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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: September 1999

Welcome to the first edition of Balancing Act. As with all first editions, there may be some glitches in the distribution. Please let me know of any problems, and they'll be fixed rapidly. Subscription and cancellation information is explained at the conclusion of the newsletter. Thanks for subscribing. - Alan Weiss

Balancing Act® is in three sections:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The human condition
  3. Musings

  1. Techniques for balance
    • One of the worst mistakes I've ever made was to "compartmentalize" my life. It dawned on me a few years ago that I don't have a "personal life" and a "business life," but simply A LIFE. Consequently, I do things when they feel right, which might include writing an article or taking care of client work on a Saturday morning, and sitting at the pool on a Tuesday afternoon.

    • Time is the great equalizer, since we all have the same amount of it available. When we say that we don't have the time to help a spouse, watch our children perform, fix things around the house, or improve ourselves, we really mean that we don't consider it a priority. We actually do have the time.

    • When you receive reading material that you may or may not want to review, place it in an obvious pile where you'll see it every day. Whatever you haven't read after two weeks, simply throw out. It's not urgent and you don't need it.

    • People often make the mistake of allotting time for various aspects of their life each week, thinking that the technique provides balance (e.g., two hours a day with the pets, an hour every other day exercising, a weekend day with a significant other). But this meting out of hours only provides quantity, not quality. The real test is in the intensity, fulfillment, and enjoyment of the time, not the mere expenditure of it.

    • Most anger is actually self-directed anger that is transferred to others in order to achieve self-preservation. If you're angry a lot of the time, don't assume you've met a rash of incompetent people on the phone, at work, among customers, and in social settings. Find out why you're really angry with yourself.

    • A certain amount of stress-eustress-is healthy because it keeps the adrenaline flowing and provides for a sense of urgency. We've all heard others (and/or ourselves) say, "I work best under pressure and approaching deadlines." Don't try to eliminate stress, but do try to manage it so that it creates energy but stops short of anxiety and paralysis.

    • Most people I've worked with place an inordinate emphasis on correcting weakness and do very little about building on strength. No one excels by correcting weaknesses (which simply serve to maintain the status quo a little more easily). Find out what your real strengths are (many people are totally unaware of some of them) and make plans to exploit them in work and at play.

    • Always have a book and a pad and pen next to your bed, even when traveling. If you can't sleep, read the book. If you suddenly have a bright idea, write it down. I find that many people lose their best ideas because they don't capture them quickly after thinking of them.

    • Balance in life and work is not about equal distribution. It is about variety, diversity, and establishing the correct priorities for yourself. I don't care if I never manage people again, because it's an activity that I loathed. But I get skittish if I don't have a book to read at any given moment when I have the urge to do so.

    • The "success trap" occurs when you are rewarded and lauded for something that you're good at but actually dislike. This is how jobs get in the way of careers, and necessary evils come to impede our lives. Let your internal gyroscope tell you what's right for you, not external influences.

  2. The Human Condition: avoiding guilt

    The greatest inhibitor of performance, enjoyment, and freedom that I know of is guilt. Guilt is virtually entirely self-imposed, in that despite the actions and words of others, only you can invoke your own guilt.

    I know this, because the converse is so true. I've seen people respectfully and solemnly sit in a church and perform all of their obeisances and rituals. They are, for the hour, moved by the spirit of their religious beliefs. Yet no sooner than driving out of the parking lot at the end of the service, these same pious people are cursing and gesticulating as other drivers forge ahead of them to escape the parking lot.

    If guilt can be so easily shunted aside, it can be just as readily claimed.

    I've always felt that a key to eliminating guilt as much as possible resides in the fact that life is about success, not perfection. (I learned that from therapy years ago, and it was worth the price of admission.) If we make ourselves feel bad, low, or worthless every time we're not perfect, we're going to lead a guilt-ridden life. But if we recognize our imperfection, vow to do better next time, and strive to do our best in all conditions, success will likely be ours when we deserve it and guilt should be avoidable.

