Thursday, April 8, 2010

MidWest TechBiz: How's your Balance? Is it possible to have both a business AND a life?

(Ben's note: This is a great post by Rick Coplin - Most of us struggle with this issue - me included - would love to hear your answers to Rick's questions below. You're not alone in your struggles)

MidWest TechBiz: How's your Balance? Is it possible to have both a business AND a life?

How's your life balance? If you are like me, you have a somewhat clear picture of how things are, and a somewhat clear idea of how you want things to be. I'll bet you feel, as I often do, a tinge of guilt from both sides of the fulcrum - your inner voice says you are shortchanging you employer or business, and by default, your career by not being "all in, all the time". You are feeling guilty for arriving late or missing important events with your family, or just as bad, by being physically present and mentally absent thanks to your Blackberry. "What's everyone cheering about...Oh, wait, did he make that basket?!?" I say "somewhat clear", because on either side of the scales, our emotions cloud reality and lead us to believe a personal narrative that may be less than accurate.

Work-Life balance is a battle we are in the midst of constantly. The nature of your career and the size of your family have no bearing - there is constant tension. Work demands productivity, excellence and continuous vigilance for personal and organizational competition. The demands of our personal lives are similar, but we wrap them in different words – quality time, down time, vacations, etc. For most of us, there is little margin around either. The majority of our energy is spent fretting about our equilibrium – pushing back when career interests become demanding or pushing back when family needs are high – rather than actually rebalancing. It is in rebalancing that the battle loosens its grip on us.

I had a conversation with a good friend a couple of weeks ago. She was worried about balancing the demands of her rapidly growing business and the needs of her family. She’s pushing hard into her career and it is paying off. At the same time, the guilt we all feel is tugging at her – she wants her daughters to be more independent and simultaneously worries they don’t need her as much as they used to. The busyness that is normal life is leaving little margin for error or unexpected business and family demands. As we talked, I suggested that maybe her business is in a “not yet” timeframe. Her kids, like mine, will be off to college in the blink of an eye. What if she continues to work hard and grow the business, just not as fast? Essentially, it is putting some margin around her business and family that protect the interests of both. Rebalancing is the key here – making a few changes based on carefully considered priorities.

I rebalanced slightly last year. My career involves a lot of early morning and evening events – over 80 last year, plus a regular work schedule. I missed a few of my kids’ games and school events. Sometimes I was there physically, but not mentally. As I watched my sons play soccer early last fall, I realized my oldest would be at college in 4 years. I considered how quickly his first 14 years had passed, and as I watched my son push a play downfield, I determined I would not miss these years. At one soccer match in particular, I had chosen to miss an “important” evening event. It was an average game - and as usual, I loved it. Instead of riding home with a friend, my son rode with me and during that 45 minute trip we had a pivotal conversation that has strengthened our already strong bond. I realized I could have easily missed the opportunity without ever knowing. So, I rebalanced, weighing the importance of career, activities, kids and commitments. The changes have been slight, but meaningful. The changes are also ongoing - testing what works, how to best accomplish slight changes etc.

The key to rebalancing is to assess what is important, carefully consider how slight changes can be made, making those changes one at a time, and assessing the impact on both sides of the fulcrum. Rebalancing is paying dividends – the balance battle has lessened; it is still there, but by setting priorities in advance, the decisions I make around time commitments are based on priorities and fretting about time commitments and lack of margin is diminished.

Fellow Denison University grad Dr. Richard Swenson has written an excellent book about the need for maintaining margins in our lives, appropriately called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. I highly recommend it.

Another great resource brought to my attention by a good friend is Andy Stanley's "Choosing to Cheat - Who Wins When Family and Work Collide". It hits the nail on the head. You can't possibly do it all. In nearly any given moment, something must be "cheated" ... someone will feel like you're giving less than you could. And the question he answers is how to make that choice effectively and without remorse.

If you are an entrepreneur or small business owner, you are fully immersed in the work-life balance battle. I recommend you check out the International Bootstrapping Association. The April meetings are about work-life balance: Thursday morning, April 8th at the Dublin Entrepreneurial Center and Wednesday evening, April 14th at TechColumbus. We all struggle with the need for margin and balance; it never quite goes away. So join fellow entrepreneurs and business owners to learn how your peers are working for and maintaining a healthy work-life balance - registering is easy.

I am interested in what you think about the challenges of balancing career and family and how you maintain balance. What are doing about it? What's your biggest struggle? Have a recent victory? We're not alone in facing the challenge, so please let me know what you are thinking and doing, and what kind of results you are seeing.



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