Imagine you are running a marathon and you just passed the “24 mile” marker. You’ve paced yourself to make it this far. You’re exhausted and your body is reaching its limits but you psych yourself up to make it through the last two miles. Then you hear an announcement that the marathon has been extended another five miles. Sound familiar? It should because this is the life of a corporate employee these days—work yourself to the bone then do some more.
According to a recent Gallup poll, the average age of retirement in the U.S. is 62. That suggests a 40-year-long career for most people. If you don’t have some sort of balance in your life, it will be hard to sustain 40 years at work. Many executives, for example, have extended the marathon before it’s over more than once. They have pushed their bodies to the limit and kept going. Many have kept going, that is, until they reached a barrier and could not continue any longer. They had a heart attack and had to leave for medical reasons or they stopped caring and quit for personal reasons or they made a major mistake and got fired. In sum, many executives have burned out.
Executive work is hard on the brain and body. Research shows that making difficult decisions tires the brain. Chronic stress at work affects the brain in many ways, such as causing forgetfulness, accelerated aging, and moodiness. Traveling non-stop, attending meetings from early morning till late evening, eating too many restaurant meals, and neglecting to exercise all take their toll on the body. No matter how you look at it, balance is critical for sustained success.
Balance is not about taking vacations; it is about living a sustainable lifestyle to build resilience to get you through tough times. Balance is about pacing yourself and taking time to rejuvenate along the way so you can finish the marathon and run the next one too. Balance is knowing how much to take on and what to let go. Balance is big and it has to run deep within your value system.
Four steps to living a sustainable lifestyle:
Prioritize balance. Face it: balance needs to be right up there with profits and other important values. If not, it will slip away. You also have to take responsibility for taking care of yourself. Others will keep asking of you until you say “no.” It’s up to you.
Stay focused on the long-term. Have you noticed how we’ve shifted from 5-10 year visions to quarter-by-quarter visions? This is how we get stuck in the trap of the constant sprint. Corporations may be able to sustain this because their people are replaceable. Clearly, that approach will not work for you, individually. And I question whether this approach is really better for the long-term health of an organization too.
Incorporate downtime into your schedule. Scheduled downtime seems like an oxymoron, but it may be the only way for busy people to have unscheduled time.
The blog post was contributed by Dr.Joanie Connell. If you like to learn about her insights and our conversation about work-life balance for leaders, you are welcome to watch the interview we did on Lead With Giants TV.