How to Successfully Balance Career & Family

How to Successfully Balance Career & Family

Professional Success Seems To Kill Family Success

It’s rough trying to manage our careers and keep our families together. We tend to experience progress in one while the other falls by the wayside. Statistically speaking, the Herculean balancing act of family and career hits young people the hardest. Today 20 to 35-year-olds make up most new divorces, which makes sense because those are the years in which we are most focused on getting our careers off the ground.

[pullquote]”The problem is young couples are just young and dumb.”[/pullquote]

To get more insight into balancing career and family, I went out and interviewed several highly successful couples. Some married for more than 40 years. Though the interviewees were polite, what I took from the interviews was “young couples are so young and so dumb.” According to them we are by in large, too young to know better and too dumb to get out of their own way. They also admit they were once young and dumb, but they somehow got through it.

According to them we are by in large, too young to know better and too dumb to get out of our own way. They also admit they were once young and dumb, but they somehow got through it.

I’ll be a little more P.C. and say that being 20-35 years of age usually means knowing very little about balancing the rigors and demands of life. Namely, how do you 

  • purposefully balance career and family?
  • How do you rise to the top professionally and still have a great family life?

Well, from my experience (I’m going on 36 and been married 12 years) and from talking to older, more successful couples – I’ve learned that success in career and family isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s stupid dumb simple, which is great for us “young and dumb” 20 to 35-year-olds.

Proportion of Divorce by Age & Gender

Under 20 years old27.6%11.7%
20 to 24 years old36.6%38.8%
25 to 29 years old16.4%22.3%
30 to 34 years old8.5%11.6%
35 to 39 years old5.1%6.5%

Can You Relate To My Friend?

Ok, here’s the scenario: you’re professionally driven and work an insane number of hours. But at the same time you have a family and social life you want to maintain or create. A good friend of mine fits this description. He’s a full-time student pursuing his MBA and coaching Division 1 college football. With his schedule, he’s stretched farther than the elastic on a fat man’s Hanes. He said,

“I have no time to even consider family, all I have time for is work.” (Sounds familiar.)

From his tone, I could tell he thought career and family were like oil and water – they just don’t mix. It’s either pursue a career “or” dedicate yourself to a family. You could try both, but when you focus on career, family suffers. And when you focus on family, your career suffers. Also sounds familiar?

I could relate because for almost eight years his frustration was my frustration. I couldn’t find a way to make my career ambitions and family life work. In the end, once I figured it out, I had to laugh at how “stupid dumb simple” the answer was.

Balancing Career & Family Begins Here

I’ll get to that, but before I give you my story, let me first comment on “our” story. By “our story,” I mean the one we tend to tell ourselves. This story starts innocently enough with a simple question but ends up framing not only our thoughts but also the experiences we have in life. You see, most of us ask the wrong questions, or to be more exact, we ask questions that give us answers that don’t fit our true intent.

In my friend’s case, the question of balancing career and family was preceded by the question of “or.” Will it be family “or” business? Do I focus on career “or” family? By virtue of the question, whatever answer he gets will not satisfy his desire to have both. He is forcing himself to choose one or the other because he believes he can’t have both. In essence, the quality of his questions has determined the quality of his answers.

Maybe you can relate because you’ve made the conscious decision or have strong feelings that push you toward career “or” family. If this is true, know that your decision is only as important as the impact it’s having on your life. Meaning, if it works, GREAT — CONTINUE TO DO IT. But if you’re like many people I come across, the decision feels more like a sacrifice than anything else.

I see it every day with friends that have amazing careers but no family life. Or just the opposite, great family lives at the cost of buried ambition. Often the result is a deep sense of unfulfillment.

If You Think That’s Bad, Here’s My Sad Story

Balancing Family & Work Limbo

In my opinion, even worse are those who try both but are in a constant state of limbo from being torn between family and career. The limbo is fun on a cruise ship, but just imagine holding the limbo position indefinitely. Ouch! Well, that’s what I did for eight years. I never consciously choose one, I just lived my “or” and remained in limbo. The result was the same dissatisfaction because when I focused on one, I regularly felt torn by the other.

