Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
The prescriptive follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Dream Manager.
One of the major issues in our lives today is work-life balance. Everyone wants it; no one has it. But Matthew Kelly believes that work- life balance was a mistake from the start. Because we don't really want balance. We want satisfaction.
Kelly lays out the system he uses with his clients, his team, and himself to find deep, long-term satisfaction both personally and professionally. He introduces us to the three philosophies of our age that are dragging us down. He shows us how to cultivate the energy that will give us enough battery power for everything we need and want to do. And finally, in five clear steps, he shows us how to use his Personal & Professional Satisfaction System to establish and honor our biggest priorities, even if we spend a lot more time on some of the lesser ones.
One of the major issues plaguing human potential in the corporate world today is work-life balance. The term was first introduced twenty years ago and is likely to go down as one of the great corporate blunders of our time. While the work-life balance discussion was introduced with the very best of intentions—namely, to help people deal with the mounting pressures surrounding both personal and professional life in the modern world—in many ways the idea never had a chance because the term itself was fatally flawed.
The future of an organization and the potential of its employees are intertwined; their destinies are linked. An organization can only become the-best-version-of-itself to the extent that the people who drive that organization are becoming better-versions-of-themselves. To the extent that a CEO, an executive team, and a group of managers and employees explore their potential as individuals, so too will an organization explore its potential.
Think about it. Is your work part of your life? Of course it is. But when companies started asking employees if they had work-life balance, they separated work from the rest of an employee’s life. They were essentially saying, “Your work isn’t part of your life!” Now, the average person spends more time working each day than doing anything else. So it should be no surprise that employees didn’t respond too favorably to the work-life balance questions on employee satisfaction surveys and began to demand more and more work-life balance. This always equates to working less. I am not aware of a single employee who has approached his manager and said, “I don’t have work-life balance. I really feel that in order to solve the problem I need to work more.”
The work-life balance conversation that has dominated the corporate landscape for almost two decades implies that work and life are separate. In this way, we set work and life against each other, and the thought that follows is that you are either working too much and living too little or vice versa. The term itself diminishes our ability to make the case that work can be a richly rewarding part of a person’s life and should in many ways be personal.
You cannot separate the personal and professional aspects of an individual’s life. You can consider them separately to gain insight, but the practical separation of the two is impossible.
They are intimately linked. If I come to work today and my wife is sick at home, I will be a little distracted and disengaged. If I wasn’t, I would not be a good husband, and if that is the case, I am probably also not as good an employee as I could be. In the same way, if I successfully complete a great project at work today, I will be filled with a very positive energy and I will take that buoyant energy home to my wife and family. It is impossible to completely separate the personal from the professional; they are deeply intertwined.
There are some events in our lives that are personal and others that are professional. But you do not have two lives, one personal and one professional. You have one life that has personal and professional aspects, and these aspects have an incredible influence on each other. Having a baby is incredibly personal, but it affects your professional life. The death of a loved one is deeply personal, but it affects your professional life. Meeting your quarterly targets is overwhelmingly a professional matter, but it affects your personal life. Attracting a new customer or team member to your company is entirely professional, but the quest to do so will affect your personal life.
After twenty years of the work-life balance conversation, people are tired and frustrated. They have tried repeatedly to acquire the illusive work-life balance and have failed. Companies have spent tens of millions of dollars on programs, many employees have made valiant efforts to establish some sense of work-life balance, and we don’t seem to have shifted the dial.
In fact, according to Newsweek 70 percent of employees say they have less work-life balance today than they did ten years ago. Realizing their missteps, some companies have renamed work-life balance as “work-life effectiveness.” But the essential dilemma remains: corporations have failed to teach employees to effectively manage the various demands of personal and professional life, and employees have not found another way to learn them.
Having examined the issue extensively, I have come to the conclusion that people don’t really need or want balance. As an idea, balance sounds desirable, but before we started discussing work-life balance I am not sure there was any great epidemic of people lying awake at night thinking to themselves, “I need balance. I want balance. Balance is the solution to all my problems.” And even today, when people say they want more work-life balance, if you delve a little further and get people talking about what that balance looks like, you will discover that what they want has very little to do with balance.
So, what is it that people need and want? People need and want a satisfying experience of life. Over the past three years I have asked more than ten thousand respondents, “If you had to choose between balance and satisfaction, which would you choose?” Not a single respondent chose balance over satisfaction. People want to live deeply satisfying lives both personally and professionally. They want to know that both are possible at the same time. They want to be told that they don’t have to sacrifice their personal priorities on the altar of corporate America in order to have a satisfying career. People want personal and professional satisfaction (PPS).
