by Barbara Lyon
Can you have it all? Yes, if you prioritize your journey across the winding road of life as you traverse your career, family, friends, and other interests.
Achieving career aspirations can be all-encompassing, but you can excel in your profession and have a more fulfilling life if you strike the right balance. The balance that is right for you. Mind you – you won’t always get it right, and you will excuse or forgive yourself later when you get it wrong. Why? You are human, and that’s OK.
Speaking from experience: As a young professional in a new role, I was invited to a conference call during the dinner hour. My parents had traveled from Iowa to Washington, D.C., to visit. They entertained themselves that day, looking forward to the evening with me. They patiently waited for my call to end. New in the role, I didn’t believe I could excuse myself.
Reality: I could have made the exception. The manager who orchestrated the call discovered what happened and apologized. We live and learn.
It’s all part of sorting out how we individually will achieve our work-life balance. How many times have you heard executives talk about that? Frequently, right?
Let’s be honest. You didn’t articulate your thoughts, but they probably went something like this: “Project A must be completed; Y can’t be dropped and there really isn’t time right now to break away.”
The truth is: As professionals we must prioritize. You sacrifice one piece of the equation to fulfill whatever is most important at the time. Those with great ambition and those of us who tend to be “pleasers” by nature – we know who we are – have a harder time than others in achieving balance.
Let me tell you it is possible to go to the beach, and still manage a project during a long weekend. Isn’t it better to go soak in the sun and enjoy the waves, even if you wander back to your room to take call, answer a question, and achieve an objective rather than miss the fun?
No one does great work consistently if work is all they do. As a young professional, I heard a presenter remark that we get our greatest ideas when we step away from the daily grind and think “out of the box.” So true. You perform better, and your employer (if you’re not the top dog) will realize more value from you when you find balance and clear your mind.
At the same time, you owe it to yourself. While we hopefully enjoy our profession, as it consumes much of our time, we need to keep perspective. It may seem a little crass to say, but we work so we can fund the life we want to live. You can own that objective by knowing yourself, your priorities, and what you are willing to give up for something else.
That’s important. You don’t want to be the person who nears the end of their journey with regrets about where you focused. A former middle-aged colleague on his deathbed said, “I wish I would have spent more time with my family.” That said, he was a lovely man who would help a colleague at the drop of a hat and did.
Still, sacrifice is a necessity from time to time. For instance, when you live at a distance from family, you won’t be there for every birthday and holiday. You are there when it matters the most. That was how I engineered my trade offs.
Last year, as my dad declined in a nursing home and my mother grieved for what was no more, what would not be, and worried what the future held, I felt it was time to make another trade-off. You may not need to make this choice, but I had to for my own peace of mind. It enabled an invaluable amount of time with my dad before he passed away. During those visits, I also got to know another dimension of my mother.
I miss my dad, but I am not filled with regrets. That said, what worked for me may not work for you, as our situations and priorities are myriad. They also change over time. We are all different and have different needs.
Now, I am now mapping the next leg of my journey. What’s important is that I am owning the journey.
Barbara Lyon is a veteran communications professional with decades of experience in public relations who grew up on a farm in Northwest Iowa. She most recently worked for SAP, and previously provided services to a mobile marketing startup. Barbara also worked at Accenture, Aragon Consulting Group (purchased by IBM), Fleishman Hillard, The Heritage Foundation, and the Office of U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley. Her career began as an Iowa broadcaster.