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Work Life Balance Guilt is Bullsh**
Some seasons require sacrifice, we're not "doing it wrong"
It’s not that the aspiration to work-life balance is bullshit, it’s the fact that people more often share their resolutions, desires, or small steps instead of giving the real story behind the whole of their grind. For ambitious people, there are seasons where you can’t attain the media hype of meditating, exercising, dinner every night with your kids, date night each week and thinking time to yourself. The pressure of “what you should do” and “what other people do” can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. But FYI - top performers and upward-mobile leaders are working their asses off and sacrificing a lot - especially in a tough economy. You’re not doing it wrong. This is how it is. Don’t give into the guilt.
I struggle when I read Ariana Huffington’s work-life books and articles. I agree and love her message that we need sleep and balance. But she’s also sharing the advice from a place where she’s already achieved great success and notoriety in part because of the sacrifices that got her there. She was really a grinder.
When I was a top leader at Atlassian, I was grinding hard. The founder/CEOs and much of the team were in Australia, a 17 hour / one day time difference. It meant I often worked Sundays and had a lot of trouble leaving the office at night. As a leader at another company, I had teams in Europe and Asia and had to juggle meetings with both, early in the morning and late in the evening. Work was hard, and the sacrifices to my mental downtime, family and relationships were real. It was a tough season with many sacrifices. But it earned me experience that gave me options to rebalance my work-life in other jobs and later in life.
Right now in the world, it’s a tough season for many
Bad Economy? It’s hard to have a work-life balance when the economic pressures on our companies are intense, layoffs still loom, and health insurance is so damn nice.
Tough time at your company? If your company is struggling, stakes are high, emotions are intense and it’s hard to have strong personal boundaries and lots of flexibility for work-life balance.
High growth or change? An irony of success is that it can also be hard to have personal boundaries as an ambitious, successful person. When the company is growing fast, you must capitalize on the moment, pressure is intense and the board wonders how you can grow even faster.
What can you do?
As a young working mother in an executive role at Atlassian, I wish someone had been more honest with me that some seasons do require a lot of sacrifice, and they don’t last for ever, even though it feels like it at the time. My advice to others now?
Have grace with yourself - At Atlassian, I carried the sacrifices, but also the guilt that I wasn’t good enough to figure out how to get more balance or do my job in less time. “I must be doing it wrong,” I thought. Sometimes our own self-criticism is among the weights we carry.
This is a season - When the economy was crap in 2008 and I didn’t have the staff to do what we needed to do, it was a hard grind. When we were trying to IPO at Atlassian it was a season. Some jobs and decades even felt like they were going to last forever, but they were each a season.
Carve out a small but consistent thing that’s important to you - Breakfast with my kids a few mornings a week was more important to me than other times - fresh and fun hours to me were more valuable than some nights home. An employee of mine really wanted to pick her kids up from school to get those rare conversations with teenagers. We both did a lot of grinding, but we had some spots that were really important to us that filled our bucket. We couldn’t do it all, but we could do some.
Assess your goals and seasons — Maybe the grind really is too much for you, even if it’s just a season. Or maybe it really is lasting for ever. I actually had a chance to go to Atlassian and Salesforce before I went to Oracle. They would have been amazing opportunities, but I knew I wanted to start a family and wanted a job with less pressure and time intensity than the early-stage Atlassian or high-growth Salesforce job would require. Did it hurt my career? Maybe. But it was the sacrifice I was willing to make for my family and goals at the time. And I got the chance again at Atlassian again after 5 years of having two babies in an easier work schedule. I grinded for many years then and now have the opportunity to take some amazing CMO roles, but I have chosen to advise and give myself more space. But that’s a luxury of a lot of years of really grinding.
Anyone successful who now touts the benefit of work-life balance without also acknowledging all of the grinding that also got them there isn’t being fair to the rest of us.
We’re all working on our work-life balance and accomplishments. And we should! Our parents won’t be alive forever, our kids won’t be young forever, and our health and our marriage are really important. BUT! There are also a lot of really good reasons to have seasons of sacrifice where we grind something out to provide, money, stability, health insurance to our families, and learning and achievements to ourselves. Some seasons of sacrifice pay off in other seasons.
We can set priorities and take steps for meaningful things in our life, but we shouldn’t be putting even more pressure on ourselves with guilt and concern that “we’re doing it wrong” when some sacrificial seasons require it.
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