Nurturing the soul is essential to personal and professional success. Balance is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Simply put, “work-life balance is the essence of existence,” says Ron Knaus, a physician and psychiatrist with the Peak Energy Institute in Tampa, Florida, that helps corporate executives enhance their job performance.
One of the oldest and most consistent truisms societies pass on to each succeeding generation is the notion of balance, says Nat Irvin, assistant dean for MBA Student Development and Executive Professor of Future Studies at Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management in. “It’s Biblical,” Irvin says. “It’s moderation in all things. Yin and Yang, breathing in and breathing out, to use the Eastern metaphor.”
Though its elements and proportions vary for each individual, “balance means you are healthier, more satisfied and feel more accomplished at home and work,” says Roger Pearman, founder of Leadership Performance Systems, Inc. in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Imbalance leads to destruction,” says Knaus. Mark Albion, author of “True to Yourself: Leading a Values-Based Business,” Berrett-Koehler, 2006) and founder of organizations such as Net Impact, an international network of MBAs dedicated to serving others, counts up the possibilities: “Illness, divorce, not knowing your children until they no longer care whether you know them or not, depression. And while you may still succeed at work, rarely will someone out of balance be able to do as well as they thought they would. They tend to be one step away from where they think they should be. Moreover, when you are not in balance, life just isn’t fun. Neither is work.”
Minority Executives Need Balance
Minority executives can be even more vulnerable to stress, and therefore in even greater need of the balance they may have trouble attaining when they believe they must put in long hours at work, outperforming the competition. “I’ve worked with African-American executives who had continued questions of self-confidence,” Knaus says. “There is more pressure on African-American executives due to their lack of peers and demands they put on themselves.”
Successful blacks often carry family pressure, too, says Albion. “For many, they are the first, the first, the first, in many areas. It may be even harder for them than others to take a risk with their career, to fail, without feeling extra stress.”
“The expectation from the majority and the black community to succeed remains very high for black executives,” Irvin agrees. “Blacks are expected to succeed when others can fail. The pressure to not make a mistake because it may injure the chances of the next black person still looms in the mindset of corporate America.”
Linda Leftrict, divisional vice president at Laureate Online Education, in Baltimore, Md., speaks from that experience. “As an African-American executive,” she says, “I feel the burden, not only of my job, but also of my team, my company and my shareholders, my family, my community, and even the African-American employees within my company. This adds a level of stress beyond what many of my colleagues may feel.” “But I accept this level of stress, because if I didn’t care about these things, it would be more of a burden on my spirit than not.”
Why We Ignore the Need for Nurturing
So, why is it that many executives, don’t nurture themselves? They know the benefits, but making themselves a priority can be a challenge given today’s super-competitive, global economy. There are shareholders to answer to, top management to please, the list is endless. But some executives are making balance non-negotiable in their lives.
Leftrict explains her strategy for maintaining balance, “I schedule time for me and keep my commitment to that time, like I keep business commitments.” She belongs to the Butterfly Club, a group of MBAs and other professional black women in senior-level positions. The group meets quarterly to offer support, advice, counsel, friendship and career resources, says Leftrict. She’s big on spa trips, girls’ weekends and weekend getaways with her husband.
She also handles stress by not falling prey to the immediacy of an issue and “reacting.” “If I feel that a stressful situation is impacting my ability to make sound business decisions,” she says, “I rely on three quick resources: my own sense of the situation — I shut the door and write out what I think needs to be done; my internal company advisors — people who are not in the day-to-day fray of the issue, to gain their perspective on my thoughts, and lastly, my team. I ensure that I gain the insight and perspective of my team leaders to be sure we have a consistent front in attacking any problem that is causing the stress. What has not worked for me is trying to prove that I have all the answers and can make all the right decisions on my own.”
Leaving The Stress Behind
For some, achieving balance may require changing or leaving one’s profession, as Phil McKenzie did last year. McKenzie, who received an MBA from Duke University in 1999, earned his stripes in equity trading at Goldman Sachs and, later, at investment boutique MayDavis Group. Now he wears an entrepreneurial hat as CEO of Amber Studios, a destination/concert lounge in Brooklyn.
“The drive and ambition I harnessed in business school and at Goldman is focused on making my dreams a reality rather than maintaining the wealth and privilege of others,” he explains. “Everything you need to make you happy and balanced is right there – if you listen and if you are brave enough to grab hold of it.”
Many young MBA students are already hip to the need for balance. “I learned that the most important things in life are the quality time you spend with your family and friends. I lost several students to Hurricane Katrina and they did not have a chance to grow into the wonderful adults they would have been,” says Eric Williams, a former high school teacher and coach whose home was severely damaged by Katrina.
“The stress of the entire situation was unbelievable, but it was also an opportunity for us all to take our careers and personal lives and make it better,” says Williams.
How To Get Started
If you’re clueless about where to begin your journey to balance, the experts recommend using areas of your brain that don’t get a workout at work. “Learn to play a new sport, or to play a musical instrument,” Irvin suggests. “Travel somewhere you are in the distinct minority where you have to struggle with language and culture, so that you will continue to develop your total humanity.” He also recommends giving yourself time for silent retreats, “to either rest, rot, and read or to read things away from your line of work. Move away from your own language.”
Ways to Start Balancing Your Life
- When you consider how to use a different side of your brain, you may want to take up painting or writing. Do something that is not competitive, even something you are not good at, says Albion. Or consider taking up a group activity with people you wouldn’t meet otherwise. In short, get outside your comfort zone.
- Another great balancer: “Serve others, particularly kids, in a volunteer activity. There is nothing as nurturing as giving and being appreciated.”
- Follow your passion, or create a new passion.
- One secret for making time for yourself is found in one word – no. “You have to say no to a lot of things that sound important,” Albion says. “But there will always be another meeting, another event, another party, or whatever. You have to simply say no.”
Remember That Balance Makes You Better
“Give work-life balance as much thought and energy as you would your career progression,” Leftrict urges. “You’ll be happier, more productive, more energized to develop new ideas. I’ve rarely seen great new ideas from tired, worn-out individuals who are constantly trying to catch up on life.”
Image courtesy of Babble.com