Work-Life Strategy and Values

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The term work/life balance often presumes that the slash is a separator, not a connector — that the term describes two separate parts of us that we need to balance, that our life strategy is separate from our career strategy.  That for one we might consult a career counselor, and for the other a life coach. My approach in both teaching and coaching is to help people think about their career as just one piece of their whole life. To devise a life strategy and then create a career strategy that fits your whole life goals.

“Duh, that’s obvious” you might say. It is amazing how few of us think about this as we transition from college to career or consider promotions or mid-life and beyond.  People make statements like “I want to get married and begin having children before I reach 35.” Or “I am aiming to be a vice president with this company” without really considering the impact on other portions of our lives. What adjustments will be necessary – how much might we need to save – do we have support for our family structure? Before asking these questions, the place to start is to look at your values.

Take any list of values or create your own and prioritize them to your top 3 – 5 values. Ask a close friend or family member to do this exercise for you. Now compare. Consider whether or not you have incorporated what Stephen Covey  would call the four intelligences; physical (discipline), emotional (passion), intellectual (vision) and spiritual (conscience). It is amazing how different our values are.

teach_childrenA top five list of adventure, autonomy, knowledge, integrity and physical fitness can produce quite a different life plan than a top five of community, family, spirituality, love and happiness.  The first might contain a life that involves travel or a willingness to work in far flung locations or a career that allows time off for such adventures. The second might involve continued involvement in a family business or developing a skill set that will allow you to remain in a community without large industry. Reflection and self-knowledge are important to choose those values and understand what they mean for you when matched with your skills and interests.

Your values can change over time. A life strategy is rarely devised and remains stable for more than ten years. Life does intervene in the form of new families, aging parents or our own development. If you understand leadership first as leadership of self – before you can lead and mentor others – then understanding your values and determining what they mean for your life and your career is critical. Often developing your own personal ‘cabinet’, people who will honestly and objectively help you think about these issues is critical. Sometimes a coach is useful in making sure you’ve covered all the steps necessary to achieve your plan.

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In the book Life Entrepreneurs, Christopher Gergen and Greg Vanourek talk about happiness as being “living in a place you love, surrounded by people you love, doing work you love”.

Obtaining this type of fulfillment means understanding first what those things mean to you and how your career fits into the broader picture of your life.