Here again, in the quest for satisfaction, we discover that the personal and the professional are deeply linked. It doesn’t matter how satisfying the personal aspects of your life are, if you are miserable at work, that misery will spill over and create dissatisfaction that affects you both personally and professionally.
So where do we go from here? The answer was always right before us. The forum in which the work-life balance discussion emerged was the employee satisfaction survey. It was always about satisfaction. That’s what people yearn for. Sometimes that satisfaction comes from working an eighty-hour week, and sometimes it comes from lying on a beach for a few days completely unplugged from the world of work. But most of the time, living a life that is deeply satisfying requires a strategy, daily attention, self-awareness, and discipline.
Our work-life balance efforts always lacked a comprehensive strategy. We threw a bunch of ideas and tools at people and expected them to formulate a practical strategy. The results now clearly demonstrate that most people are incapable of doing that. Interestingly, we often do the same thing in the area of professional work. We throw a bunch of ideas and tools at people and expect them to come up with a feasible strategy and then to work the strategy responsibly. We assume people are capable of this—many are not. We assume that people will approach their work strategically—most do not. Whether it is creating personal and professional satisfaction or delivering quarterly targets, people need a system.
Systems drive behaviors. Certain behaviors lead to certain outcomes. If you know what outcome you desire, the next step is to identify what type of behaviors will produce that outcome. Then all that is left is to build a system that supports and encourages those behaviors.
There are many things a company can and should do to help its employees pursue satisfying lives. First and foremost is to provide a comprehensive system that drives personal and professional satisfaction. It makes sense for a company to do these things purely from a position of self-interest. Employees who approach their lives strategically are more likely to approach their work strategically. Satisfied employees are more productive, they are more creative, and they provide superior customer service. But the primary responsibility for creating a satisfying life rests with the individual.
The promise of this book is to help you design and build a more satisfying life in both the personal and professional arenas. We will do this together by approaching our lives with the strategy and rigor with which the very best companies in the world approach business. The result is a personalized system that you will be able to apply to your life, year after year, to drive higher levels of satisfaction. If you are faithful to the system, I promise you this book will change your life.
Once upon a time there was an investment banker. He lived in New York City, was phenomenally successful, and made a ton of money. But his life was busy, noisy, and very stressful.
So, once a year, he would leave the city and go down to a small coastal village in Mexico. For two weeks he would rest, relax, and allow himself to be rejuvenated.
One day he was standing on the pier just before lunch, looking out to sea, when he noticed a small fishing boat coming in to dock. He thought this was a little strange because most of the fishermen stayed out late into the afternoon so they could catch as many fish as possible before coming in and preparing the fish for market.
Curiosity overcame him. So he walked over to where the fishing boat was about to dock. Looking into the boat, he saw just one fisherman and several large yellowfin tuna.
“How long did it take you to catch those fish?” he said to the fisherman.
“Not very long,” the fisherman replied with a smile.
“Is there something wrong with your boat?” the American asked.
“Oh, no,” the fisherman said. “In thirteen years I have never had a problem with the boat.”
The American was a little perplexed, so he asked the fisherman, “Why don’t you stay out there longer and catch more fish?”
The fisherman smiled again and said, “This is plenty here for my family right now. Some of the fish we can eat, and the others we can sell or trade for the other things we need.”
“But it’s not even lunchtime. What do you do with the rest of your time?”
“In the morning,” the fisherman explained, “I like to sleep late. When I wake I fish a little, mostly just for the pleasure of fishing. In the afternoon I play with my children and take siesta with my wife. In the evenings I have dinner with my family. And then, when my children are sleeping, I stroll into the village, where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends.”
The American scoffed and said, “I’m a Harvard MBA and I can help you.”
The fisherman was a little skeptical, but nonetheless he obliged and asked, “How?”
“You should fish longer every day,” the American counseled, “late into the afternoon. This way you will catch more fish and make more money, and you can buy a bigger boat. With the bigger boat you will catch even more fish and make even more money, and then you can buy another boat and hire another man to work the second boat.”
“But what then?” the fisherman inquired.
“Oh, we are just getting started! With two boats you’ll catch even more fish and make even more money, and before you know it, you’ll have a whole fleet of boats and every man in the village looking for work will come to you.”
“But what then?” the fisherman asked.
“Before too long, you can cut out the middleman, sell your fish direct to the cannery, and make more money. As your fleet of boats continues to expand, you can build your own cannery. And before you know it, you’ll be able to leave this small coastal village, move to Mexico City, and manage your expanding enterprise.”
“But what then?” the fisherman persisted.
“Well, then you can begin to ship your fish to different parts of the world. Down into Asia and Australia and up into North America. And as demand grows for your fish, you can leave Mexico City, move to Los Angeles, open a distribution plant there, and begin to ship your fish to Europe and every corner of the globe.”
