Monthly Archives: April 2015
Work life balance is a myth

The term work-life balance is such a clique. To ensue our wellbeing we are all encouraged to ‘get the balance right’. But when a colleague was bold enough to say that the whole notion is a myth it really resonated with me. What exactly is a ‘work-life balance’ anyway?

I have been a principal for 17 years. My typical day starts at 6:30am. I check my emails and Twitter account. I then have breakfast while reading the news. I get into the office at 7:30am. Each day is different, but most days are filled with appointments. I haven’t had a lunch break in all of those 17 years, I work through. I usually leave the office at 5pm. Have dinner with my family and then might put in another hour or two before relaxing. I find myself checking emails until 10pm, but that is a bad habit.

Being an independent school principal I am out for work, on average, three nights a week on top of Saturday sport. Some weeks it is up to six nights a week. I try to have Saturday afternoon to Sunday afternoon off but settle in for a few hours of work on a Sunday afternoon. Most weekends I am reading for professional development. I would normally read a book a week.

A typical work week amounts to 60 to 70 hours. School holidays are a bit slower, my hours are more flexible. They are a time when I can catch up on work and there are no nights out, thankfully.

Being a Head is an extremely demanding job. There are studies that suggest that the role of Head of an independent school is amongst the top 10 most stressful jobs a person can take on. So work life balance, what does that look like for me? I certainly don’t have time for hobbies, and I struggle to make time for exercise.

“Do you live to work, or do you work to live,” is a question that does the rounds. “Is your life defined by who you are or what you do,” is another of those questions challenging you to think about work-life balance. For me, my purpose in life is encapsulated in what I do; and the benefit is that I get paid for it! I live to fulfil my purpose, and that purpose is to make a difference in the lives of those people I meet and the communities in which I work: schools.

Work-life balance will be different for everyone because we are all different. What works for me won’t necessary work for you. I certainly don’t endorse working as much as I do (and I know that there are others who put in far more hours than I do). So what exactly is it for me?

Work-life balance for me is about ensuring I look after myself and I look after the relationships that are important to me. If I don’t listen to my body when it tells me it is time for rest, or I work so much that I ignore the people who matter most to me (my wife and my family), then what do I have, and what will I become? Useless, no good to anyone.

Stress does weird things to my body. I have a whole range of physical symptoms ranging from terrible back pain to strange heart palpitations. When things like that are happening it is my body’s way of saying slow down, take a break.

I have come close to burn out once. I know my limits. I have been right to the edge of them a number of times and it isn’t a nice place to be. It is a dark place where I am ineffective and make poor decisions. However, I thrive under a certain level of stress and adrenaline; I work my best under a high degree of pressure.

Work-life balance for me is knowing the limits and making sure I listen to my body. It is about taking time each week to rest and switch off. I know I have to be disciplined to do this. My wife is a great help. The whole notion of a ‘sabbath day’ is a wise one.

Work-life balance is also about ensuring I take the time to foster and nourish the relationships that matter. I certainly don’t want to wake up one day to find my wife and children gone because I ignored them. No one goes to the grave wishing they worked harder.

For me getting the balance right is about ensuring I can fulfil my purpose in life in an effective way. And my lessons learned as I have sought a ‘life-balance’:

  1. discover your gifts and find your purpose, align your work with those gifts and purpose;
  2. learn to be content, no matter your circumstances, but particularly if your work doesn’t fulfil your purpose;
  3. know yourself, the conditions that help you thrive and where your limits are;
  4. take the time to care for yourself, rest and keep healthy; and,
  5. make the time to care for the people who matter to you.

Hobbies: one day it will be time to retire. I’ll need to get some hobbies before then.

A leader is at their best when…

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu (604 BC – 531 BC).

This is one of my favour quotes about leadership. It epitomises for me what the essence of leadership is about: it’s not about me. One of us can never be as good as the sum of us. Together we can achieve far more, make better decisions, come up with better ideas.

The role of a leader is to bring out the best in people, to identify their gifts and align them with roles that will see them shine. Good leaders spend time coaching others, developing their capacity. They make people feel like it was their idea. They step back while others take the limelight.

Remarkable to think that this quote about leadership was written 2500 years ago. But then again, perhaps not surprising when you consider the greatest example of servant leadership, which again is not all about me, was given to us 2000 years ago in the person of Christ.