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It’s About Choice, Not Balance: Three Ways To Have More

June 18th, 2015 by Marcy Schwab

It’s About Choice, Not Balance:  Three Ways To Have More

I left my corporate job seeking something more. Something more exciting, more challenging, more me, more balanced. I thought that if I didn’t have to go into an office everyday, I would find myself with that highly desired work/life balance and would spend more time with my family and less time on work. That’s what we mean by balance, right?

So, I put out my shingle, contacted LegalZoom, created my LLC and started calling trusted friends and colleagues (see my blog on Networking: Make the Ask), and developing a pipeline of projects. I was working from home and having “coffee” or lunch with many prospects and well-connected people. The goal was to find some meaningful work that would fit into the “more” category.

With lots of diligence and being in the right place at the right time, I found that elusive first client and then another and then another. I was working hard on the projects for clients I signed and always in the business development process of ensuring the next one will be there. It’s a constant emotional rollercoaster of having work and fearing I won’t have work.

Did I have balance? Nope. I was working harder than ever before. The stress was greater in many ways because I was always trying to deliver for clients while worried that my next quarter wouldn’t yield any income. I was working all of the time, not just during work hours, and constantly thinking about ways to stay busy and income-generating.

Was I happier? Yep. Instead, I found myself with choices. I could create a timeline for clients with my kids’ schedules in mind. I could say that “I have another commitment” when a client requested a meeting on the same day as my son’s school presentation. I think this is what people mean when they say they want “work/life balance”. It’s really about having choices.

But choices come with tradeoffs and opportunity cost. I have some time planned this summer for some time off with my kids. There is no such thing as paid vacation. So, while I’m making the choice to spend some time with them, I will not be spending as much time cultivating new clients, traveling for work, or starting a new project.

Easy for me to say, running my own business. Perhaps, though I would say that it comes with its own set of stresses. What if you work for a more traditional company? Here are three ways to get at least some of the choices you want.

Decide What’s Important

It’s standard fare for sure, and I’ve written about this before. What takes priority in your life? Is it exercise? Time to leave the office to see your kids in the play? Time to do charity work? Time for yourself? Figure out what the highest priorities are for you then plan ahead and talk with your manager about your options.

Have Frequent Dialogue with Your Manager

Just telling your manager what is important to you and asking for more of what you want can go a long way. I’m always reminding people to ask!! The worst thing that can happen is that someone says no. Remember that your managers are people too and understand your desire to have more choices about where and when you work. If you let your manager know what you want and the reason behind it (i.e. the importance it plays in your life), you can problem-solve together how you can get the choice you want. I had one colleague who decided to take a demotion to a lower titled job (lower paying, too, but not by that much) to have more flexibility. A tradeoff, no doubt, but one that fit her choices. Her manager and she sat down and looked at what she wanted both at work and in the rest of her life and that’s the option upon which they agreed. Another colleague shifted his hours to start earlier and leave earlier.

Plan Ahead

It may seem obvious, but knowing ahead of time when the school play is happening or when you will have your scheduled exercise class can make all of the difference in the world. If you can block time on your calendar and let others know when you will be out, then you can often, but not always, plan around them. Yes, the work still needs to get done, but maybe it can be done after the play is over and the kids are in bed. Or you can shift your meeting from the morning to the afternoon if Soulcycle is really important to you and the cycling class is at 9AM.

These ideas are neither new nor are they going to solve all of your needs. Having a full-time job requires a certain amount of face time and commitment. At the same time, you can choose to feel more in balance and work in ways that are more in line with the things outside of work that you care about. I tell clients and friends all of the time that though you think the grass is greener somewhere else, it’s really brown everywhere. Just a different shade with different care and feeding requirements. Have more by choosing to make your grass greener before looking elsewhere.

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