THE first of December 1913 was a much-anticipated day.
In an automobile factory in Highland Park, Michigan, Henry Ford’s dream of producing an affordable motorcar for the masses was about to become a reality.
Through the introduction of a moving assembly line, Ford was able to reduce the production time for each Model T car from over 12 hours to one hour and 33 minutes.
Within three years, the cost of each vehicle fell drastically from over US$850 to US$300. Over 15 million Model T cars were produced and purchased between 1913 and 1927 by the emerging middle classes.
A new era of industrialisation was ushered in across the USA and the globe. The idea that work could be done more efficiently as procedures were automated and streamlined soon inspired changes across all industries.
The cry for an eight-hour day for workers had been growing louder through the late 1800s. On 5 January 1914, the Ford Motor Company took the radical step of doubling its employees’ pay to US$5 per day and cutting their shift length from nine hours to eight.
Over the next two years, productivity and profits rose dramatically. Critics were silenced. Hopes were stirred.
A vision emerged of an efficient, industrialised world of work that enabled increasing prosperity and leisure time for everyone. In a world where even the working classes could own a house and a car and enjoy a good lifestyle, the possibilities for high achievers were limitless.
Fast forward to today
Ian has recently been promoted to Chief Operating Officer for a large multinational company in Sydney.
He has responsibility for a division that operates throughout South-East Asia, and he reports to global managers based in New York and London. Ian is highly respected for his technical skills and his dedication to the company.
He has worked hard to build his career, spending several years with his young family based in Asia, before returning to Sydney when the eldest of his three children hit primary school age.
Ian is drowning in the increased workload and responsibility. He regularly wakes at 4:00 am in a cold sweat, anxious about the implications of pending decisions. He leaves for work at 5:00 am and arrives home after dark most days. He sees his children for 30 minutes before bedtime and on weekends.
When he is home, he is not particularly present due to stress and the constant need to check his smartphone for numerous emails coming at him from around the world. He describes his typical work day like ‘being in the midst of a cyclone’, with his head down, responding to the demands swirling around him.
He does not feel in control of anything. Every now and then he tries to snatch a moment to look up to gain some perspective. He is dreading the extra travel to Europe and USA as part of his new role, on top of his regular trips across Asia.
When Ian reached out to me for some leadership mentoring, he did so as a last resort. He felt like he was failing both at work and at home as a partner and as a parent.
He had put on over 10 kilograms in six months because he was continually eating unhealthy food at odd hours, and had no time to do physical exercise.
He felt he had no choice but to resign and be demoted to a role where he could feel that his whole life was not totally dominated by work.
Chances are, you can relate to Ian. Do you often wonder if you will ever have a day when you get everything on your list done? Do you panic when you see your phone ring? Or worry that you’re never around to celebrate your children’s birthdays?
Whether you are a small business owner or in a position of leadership in a corporate career, life in the second decade of the 21st century is busier than ever. The technological advances of the last century have transformed every aspect of our working world and our domestic lives.
Yet instead of working fewer hours, with more time for family and friends, most of us report the opposite.
I see so many talented and passionate people, like Ian, with good levels of success in life and potential for much more. They are what we describe as ‘high achievers’. However, somewhere between age 35 and 55, these high achievers hit a wall.
They start to experience what I call ‘the curse of the juggle of life’. They start to juggle many aspects of their life, including their career or business, their partner, their partner’s career or business, their 2.3 children, two sets of family and friends, and aging parents—all while struggling to stay fit and healthy, safe and financially secure.
All these balls are very hard to keep in the air, so is it any wonder that we forget how to relax and replenish emotionally? That our stress levels start to increase?
Most of us today feel overwhelmed, as though we are surviving rather than thriving, struggling to manage the boundaries between work and the rest of our lives.
Many of my clients have a level of anxiety that underpins much of their world. Some wonder if they really have what it takes to cut it in this crazy 21st-century, 24/7, 365-day-a-year marketplace.
Work–life balance is a myth
The most talked-about and well-publicised strategy recommended to manage our frantic lives is ‘work–life balance’. This term originated sometime during the early 20th century with regard to improved working conditions and shorter working hours. It was meant to describe the idea that there should be reasonable balance between work and the rest of our lives. It implies that like a seesaw, there is an optimum point of balance that will work for each of us.
So what would you think if I told you this is all a myth? That work–life balance doesn’t actually exist? And that in trying to chase this dream we are actually making ourselves sick?
Most high achievers are passionate about their business, their careers, and their success. Yet passion and drive are the enemies of balance. By definition, if you are passionate you are going to always be out of balance.
Passion means you are likely to find it difficult to turn off your brain when you leave work. Passion means your mind will often be solving business problems in the night or when you are driving the car.
High achievers are often made to feel guilty by the concept of ‘work–life balance’. They might even be viewed as workaholics by the majority of people for whom work is a job: just a means to income.
A 2013 Gallup Report indicates that up to 70% of the American workforce is disengaged at work, i.e. less than passionate.
The concept of ‘work–life balance’ may have been well intended, but it is unhelpful in the 21st century. It pits work against life, creating an unnecessary conflict. Work is part of life, not against life.
There is no seesaw that needs to be in balance. Rather, each of us has a whole life, every segment of which needs to be integrated in such a way that we can prosper and flourish.
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