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FREEDOM FRIDAY: Alignment, not balance

You can listen to the podcast version of this episode on Apple, Spotify, or these audio player:

You’re working long hours and something’s just not right. You have that sense of overwhelm, of frustration. You don’t see your wife or your kids enough. You don’t have time to read that good book or even head to the gym.

You keep seeking “work-life balance.” But the more you seek it, the more you attempt to achieve it, the further away it seems.

I’m sorry, but you’re setting yourself up for a life of regret.

“Work-life balance” is bullsh*t. It’s a myth. Here’s why …

A Warped View of Balance

When many people think of “work-life balance,” they tell themselves that, “I’ll put my head down, not see my spouse or kids, work 12 hours a day, not sleep, and be miserable for few weeks, but after that, I’ll come up for air, take some time off, and it will all balance out.”

Aside from the fact that there is no guarantee that you’ll even be alive in a few weeks to enjoy that “balanced” time, that mentality often allows the “few weeks” to turn into a few months. Then maybe a few years. Before you know it, you’re telling yourself that you’ll come up for air in “another five or ten years.” Perhaps when “I have enough money in the bank.” Or, perhaps, “when I’m 65 and retire.”

“I wish I could do what you did and just quit and gain my freedom,” my former client told me shortly after I shut down my seven-figure agency. “You know I don’t like this job, but I have young kids, and I just need to work a few more years to save enough money to move on.”

I’ve heard at least a dozen versions of that story during the past year. I know — and that former client knows — that the “few more years” is going to stretch into a much greater period of time. Because if you constantly think you just need “enough money to move on,” you’ll likely never have enough money.

Remember, my wife and I put off our Europe trip for seventeen years because we never had “enough money” to feel comfortable to take the trip — even when my agency was bringing in seven figures and I was having days in which I booked $300,000 in revenue!

There are so many people, just within my family or circle of acquaintances, who have fallen into this endless cycle of “balance chasing.” The “few years” continues to expand until there is this false hope that age 65 will bring paradise and a period of endless bliss. But they get to be 65 and … they have to get a knee replacement (put the travel on hold!). Or they have a stroke. Or get cancer. Or have a heart attack. Or one of those things afflicts their spouse or children.

I don’t write this to be macabre or alarmist. I write it because these are all things that have happened to multiple people I know!

There is no guarantee that you’ll live to the end of today. There is no guarantee that you’ll live to 65. And if you’re spending the prime health years of your life in a “wait to 65” mode, you’re not truly living at all. You’re setting yourself up for “where did the time go?” freight train to hit you at some point in the future. You’re building toward the desperate feeling that you missed seeing your kids growing up because you were too busy with your head down, building toward “balance” at some mythical point in the future.

You’re guaranteeing that, at some point, you’re going to wish you had travelled more, that you had worked out more, that you had spent more time with your kids, that you had invested in your relationships more.

Here’s the deal: There’s not work AND life. There’s just life, and how you choose to spend the time in your life is entirely up to you. The key to a life of freedom and fulfillment isn’t balance, it’s alignment — aligning the three facets of your life: family, self, and work.

Your Reasoned Choices

The great stoic, Epictetus, wrote...

“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.”

One can take several meanings from that quote. For one thing, it strikes at those who allow their mindset and mood to be influenced by social media, by politicians’ pronouncements, or by the goings-on of celebrities.

But I’d like to focus on his use of the term “reasoned choice.” There certainly are things outside of our control. The weather. Disease. The place into which we were born. Government shenanigans. The list goes on and on. Do you spend time worrying about all of those things? Do you let those things impede your forward movement? Destroy your mindset?

Or do you focus on the things you can control? More important, do you actually realize all the things in your life that you do control?

When my father was told he only had six months to live due to bladder cancer, he could’ve chosen to shrivel up and spend the final six months of his life moping, angry, and not truly living. That would’ve been his choice. Instead, he chose to fight. He not only wanted to give it every shot to extend his time on earth, he wanted to do so while attending his granddaughter’s wedding (which he did) and attending our kids’ birthday parties (which he did), going to a few more Notre Dame football games (he did), and making sure my mom was set financially and physically (she needed a knee replacement, and he was there by her side for it).