If you can relate, then you know what it’s like to feel like you’re on a seesaw, teetering back and forth trying to balance career and family. So much so that the pattern becomes ingrained until you become Jack. As in, a “jack of all trades” because you excel at neither career nor family. A Jack because you hide from the pressure of being an Ace by running to what’s most comfortable. For me, family was easiest, so I ran to it to the detriment of my career – and, ironically, my family as well.

So, whether you have consciously decided to choose one because you don’t think you can have both or you remain torn, teetering between profession and family – know you have denied a part of yourself. This part of you will make itself felt. Maybe it’s a void you can’t place. Or maybe it’s a lack of true fulfillment. However the pain of “or” presents itself, know that you can overcome it and live the life you want.

Start Balancing Family “AND” Career

All you have to do is dedicate yourself to a set of new questions. Namely, questions of the “and” variety. For example:

  • how do I make family and” career work?
  • What do I need to do to have a great career “and” family life?

My solution sounds like a bunch of B.S., right? Well it is … as in “belief system.” But before I shovel more B.S. and make you a believer, let’s first get honest about your current situation. Changing anything, especially something big like this, requires honesty. If we’re not honest, it can short-circuit our efforts to change and improve our lives.

Also, if we’re not brutally butt-naked honest, the mirror before us can tell bold-faced lies. Honesty gets us to see the depths of where we are, which makes even B.S. an acceptable alternative. (Not that I want to lower your standards; rather, I want you to be open to something different – even if it seems like “B.S.”)

The key to getting honest is asking yourself tough questions. The kind of questions that pull forward past, present, and future pain if you don’t change.

Below are few questions to kick-start the process.

Start Here to Fix Career & Family Balancing Issues

  1. Set aside AT LEAST 20 MINUTES to explore how “or” has impacted your life.
  2. Find a quiet place and bring a voice recorder and/or pen and paper.
  3. Get comfortable and start by going over the questions below in your head. Just think about your answers and let them come to you.
  4. Then when something hits a nerve, record your thoughts or write them down. Explore them like Sherlock Holmes. Be relentless and let your recording or writing flow by removing all judgement. Just record as furiously as you can.
  5. Once you’re spent, put it down and plan to come back once you feel up to it.
  6. When you return, review what you recorded and prepare to share it. The best person would be someone in your life that is affected by your imbalance. These people have a lot to gain by you working out the issues of finding satisfaction in your life. Also, be aware that these people may share your frustration and not be open to constructive dialogue. That’s OK, because it should give you further evidence of why it’s so important for you to do something to change.

One last note. Be sure to dig as deep as possible by touching the emotion that binds you to “or.” This means going well beyond intellect by imagining each past, present, and future scenario in as vivid detail as possible. Then be sure to interact with your experience by talking to another person, creating voice recordings, and/or journal writing. (Live feedback is best, then voice recording, then journal.)

Explore Core Beliefs About Family & Career

  • Do you believe family and career don’t mix? If so, why?
  • When was the first time you accepted this belief (past experience)?
  • What is the earliest experience you can think of that makes you believe you can’t balance both?
  • What has this belief cost you (past)?
  • What is this belief costing you now (present)?
  • What will this belief cost you (future)?
  • How has this belief affected those close to you?
  • Do you struggle with balancing career and family?
  • Are you torn when you pursue one or the other? Why?
  • What has being torn cost you?
  • Has being torn made you a Jack, someone not living up to either career or family potential?
  • etc.

OK, The Hard Part Is Over

Once you answer these questions and face your pain, you may begin to see just how much the question of “or” has governed your life. When I faced my “or” demons I had to laugh at just how deep they ran. I realized that not only did they put me in an unwinnable position of having to choose, but they also eroded my joy and pleasure. I wasn’t enjoying family because I was thinking about work, and I wasn’t enjoying work because I was thinking about family.

