Create Career Sustainability One “Tweak” At a Time

I am blessed & honored to have Cali Yost guest blog.  The New York Times calls her “one of the smartest, sophisticated thinkers” and Mashable lists her as 1 of the Top 14 Career Experts on Twitter.  Personally, Cali has helped me achieve work+life fit! Not an easy task and an ongoing process.  I urge you to read her post and buy her book.  It will make a big difference in your life.

A couple of years ago, Sharon’s financial research team moved to another bank.  It was a difficult and stressful period.  Everyone logged long hours and frequent business trips across multiple time zones.

They did it because what mattered most, at the time, was that their team stayed together and made the transition a success.  But now, as Sharon explained when I met with her recently, “The leadership team is literally falling apart and we are only in our mid 40’s.”

“My two direct reports, who have been with me for over ten years, are having the most trouble.  One has migraine headaches that are so severe that, once or twice a week, he’s either late or doesn’t come in at all.  The other is in the midst of a messy and distracting divorce.”

She continued, “I am trying to be patient. I don’t want to let either of them go.  I’ve already lost too many valuable people. We have been through a lot together and they help me run the business.  I’ve tried to give them the work flexibility they need to deal with their issues.  I am hopeful, but I need a life too.”

“I can’t help but wonder what we could have done differently.  At the time, it seemed as if we had no choice but to give everything we had to work.  Looking back, the pace was unsustainable.  We are all paying the price now.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure what the alternative would have been. ”  Then she stopped and looked at me, “Was there an alternative?”

Sadly, Sharon and her team are not alone.  Leaders in today’s competitive, 24/7, global economy easily fall into an “all work, all the time” trap.  It may seem to make perfect sense at the time.  But, ultimately, it undermines the very career longevity and success they are trying to achieve, personally and for their team. 

The “all work, all the time” behavior of leaders sets the tone for the rest of the workplace.  It makes it difficult for others to confidently take the lead and manage their responsibilities on and off the job.

I explained to Sharon that small shifts in how the team approaches work and life will help them recover from and avoid the trap in the future. 

In my new book, TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Every Day (Center Street/Hachette) I share how to build a solid foundation of everyday well-being and order in the face constantly competing demands.  The steps include:

Take deliberate action in the areas that sustain your health, personal relationships, career networks, job skills and life maintenance, or they won’t happen.  Fifteen years ago, before mobile phones and the Internet, you could put in a 10-hour workday, go home and focus uninterrupted on other parts of your life.  No more.  You need to put up the boundaries.  My research shows that most of us still haven’t quite grasped this fact. 

Openly encourage work+life “fit,” not balance.  Say the words “work-life balance” and leaders immediately laugh, roll their eyes and throw up their hands like they’ve heard the most ridiculous joke.  In their minds, a 50-50 split between work and life is never going to happen.  So why bother. 

But work+life “fit” is not only possible.  It is a must.  It’s about finding the fit between your work and life based on your current realities on and off the job.  If there’s a lot of work right now, fine.  In that context, what could you do to get some sleep, eat healthfully, move your body, connect with your loved ones or whatever you need to do to be fresh and your best?  That’s your fit.

Follow the simple, weekly TWEAK IT practice.  It helps you harness the power small, deliberate actions, or “tweaks,” that makes a big difference.  Look at your work and personal “to do s” for the week. What’s missing? What do you want more of, and less of? What do you want to continue? Write the small actions in the areas that matter to you right now on your calendar and priority list.  Get to bed early one night.  Have dinner with your partner and don’t check your phone. Attend a class to learn a new skill, or plan a long weekend away.  It doesn’t take much, but over time, these moments add up.

Communicate with, collaborate with and cover for each other so that what matters at work and in life gets done, flexibly and creatively.  For example, after the team returns from a business trip, take turns working from home one day.  Instead of commuting that day, pay your bills.  Walk your dog.  Catch your breath.  This coordination is especially important in businesses with global clients.  Create a time zone coverage schedule so everyone gets periodic breaks from late night calls and emails. 

Don’t seek perfection.  If you achieve 70% of the small actions that matter to you, it’s better than 0%.  You may miss lunch with a friend because of an important work call, but the point is that you made a conscious choice.  You deliberately, and intentionally chose whether or not you will take that call or miss that lunch.  Rather than having it not happen by default. 

If Sharon and her team follow these steps, they won’t fall into the “all work, all the time” trap again and would still get the job done.  In our highly mobile, always on, 24-7 society, business success must include career sustainability.  We create it together one small, deliberate, imperfect “tweak” at a time. 

What small actions matter the most in your everyday work+life fit?

To take the lead and start managing your everyday work+life fit, read TWEAK IT: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day. Track your “tweaks of the week” on your mobile device with the “My Tweaks” tracker on the site.  

I Don't "Have it All" - Yeah!

After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in.  Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale.  While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.

The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem.  First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender.  Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou.  I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness.  It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do.  It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead.  It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”.   Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself.  When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.

My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination.  It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions.  My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:

  • One put his credibility on the line to promote me, a 22yr old ‘kid’, to a level that required a Ph.D. or at least MS, making me the first, if not one of, to get to that level without the required degrees;  
  • Another measured his success on his people’s success (output) and impact (outcome); he was one of the most admired, and loved, managers and had one of the highest promotion rates.

When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment.  My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me.  For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office.  When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.

I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally.  I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children.  I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives.  I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or.  The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past. 

We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives.  It’s impossible not to.  Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment.  This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world.  We do.  But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc.   It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C!  Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing!  This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation.  Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”.  This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.

So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?