There were days when he was miserable, due to the cancer and the chemotherapy. But whenever you asked how he was doing, he always replied, “Fantastic!” That mindset and his mood were his choice.

He ended up living for two years — beating the doctors’ estimates — and doing so many fulfilling things over that time. He didn’t have control over the fact that cancer attacked him. But he did have control over how he reacted to it. That was his choice.

When now-entrepreneur Alain Kapatashungu, who I hosted on my podcast three years ago, was five years old, he and his family found himself in the middle of the Rwandan civil war. That wasn’t his choice. It wasn’t his choice that millions around him were being killed. But it was the choice of his mother, sister and him to have a daily mindset that, as he told me, they “would not die today.” It was their choice to keep moving forward, not simply stopping and resigning themselves to the fact that they would be killed in the genocide.

Things outside of our control impact each of us every day. We have no choice in those matters. But we do have a choice about how we will respond.

When I spoke about choice in a LinkedIn video and how I made a choice to shutter my agency, and my wife and I made a choice to move to a warmer climate near the beach — one commenter pointed out that not all of us have the ability to make those choices. Specifically, he noted he would love to leave New York City, but he “has” to remain there because of his elderly relatives, and some other matters.

Are those important reasons to remain put and not move? Absolutely. But it is his choice to remain. They’re not easy choices. They’re not pleasant choices. But they are choices.

Even the mere mindset shift in which you tell yourself that “I’m here because I choose to be” can be so empowering. It’s liberating. It’s a daily reminder that you are not simply a prisoner of circumstance, but you are a free human being of choice.

That same commenter asked me about alignment — asserting that “high-flying executives” are forced to work 12-14-hour days and can’t possibly experience life alignment each day. My response is simply this: Nobody forces anyone to be a “high-flying executive.” Nobody is forcing the law partner who rarely sees his wife and kids, is drunk too much and sick all the time to remain in his job. He may think he has no choice, but he’s wrong.

The life he leads and the job at which he works are his choice. 100%.

The Pizza Pie

So, realizing that you have a choice in the matter of how you lead your life, and wanting to scrap the myth of “work-life balance” in favor of aligning the three facets of your life — family, self, and work … How can you tell which areas of your life might be out of alignment? The answer lies in a pizza pie.

That’s right— the pizza pie has all the answers. Here’s a quick activity to help you determine what areas of your life might be out of alignment:

Grab a piece of paper and a pen. In the middle of the piece of paper, draw a big circle. That’s your “pizza pie.”

The pie is going to have three slices: One for work, one for family, and one for self.

But the size of each slice has to be in direct proportion to the actual time (including anxiety, stress, mindshare) you spend on each facet of your life.

Go ahead and draw those slices.

When you’re done, look at those slices and reflect.

Now, redraw the slices (right over your initial pie), but this time, the size of the slices should be in proportion to how you WANT your life to be.

Now look at the difference between the size of the slices. Big difference? Now you know which areas of your life need to be brought into alignment.

There’s no right or wrong answer in terms of how big each slice should be. What constitutes alignment for me doesn’t necessarily mean alignment to you. Everybody is unique, with unique strengths, family situations, and circumstances.

That being said, people with whom I do this activity usually feel that the “work slice” is too big — and the “self slice” is too small. When many people realize they need to invest more in that slice of self, they get a sense of guilt — guilt that they might have to steal time and effort from family or work.

A number of moms with whom I’ve worked really want to take some more time for themselves (at the gym, reading a book, going for a walk, or for coffee with friends), but they feel guilty about doing it. I’ve worked with some agency founders who cringe at the thought of taking more time for themselves, for fear that taking their mind off their business for just a few hours a week will lead to the ruin of their enterprise.

Here’s the deal: Never, ever, EVER feel guilty about investing in yourself, as long as it’s in alignment with the other two facets of your life.

Investing in yourself means more rest. More relaxation. More time for learning — for thinking and processing your day. When you invest in your mental health and your physical health, your work and your family will be better off.

Your relationships will improve. You’ll have more energy to focus on the things that are essential (and not just busywork) to scaling your business.

Stop chasing that mythical “work-life balance.” Start seeking alignment, instead.

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