My simple fix was to throw away “or” and begin to live a life of “and.” By making this small shift, things changed overnight. I no longer fought a battle I couldn’t win. By focusing on “and”, I set up a playing field that forced me to come up with a way to do both. There was no more struggle, pain, or settling. In no time at all, my thoughts swelled around the idea of “and,” which I can honestly say saved me from my own quiet misery. (The quiet ones are the worst …)

Couples I interviewed agreed with living “and.” They didn’t call it “or” versus “and.” They called it, no way in hell am I getting divorced AND no way in hell am I going to be poor. They absolutely refused to accept one side or the other. They had very strong emotions that wouldn’t allow them to sacrifice one for the other. What they did was create a condition where career and family HAD TO WORK. That’s the power of setting up a condition of “and.”

Can It Be That Easy

Now, many of you still might be saying it can’t be that easy. Well, it is. And if experience has taught me anything, it’s that most solutions, even for the biggest of problems, are “super dumb simple.”

Having said that, I will admit that you still have to work at it. Meaning, this isn’t only an intellectual exercise. You have to live “and.” For example, I recently put together a tour to go across the country speaking. In the past, this would have been a classic example of career and family (oil and water) not mixing. But because I live by the code of “and,” it’s not an issue.

Here’s Where You Have Your Cake & Eat It Too!

The only consideration that is acceptable to me is one that allows me to do both. I refuse anything else. For my national tour, I plan to bring family along whenever possible. I also plan to fly home between new destinations to spend a day or two at home. When not at home I will annoy the hell out of my family with countless calls, sms messages, video chats, gifts, and everything in between. As a side-note, I really want to annoy them, because if they’re annoyed, they aren’t missing me.

If that isn’t enough, I also plan to surprise my kids by showing up to read at their school and attending field trips. The point is, I never considered sacrificing one side for the other. From the beginning, my thought process was “and.” When you begin your story with “and,” it’s like taking a bottle of oil and water and shaking the sh!# out of it. Shake hard enough, oil and water mix just fine.

So, what would living “and” mean for you?

  • Would it mean that on your next major work commitment you also make an equal family commitment?
  • Would it mean that while being soccer mom extraordinaire you also find time to go back to school? HELL YES, because “and” is not about sacrifice, it’s about having your cake and eating it too.

Doesn’t that sound a lot better than the sad story of “or”… puke!

By now, if you’re imagining what “and” could mean for you, one of two things are happening. One, you’re feeling the surge of power that this simple change in thought will bring into your life. Or two, you’re fixated on questions like, “Will this make things more difficult? Will this put even greater time demands on me?” I have three answers:

  1. Stop whining, you haven’t even tried it yet!
  2. Watch your questions, because they determine the quality of your answers. “Will this make things more difficult?” is a terrible questions. How about “I wonder how I WILL handle the new challenges of ‘and’?”
  3. And last but not least – HELL YES…! Living “and” will require more from you in order to work. But here’s the thing, I promise that alongside the increase in effort will be a tenfold increase in your level of satisfaction and happiness. When you lay your head down at night you will know that you have given your all to both your career and family (win:win).

But Wait, There’s More

Let me go bad infomercial by saying, “But Wait, There’s More.” As a special bonus, people in your life will also take notice of your change. They will appreciate that now, you’re ALL IN so you can go ALL OUT. The distance, under-performance, and lack of joy will be a thing of the past. That’s because your house is literally and metaphorically no longer divided. You’re 100% congruent and pursuing the things you want in life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t pull the Miss Cleo card and offer one last prophecy. The prophecy that when you begin to live “and,” you will be opened up to certain epiphanies. I use the word “be” because something does it. It’s not by choice. These epiphanies will hit you like a ton of bricks and make you laugh because the lessons will again be “super dumb simple.” Many of these insights might contradict what others have told you. But so what, it’s working for you and you’re bucking the odds by having a kick-ass career and rock solid family life.

So there you have it. The mission, should you accept it, is to try “and” in your life to experience the difference it can make. My guess is that you will be able to balance family and career a lot better and be happier for it.

What Else Can I Do To Balance Things

Of course there is a lot more you can do. This is only the beginning. If you want the next step and how to design a Breakthrough Life, use the below Free Registration button. We’ll send you more stuff like this, plus our 10 step Breakthrough strategy. It’s a simple and practical process for Breaking Through Anything.

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