Although I sort of "winged" my 7 minute speech (each speaker is given 7 minutes to present their topic), it was loosely based on the following blurb I wrote on the flight over from Calgary. The talk was filmed and will be online soon enough. I figured I'd share the below post for anyone who couldn't attend and wanted to know what I spoke about
Work life balance is a highly sought after, but also an extremely tricky concept.
I was reading an article in the Harvard Business Review on my flight to Vancouver last night and the opening sentence in one of the articles was “Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal and worst a complete myth.” I tend to agree
That same article outlined how certain top executives make deliberate choices about which opportunities they’ll accept and which ones they’ll decline, allowing them to engage meaningfully with work, family and community and leading to more supposedly balanced lives. The critical words in that sentence are “to engage meaningfully”.
Although it could be argued that some of the people that they interviewed had warped views on what it means to be meaningfully engaged, with one of the sources priding himself on choosing to give his child 10 minutes of his time at night rather than choosing to spend those minutes at the office. I guess that’s better than nothing, but it’s definitely a strange version of balance and priority in my opinion
As someone who has a lot of hats in the ring, family member, friend, athlete, adventurer, entrepreneur, lawyer, manager, as well as being someone who values experience, but who is also very competitive and performance driven it’s very easy for me to lose myself, lose sight of my loved ones and to forget why I’m doing certain things. What I’m saying is that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find balance and I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded.
I think some of it comes from the fact that I’m trying to do something that is inherently unbalanced. Mountain ultrarunning, especially at an elite international level and law are two very high demand activities, so is being an entrepreneur and being a good friend and family member. They all demand full engagement to be done properly. I like doing things properly.
Trying to balance all these aspects of myself definitely contributed to the end of my marriage, it lead to me leaving a job at a corporate law firm where I was making a good salary, doing work I enjoyed with people I like. It also lead to me getting sick, injured and burnt out on a sport and activity that I love. I guess the best way to describe it was that I was stressed out a lot.
I felt like each of these sides of me were constantly fighting with one another. I would be out running feeling guilty that I wasn’t working or studying, I’d be at work looking at pictures of places I’d rather be, I’d be at home with my wife wanting to be in the mountains, I’d be in the mountains feeling guilty about leaving my wife. I put pressure on myself to succeed without knowing exactly what success meant to me. It was not a good place to be. It was the opposite of being mindfully engaged.
It dulled my sense of wonder and appreciation for people and the world.
I was taking a break from racing, trying to find my motivation, debating my life choices, running aimlessly and one of the epiphanies I had during that time is that trying to “balance” things is the wrong way to look at it because balance means that two things are in opposition with one another, they are counterweights with nothing in common. I realized that that wasn’t how I related to these aspects of myself. They weren’t compartmentalized parts of myself, they were all a part of the whole. They were also all important to me.
I came to understand that it’s better to look for “work life integration.” It’s much less internally confrontational and I feel much less conflicted about the various aspects of who I am. I’m also learning that approaching things this way allows me to more easily transfer what I do well in one domain to the others.
More importantly, what this integration style approach does is that it gives me permission to more mindfully engage in the task I’m doing because there is no guilt about it. I know why I’m doing certain tasks.
Before, when I was trying to balance things, I could easily tune out on the activity I was doing, or worse, tune out the person I was with and the place I found myself. And although I could still function at a high level that way, I wasn’t getting any real fulfillment from it.
Approaching it from an integrated approach allows me to get the most out of myself and to have a much deeper appreciation for the places I go, and the people I meet.
I’m lucky that I have a job that allows me some flexibility to be me. I’m doing work that I consider meaningful and I’m making a decent salary. Surprisingly, being a dirtbag pro ultrarunner is not quite as glamorous or lucrative as it sounds. I'm having fun getting more involved with our trail running company and community and I'm really enjoying exploring new areas, pushing myself hard, meeting new people and trying to connect more meaningfully with friends and family.
I now process work thoughts on my runs and have a deep joy and appreciation for the places that my feet take me to. More importantly, I enjoy sharing those places and experiences with others.
I’m feeling more productive and engaged than ever.
My sense of wonder and curiosity is peaked by my work and I carry that over into my personal conversations and the places I run. I realize that I have to make the most of the time that I do get to spend in the mountains and my hunger and desire to train hard and explore is stronger than ever.
So, in conclusion, don't compartmentalize your life. Accept all aspects of who you are, use the different aspects of your personality to compliment the various activities that you're involved in, engage fully in what you're doing and you're more likely to enjoy the ride.