May 2008 - Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance: A Conspiracy of Optimism
by Kenny Moore
Work-Life balance is, at best, a fabrication. At worst, a cruel hoax.
Itís time to stop believing all the hype. As adults, we well understand that itís never been a question of balance. Itís always been a question of choice. As the Spanish proverb reminds us: "Take what you want, says God, just pay for it."
Sharon Edelstein has a young daughter named Rebecca. Sharon came home from work one day and found her jumping on the bed and told her to stop - she was going to get hurt. "I wonít get hurt" Rebecca said, and continued bouncing. Her mother repeated the warning and added that she might also break the bed. "No, I wonít," Rebecca insisted. Her mother gave up. "Fine," she said. "Do what you want. Youíll just have to live with the consequences." Rebecca immediately stopped bouncing. "I donít want to go and live with them, Mommy," she said. "I donít even know who the Consequences are."
As the ancient seers stated so well, we donít get to do everything in a single lifetime. We merely get to make choices. Not all choices. Only some. And we pay a price for the oneís we choose. Sort of like being at a buffet luncheon without your cardiologist. Y ou can eat anything thatís available; you have only to deal with the after-effects.
Growing old gracefully provides more than ample opportunity to get clear about what we consider important and then make our decisions accordingly. In this journey called life, weíre all free to do whatever we want. And like Rebecca, we need only live with the consequences.
But donít expect to get balance. What weíll get is stress: that dynamic tension of trying to creatively live out our lives in a less-than-perfect world. And weíre required to do it all as frail, flawed and frightened mortals.
Want a high-flying business career? Go for it.
Might you desire to get married, raise a family and live in conjugal bliss? Good for you.
Maybe youíd prefer to use your artistic talents and create a world of new possibilities? God bless.
Perhaps youíd want to be independent and care free? Iím envious.
But if you expect to have it all, get ready to play center stage in your own exciting Greek Tragedy.
Iíve got a wife who works full time and two teen age boys who are experts at disrupting the status quo. I spend most of my days behind a desk in a corporate job. I havenít yet found any balance. Mostly, Iíve found chaos. But alas, on a good day, some insight.
I no longer look to Jack Welch or Oprah Winfrey to give much help in discerning lifeís mystery. Rather, I look to the poets. Freud got a few things right and he was certainly on to something when he said, "Everywhere I go, I find a poet has been there before me."
Making choices and living out the inherent tension it creates requires a focus on "being" rather than "doing." The ability to be silent, ponder the deeper possibilities and creatively craft a life-response are aspects of maturity more closely akin to the work of a Poet than a CEO.
Fostering this poetic outlook requires a personal discipline that may not be to everyoneís liking. For those not yet ready to embrace it but prefer an addiction to cell phones, e-mails and non-stop meetings, e. e. cummings offers some practical words of advice:
Thereís been a spate of books about Atheism surfacing of late on the New York Times Best Seller list, but I donít think itís gaining broad acceptance. For most people, itís not a practical choice. It seems Henny Youngmanís experience continues to hold sway "I thought about becoming an atheist, but I gave it up. There were no Holidays."
The real threat for modern folks is not a lack of belief. Itís a lack of time. Weíre so busy being productive and trying to get balance in our lives that weíre in danger of missing the Divine when He shows up.
Being busy may work wonders for our Professional life, but it wreaks havoc on our Interior one.
If we want to find some semblance of sanity and advance in our Spiritual Journey, we may need to slow down, risk being less productive and indulge in the ancient rite of "Wasting Time."
In my earlier days, I spent 15 years in a monastic community as a Catholic priest. I remember once reading about "The Good Samaritan Experiment" with 40 seminarians at Princeton Theological Seminary. After waxing eloquently about their dedication to God and all His people, they were asked to deliver a sermon on the parable of The Good Samaritan. For those lacking the rigors of monastic studies, itís the story told by Jesus about a man who was set upon by robbers, beaten and left on the side of the road. A priest walks by and offers no help. Neither does a Levite, another religious leader of the era. Itís a lone man from Samaria, hated by the local gentry, who goes out of his way to offer assistance Ė hence the title: Good Samaritan.
In the Princeton experiment, when the seminarians had their homily prepared, they were asked to walk to another part of the campus and deliver their sermon to waiting students. Half were told to hurry, because they were running late. The others were informed there was no rush, they had plenty of time.
As they journeyed across campus, the experimenters arranged to have an actor slumped as a "victim" strategically positioned along their route so that the seminarians were forced to step over or around the man.
So, who stopped to help Ö and who didnít? They were all budding "men of the cloth" on their way to deliver a sermon on just such a situation.
What the experiment revealed was that those who were in a hurry passed the "victim" by. Those with time to spare, stopped and helped. It seems altruism and our commitment to our fellow man is less connected to our religious beliefs and more closely aligned with having some free time.
When the Divine shows up, most of us are too busy being productive to notice. Maybe God doesnít care whether we go to church, synagogue, temple or mosque. Could it be that God is waiting to meet us in the world? Maybe weíre in too much of a hurry Ė never still long enough to recognize the presence of the Sacred in the ordinary.
Paying a Price for Living our Lives
Since leaving the monastery, Iíd had two near-death experiences. The first was with "incurable" cancer. The second, a heart attack. Both were not-so-subtle reminders that my timeís running short.
Weíre not going to be around forever, and weíre not able to have it all. Acknowledging this will generate more than ample disappointment and regret. And weíll pay a price for it: Guilt.
But donít be dismayed. Guilt doesnít necessarily mean that weíve done something wrong. Itís more an indication that we have said "no" to some larger authority: parent, teacher, boss. Guiltís an indication that weíve chosen to live our own lives and not someone elseís.
Stop trying to achieve balance and start learning to enjoy chaos. Discovering and relishing oneís imperfect life sooner rather than later is whatís available.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that most of us go to our graves with our music still inside. So, forget about work-life balance and let go of the need to please everybody. Rather, get out there and make some choices and let your music resonate.
The guilt wonít kill you and youíll do just fine if some folks donít like you.
Source: Copyright © 2008 Kenneth Moore, used with permission of the author.
Kenny Moore (www.kennythemonk.com) is co-author of The CEO and the Monk: One Companyís Journey to Profit and Purpose (John Wiley and Sons), rated as one of the top ten best selling business books on Amazon.com. He is Corporate Ombudsman and Human Resources Director at a New York City Fortune 500 company. Reporting to the Chairman, he is primarily responsible for awakening joy, meaning and commitment in the workplace. While these efforts have largely been met with skepticism, he remains eternally optimistic of their future viability.
Kenny has more than 20 years experience with managing change, developing leaders and healing the corporate community. Heís been profiled by Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning News and interviewed by Tom Peters, the Wall Street Journal and Fast Company magazine regarding his unique leadership style. Kenny is the recipient of Notre Dame Universityís 2006 Hesburgh Award for his significant contribution to the field of business ethics.
Kenny has recently expanded his work to include Stand-up Comedy. This is driven largely by the sneaking suspicion that when the Divine returns, He will find a more receptive audience in bars and comedy clubs than in our Houses of Worship. He can be reached at kennythemonk [at] yahoo.com, (973) 956-8210 or www.kennythemonk.com.
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