“But what then?” the fisherman asked again.
The American continued, “By then your business will be one of the great ventures of the industry. You can move to New York City and manage your empire from the epicenter of the business world.”
“How long will all this take?” the fisherman asked.
“Twenty-five, maybe thirty years,” the banker explained.
“But what will I do then?” the fisherman asked.
The American’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “That’s the best part,” he said. “When the time is just right, you can go down to Wall Street, list your business as a public company, offer an IPO, and make millions and millions of dollars.”
“Millions?” the fisherman asked.
“More money than you ever dreamed you could earn in ten lifetimes,” the American explained.
“But what then?” the fisherman asked.
The American didn’t know what to say. He had reached his climax. He was stumped. But then a thought crossed his mind and triggered an idea, and he turned once more to the fisherman and spoke.
“Well, then you could move to a small coastal village. . . . You could sleep late. . . . You could fish just for the pleasure of fishing. . . . In the afternoons you could take siesta with your wife. . . . In the evenings you could have dinner with your family . . . and then you could stroll into the village and sip wine and play guitar with your friends. . . .”
The Best Way to Live
If I told you that you could have the life of the fisherman, would you believe me? Perhaps you would, perhaps you wouldn’t, and perhaps you would like to but would doubt me nonetheless. Maybe you would think it a ridiculous proposition and dismiss it immediately as nonsense. Or maybe you would become curious about the possibilities. Take a moment to think about it. Is it possible that you could have the life of the fisherman in the story?
The answer is yes. I am confident that you could have the fisherman’s life if you really wanted it. But I don’t think you really want it. You might enjoy it for two or three weeks, but that’s a vacation, and vacations are not life. Then again, maybe you don’t really want the life you have right now, so you figure the fisherman’s life has to be better. That’s a dangerous assumption, but at least it shines a light on your dissatisfaction—and from time to time it is good to get in touch with our dissatisfaction.
The Life You Really Want
When was the last time you sat down and really thought about it? A couple of years ago I went for my annual physical. I knew I could stand to lose a few pounds, but I felt perfectly healthy. A few hours later I was at my local hospital having a variety of scans, and the next morning my doctor was telling me I had cancer.
I looked healthy. I felt healthy. But I had cancer. I was thirty-five years old and I remember driving home from the doctor’s office wondering . . . “ Is this real? What does this really mean? How serious is this? Are the doctors telling me the whole story or trying to keep me in good spirits?”
Getting cancer turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. You see, even though I consider myself a fairly introspective person and spend a lot of time pondering life’s big questions, life was quickly and unconsciously getting away from me. Both personally and professionally I was coasting.
Over the next few months, throughout the process of surgery and treatments, I began to really think about the life I truly wanted to live. I quickly realized that I had been dating an incredible woman for four years and that it was time to embrace a life with her. I also realized that my work needed to change, not so much what I did as how I did it. Mostly I came to the realization that I had not been approaching my life very strategically. Subconsciously or, worse than that, unconsciously, I was approaching life with a “let’s see what happens” attitude. This is a wonderful, childlike attitude, but when we are at our best we mix it with an equal portion of let’s see what we can make happen.
Let’s see what we can make happen. Not necessarily with your latest project at work, but with your life. Let’s explore what is possible. Not in relation to your newest client, but when it comes to your marriage and family, your hobbies and interests, your passions and dreams.
So, let’s start to think about the life you really want. I find the best way to do this is to ponder a few questions. You may choose to read straight through these questions and straight through to the end of the chapter, and that’s fine. But I would encourage you to come back to these questions at different times in the coming days and weeks and spend a little time pondering each. It is my hope that they will help you explore what is possible. 1. What do you like about your life as it is today?
2. What don’t you like about your life as it is today?
3. Do you feel trapped by any of the things that you don’t like about your life today?
4. If you went to the doctor next week and he told you that you were dying and had one year to live, what would you do for the next year?
5. If you inherited $10 billion, what would you do with the rest of your life, and what would you do with the money?
6. What is holding you back from the life you really want? 7. If you could change three things about your life, what would they be?
It is too easy to let another week, month, year slip by without really thinking about the life we want to live. It is too easy to just let life happen to us. We don’t sit down often enough and think about how we are living. We continue to spend more time planning our annual vacations than we spend planning our lives. This has to change if we are to enjoy immense satisfaction personally and professionally. You can stumble into a moderately satisfying life, but to sustain and increase that satisfaction requires a strategic approach and some real work. The promise of this book is that you can be the architect of a life that is both personally and professionally satisfying. But in order to design and build such a life for yourself, you will need to approach this task with the rigor and commitment the best companies in the world use to approach the development of a new product.
To keep up-to-date, input your email address, and we will contact you on publication
Please alert me via email when: