Not too long ago, Forbes published an article, It’s Time to Kill the Fantasy That is Work-Life Balance . While I refuse to give up the fantasy, I also must admit that I am chronically, sometimes even epically, failing at a healthy work-life balance.

Epically failing for me means I’m consistently making bad choices about my schedule. I clearly see my attempts at time management precariously teetering right on the edge of disaster, and then I turn my back on it and get on the next red-eye to a client meeting.

These are the days where all I can focus on is missing out on the important business opportunity or the opportunity to develop my team or the once in a lifetime leadership opportunity. These are the days where I don’t pause to do the math often enough. When I do, I realize that the time management equation doesn’t work – because not missing that important business opportunity means missing out on an opportunity to be a better father, husband, or friend. Or missing out on the basic need to take care of myself.

When I’m epically failing at work-life balance I might have eight meetings in one day. That means there’s no time to prep, no time to eat, no time do anything but meet with people and work, work, work. Math strikes again – in that we have still not figured out how to add another hour to a day – so getting anything else done simply equals getting up earlier, going to bed later, spending the weekend working, and often doing all of the above.

The 16 hour a day cycle isn’t good for me, and it isn’t good for my family. And it’s not sustainable. I am quite aware that the bill will come due eventually.  Either family-wise, relationship-wise or health-wise.

A huge part of leadership is taking care of yourself and making good choices. But the world doesn’t reward us for that – at least not in the short run. In the short run, the world rewards us for sacrificing.
It’s up to us to find that sweet spot between hard work and self care. Between commitment to our families and commitment to our careers. Between taking care of our clients and taking care of our teams. Leadership is such a paradox, and it’s really difficult to navigate it all. But the difficult truth remains – the only person standing between us and that work/life balance is ourselves.

How do you show up strong for both?

It all starts with awareness. Do you have a good understanding of your work patterns, your energy levels, your behaviors that you engage in and the choices that you make? Ask yourself, where do I spend my time and my energy and is it in the right places? Does it align with the person I want to be or the impact I want to have both at work and at home? If that alignment is perfect, then great! Don’t change a thing.

What’s more likely is that something is probably out of balance. So rather than try to make it perfectly aligned, start small. Instead of waking up an hour earlier to get that extra work done, start by taking a 20-minute break in the middle of your day so you can be more focused, present, and effective for the rest of the day. Try eating healthy a few times a week as opposed to beating yourself up for not losing those 20lbs overnight. Set those micro-goals. And keep them. Because if you achieve enough of the smaller goals over time, you make progress on that bigger long-term goal.

Next, take a long, hard look at your competing commitments. I’m committed to being a great dad, but I’m also committed to my team at work. I’m committed to being a great husband, but I’m also committed to doing a good job for my clients. Those commitments compete – absolutely.  Competing commitments make people personally immune to change. Worse, they can hold us back from finding true happiness and success due to underlying fears.

Ask yourself, if I’m unable to make changes then what’s the fear that’s holding me back?

Robert Kegan has done great work on this over the years to help people understand, “what are those fears or concerns that really keep us frozen – that keep us from doing something different?” Take the time to understand the fear and learn to adapt. Tune your leadership and choices to be the best version of yourself given the current stage of life, stage of career, and the challenges that you’re facing.

Remember, we’re not perfect beings. We’re only human. Give yourself the time to change. Changing the behaviors that can push us down the road to epically failing at work/life balance is extremely difficult. Because it’s not just a choice. There’s a psychological and physical component to it – often a wire in our brains that is programmed to say, “don’t do this differently”. Changing that wire in our brains takes work and effort and repetition.

As leaders, we can’t give up nor will we. It’s nearly impossible to avoid work and life merging into one, so it’s up to us to model our values and create opportunities for our colleagues, our families, and ourselves to thrive and be resilient. And if we’re lucky get an extra hour of sleep.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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