by Jeffrey Levine
Whatever happened to work/life balance?
I should tell you right off the bat that my personal bias is that too much emphasis is placed on "balancing" career and family. I hear the conversations at networking events and parenting events – anyplace we harried career parents congregate. And the truth is, I have empathy for these concerns, it’s just that I believe that the correct verb for what working and professional fathers are attempting to do in their lives is "weaving." Fathers need to begin to weave together the many aspects of their lives into a tapestry that reflects who they are. This process is at the heart of creating a fulfilling life.
What happened to "Balance?"
This is not just a semantic discussion. Balance is far too restrictive a concept and the attempt to create it leads to half-baked solutions. First, it suggests that only two components are in play, which is clearly not the case in our lives. The challenge we fathers face is more akin to juggling than balancing. Secondly, while we are always navigating difficult choices to achieve so-called balance, in fact balance itself is not a useful strategy or goal. Balance reminds me of the situation between the old Soviet Union and the U.S. - mutually assured destruction (MAD, how appropriate) which was needed to keep the world balanced. It was the best we could do with two entities that were in bitter conflict. Seeing the various priorities in our lives as conflicting can only lead to unsatisfying solutions. Fathers and professionals would be better served by seeing the various aspects of their lives in concert creating a rewarding and full life, not forever in conflict with each other.
The goal is "Weaving"
Our goal, as fathers, should be to weave the various aspects of our lives in a way that reflects who we are. We are not just professionals and dads - we are also sons and brothers and friends and homeschooling parents, roles which are also woven into the fabric of who we are. And every day we continue to weave that tapestry that is our lives -- based on our values and our choices. Look at the definition. Weave - "to interlace so as to form something; to form details and incidents into a story." The story you are weaving is the story of your life. It is fluid and infinite. And your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to see how all the strands fit together, and make choices that support a cohesive, growing whole.
The 3D Strategy
Okay, so now we strive for weaving instead of balance.Yet, we still are faced with the same problem, which simply stated is this: "If I take time for my family my career will suffer, and if I don’t, my family will suffer."
I would like to suggest a strategy for confronting this problem. Called the 3D Strategy, it is based on three concepts which begin with a "D" -- Define - Design - Dedicate. 3D also implies a deeper perspective. Let’s first look at the first "D", define.
Until you consciously define what fatherhood is to you -- forgetting about the models from television and your own family, and ignoring your assumptions about what society expects of you -- your kids get what is left over after all your other responsibilities are met. Most of us would agree that our kids deserve better than that, yet if you look closely, that is what they are getting. And all the great reasons why -- your job requires it, you’re the breadwinner, they count on you to pay the mortgage -- does not change the fact that at the end of the day your kids are getting what is leftover from Dad. By consciously defining fatherhood for yourself, you can begin to look critically at the choices you are making and what those choices mean for yourself, and your family.
A Historical Perspective
To understand fathers today, it is useful to briefly look back. In the 19th Century, children worked along- side their fathers on the farm, in the fields. They knew their fathers, they learned from their fathers. With the industrial revolution, men "went" to work – somewhere mysterious that children didn’t understand. And men began doing work that was difficult to explain to children. What was created was a father whose role at home was no longer clear – a person whose children did not completely know him, doing work that seemed quite distant. What Dad did during the day was a big mystery and his role in the family was now unclear.
Today, in the 21st Century, another shift is taking place. Starting with the graying baby boomers and becoming even more pronounced with Gens X and Y, men are reclaiming their place in the family – seeking flex work time, being present at the birth of their children, and looking to weave their lives in ways our grandparents (and some of our parents) never even considered.
Forget what the media says and what your extended family says and consciously define for yourself what fatherhood means to you. This definition will help you make your own unique choices that will support you in creating the life you want.
Your own history can be a good starting place. I suggest you start by asking yourself these questions – and answer them in writing.
1. Looking back at your father or the father-figure from your life, what really worked about the choices he made that you would want to emulate?
2. What was missing in your relationship with him?
3. What do you wish he had done differently?
4. How are you like him? How are you different?
There are many other exercises which can help you craft your definition. Starting with these four questions is a powerful and eye-opening way for you to get clear on what characteristics you are bringing forward from your father and what are your own – and choosing wisely which ones you want to continue.
It is also necessary to define and clearly articulate what a fulfilling career is for you, based on where you are now in your life. Until you do that, you will be constantly chasing some impossible goal -- like, a bank balance that never dips below $400,000, or your house being paid off. It is an illusion that business success will lead to success in your personal and family life. It is an illusion that there’s a place you can reach called, "I’ve made it." It’s an illusion that you can put off having deeply connected relationships within your family until you have more time later. By defining for yourself what success is, you begin to integrate your work, your ambition and your drive into a more accurate picture of who you are now and where you are headed.
So, what is your definition of success? How will you know when you have "made it?" Again, I am recommending that you begin by asking yourself four questions and writing the answers.
1. If you knew what you know now about your current career, would you choose differently? If so, how and what?
2. What is missing in your life?
3. What do you have to give up to have what you want in your life?
4. What does "having it all" mean?
Are these questions confronting? You bet they are. And if you are committed to creating a life that reflects all of who you are, and modeling this behavior for your kids, this is where you start.
The design stage is where you get to end the schizophrenia of the work/family divide by beginning to weave the various aspects of your life into a coherent whole, based on what you discovered in the Define stage.
Working fathers tend to treat their many worlds as if they do not operate in the same universe. In the design phase you make conscious choices, often tough choices, about what you are going to do and what you are going to stop doing. It is essential for you to begin to choose what matters most and begin to let go of the rest.
One of the first steps in the Design phase is identifying those lower priority activities, habits or people that are taking up too much of your time and keeping you from weaving the life you want. These are the activities that you need to say "no" to. Here is a very appropriate quote by the author and speaker, Barbara De Angelis: "We need to find the courage to say ‘no’ to the things and people that are not serving us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity."
And next, the obvious question is "what do I need to say ‘yes’ to?" Because homeschool kids tend to have more flexibility in scheduling and subject matter, their fathers have special opportunities to weave their life in a way that can combine aspects from their professional life with their personal life. It does take some creative thought yet is powerfully rewarding for everyone when it happens. Say "yes" to find a way to make this work.
The third stage, where you put your new design into action, is called "Dedicate" for a reason. Here you have the opportunity to devote yourself wholly and earnestly to your new design. You are committing and pledging yourself to this cause, living your life as seen through your new eyes. This is a new lifestyle choice with tremendous implications and must be approached in much the same way you would approach other lifestyle changes like losing weight or quitting smoking -- with true dedication. In many ways, you have been addicted to your old way of life, and breaking an addiction requires an extraordinary depth of commitment and support in order to make these kinds of changes and make them stick.
The questions that present themselves here are:
1. What kind of support do you need from the people in your life to make sure this life change is a permanent one?
2. What structural changes (schedules, lists, etc.) do you need to make that will help you stay on track?
And finally, your commitment must lead to action. Nothing will change in your life until you do something. Answering the questions and hours of introspection without a change in behavior is a waste of time. How committed are you to creating this shift? It will be reflected in your action, not your words. Make a commitment to begin weaving all the aspects of your life into a cohesive, authentic whole. Create that fulfilling life. Model that for your kids.
Jeffrey Levine, MBA, CPCC is a business and executive coach with a private practice in Culver City. He is currently the president-elect of the Professional Coaches and Mentors Association, Los Angeles chapter, serving in 2005. He can be reached at Jeffrey@ExecutiveDads.com.
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