    Those who should feel guilty (criminals, betrayers, cheaters) seldom do, so that guilt doesn't play a role for those it should and plays far too great a role for those it shouldn't. One of the textbook definitions of a psychotic, for example, is that he or she feels absolutely no guilt.

    The best ways to avoid and/or confront guilt:

    • Don't insist on perfection, but simply do your best to succeed against clearly-defined goals. I once heard a professional speaker say that "fine isn't good enough, I have to be great." That's not a burden I want to carry.

    • Examine the "shoulds" we all carry around. Is it really a crime not to call your mother every week, to allow the kids to do their homework by themselves, and to forego contributing to the United Way Campaign because money is tight?

    • Find a reliable sounding board. Tell your spouse, friend, or significant other that you're beginning to feel guilty about something, and let them help you analyze it.

    • Separate your feelings from your actions. Acknowledge that you might be feeling guilty about something, but don't necessarily act on it. We tend to get into trouble when we act strictly on our emotions without allowing logic to creep in.

    • Get over it. Excuse yourself. Allow yourself the same grace you would allow someone else. If you broke a friend's favorite old record, apologize and offer to make amends. Search the Internet for a replacement or buy something equally sentimental. But don't beat yourself up. Accidents, poor judgment, and sloppiness happen. It won't be the last time.

    There's great drama on the television law shows when the jury is asked to read a verdict which is "guilty" or "innocent." You are your own jury. Cut a deal with the prosecutor before the jury reconvenes.

  3. Musings

    It's fall and in Rhode Island the trees are beginning to turn into static kaleidoscopes. As much as I love the summer and the great outdoor activities near the ocean, the fall brings a welcome change. I've always felt that the seasons bring new challenges to our lives, create a variety in our pace, and force us to view the world somewhat differently all over again.

    Schools have reopened and parents wait for the buses in the morning with their children, hating to see them grow up so fast while also guiltily happy to have a few unmolested hours to themselves. It's always been of somewhat mordant interest to me that we trust our young to school bus drivers, teachers, and coaches without even a hint of the scrutiny and selectivity we apply to our personal physicians, attorneys, and accountants.

    People are preparing for the uniquely American holiday season that attends the end of the calendar year. Ironically, it's a time of great stress for many of us-the relatives we don't get along with into whose presence we'll be inserted like an unwelcome insect; the agony over gifts, their cost, their appropriateness, and their reciprocal; too much food consumed in too little time with too many calories for anyone's good; and worries about travel, guests, accommodations, expenditures, and what was said after too much was drunk.

    Ah, the holidays!

    But there are, amongst us, those who take time to reflect, to cherish the time with loved ones that might not have been enjoyed without the mandate of the season, and who realize that every inconvenience is the sacrifice of one's self for others, and every lost hour is only an investment in a timeless memory. Because, when you force the truth out from amidst the frenetic pace, you find that all we really have is each other. How frightening. How comforting.

    Years ago my sister, searching for the gift for the man who may not have everything but has an awful lot of it, selected a gift certificate for a 45-minute session in a sensory deprivation tank. I found myself shedding my clothing and entering a casket-like structure that was pitch black when the door closed. A few inches of salt water kept me floating in the middle without touching anything, and the temperature and humidity were controlled to absolutely minimize sensations of hot, cold, wet, dry, friction, etc. The idea was that, laying there like a breathing corpse with only myself to introspectively focus on, I would generate some of the outstanding ideas in the history of humankind.

    Instead, I generated a near-panic attack, forced myself to wait until I thought most of the time was elapsed so as not to embarrass myself, and emerged. I had stayed within the device for a total of eleven minutes. My sole inspirational idea was to get the hell out of there before I imploded.

    I need stimuli to exist. I feed off the interactions with others, with ideas, with excitement, with nature. I may be an introvert, but I'm not cut out to live alone. Few of us are.

    It's fall. I miss the summer, but I'm looking forward to a new look around. I'm sure I'll find a lot worthwhile.