and we’re just trying to live in it!
While I can’t properly share the full volume of wisdom shared by these panelists in one article, here are a few major discussion points that hit home.
Filtering Your Time and Priorities
Spoiler alert; there is no secret to achieving work/life balance. What you can do is internally, and publicly, clarify what you value, and strive to build your schedule and decisions around these life filters. Where many look at the idea of filtering as a negative, or cutting things out (or enhancing social media photos), the panel offered a variety of ideas around this topic.
Stockhausen discussed how to not let your email inbox rule your world, as it does for so many, and to create boundaries around work hours and “checking in.” Zone shared her rule of “no email Saturdays” and to respect team members when they are on vacation. All admitted that availability via text or phone was always there for emergencies, but to create boundaries around email communication.
Community engagement and board work was an integral part of each panelist’s life, and early on in their careers. Metcalf Beasley agrees that as you rise in your career and community presence, you have to learn to say no to some opportunities, so you have the ability to say yes to the right things for you.
Without filters, you will lack a sense of control and experience burn out on a regular basis.
Physical, Social & Emotional Well-being
In the course of preparing for the panel I stumbled on the article, Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore: Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society, via The Atlantic November 2019 issue, by Judith Shulevitz.
The conclusion: whether by choice or need, work bleeds inside and outside our expected work schedules, and our social and emotional selves pay the price. Some countries are passing “right to disconnect” laws to address these issues.
You can’t have a discussion on work/life balance without broaching the subject of mental health and well-being. Literally scheduling time for yourself and self care in your calendar, like any other meeting or appointment, was recommended by Metcalf Beasley. She also shared to stop being afraid to ask for help; no one really has it all together no matter what the image out there.
The proliferation of social media also plays a huge role here. Stockhausen shared although he leads a public facing life, he limits his time consuming and publishing on social.
For Zone, having built a personal brand and network on social, she finds the creative outlet and strong sense of community outweighs the negative.
Metcalf Beasley continually changes her engagement based on her kids phases, and how to bet to communicate and keep up with their lives online.
As for me, with a sometimes impossible schedule, it’s a sad but necessary replacement for real life in maintaining meaningful connections with friends, family, past coworkers and colleagues.
Crafting Your Own Philosophy
For those that doubt that work/life balance is possible (which everyone at the conference agreed) I shared the four burners theory. In essence we have our family, friends, work and health. The theory states that you can only fire up three of the four burners on at one time (think of the image of a gas stove). To truly excel, only two can be fully firing, says the theory.
For Metcalf Beasley, it’s never been about how fast, but how far and deep she can take her goals. Her career path at her firm ran parallels with managing each season of life raising her children, and connections with friends, family and community, none of which she regrets.
For Zone, it’s prioritization over balance, and over everything, and being able to redirect these priorities as your situation changes.
For Stockhausen, it’s learning from past experiences to create the future you want. It’s always remembering why you started and never settling for an environment that doesn’t embrace you for who you are.
For me, it’s been about finding my filters and building my life around them both in work and personal time. I’ve distilled this into three words/concepts: creativity, service, leadership. These areas charge my batteries and keep me motivated and moving forward. I believe you can chase mission and you can chase money. Both are exhausting in their own ways but depending on what you value, knowing what motivates you will help keep you recharging, and hopefully someday these paths intersect.
It’s also never too early to start paying it forward. It’s a source of renewable energy when you need something to get you out of the rut. I believe giving back, continually, and for the most part without any fanfare, is the only answer. It’s the only part of life we can absolutely control; what we give of ourselves to others.
Our firm first connected with Engage! Cleveland early in the process of starting our own YP organization, OswaldCLIMBS, near five years ago. As reinforced in this panel discussion, the work/life balance conversations changes as you do — at each stage you need others you can identify with, and lean on, who are going through the same challenges. This is why YP organizations, associate boards, and related groups are key to the talent growth and sustainability in one’s community.
Keep The Conversation Going
Kudos to Engage! Cleveland for their work to present development and networking opportunities like #PDW19, and Oswald continues to support this organization as a member and through participation in events like this.
In the end, it is about time. Your time is finite. Filter out what you can, fight for what you value, and as Zone shared, take the time to get “off the dance floor” to look out from the balcony, to see how far you’ve come.
Learn more and check out their event calendar at www.EngageCleveland.org.
Photo credits: Caitlin Antje LLC
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