Gain and Maintain Balance: Part 1 (LwL #18)

During my formative years as a young Marine Corps officer, I observed many leaders who were workaholics. Since they were successful, I assumed that I must do the same to be recognized with promotions and medals.

During my journey, I had a few—and emphasize few—leaders who cared about me as an individual and challenged me to gain and maintain balance in my life. Unfortunately, I did not understand the importance of this principle.

When looking down in the caskets of my pregnant wife Jenny and five-year old son Danny, killed during a single vehicle accident during a 1997 military move, I had waves of regret wash over me. I wished to have those days back of being at work with “busy work” in an attempt to impress my senior leaders. I could not hit “Rewind” then “Play” again on those days of working late at the office.

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating shirking your duties in this quest for gaining and maintaining balance. What I mean is after completing your duties for the day, you remain at work for a “good idea” project, then another and another—doing this again and again.

As a result of this excessive focus on work, you will fail to have margins in your life and may find yourself experiencing burn out. This point was reinforced during my assignments at the Pentagon. I saw other service members working 15 to 16 hours per day, week after week. Then, when a crisis would occur in the world, these same officers didn’t have any capacity to surge for the long hours of planning for the crisis and/or then standing watch for eight to twelve hours.

A way to combat being a workaholic during the time of “normal” operations is to establish margins in your life. This often means learning to say the powerful word “No.” With only 24 hours per day or 168 hours per week, you can’t do everything. To realize balance, you can’t focus just on work. You must consider having some down time, perhaps taking up a hobby or continuing one from years past.

One story that helped me to grasp a picture of margins was one my dad told about a man he admired and who helped teach him how to use a chainsaw safely.  My dad would remind my brother Jon and me, while we were helping him cut dead trees for firewood to heat our home, of this story when our youthful zeal would overwhelm our better judgment to work steadily.

This man, Billy Styles, would accept woodcutting jobs from various people in his rural Mountain View community. Each time before beginning his woodcutting job for a homeowner, Styles would explain that he could cut more wood if the client would allow him to stop every 20 minutes to refuel his chainsaw and sharpen the chain.

The wise homeowners would allow Styles to take this break. And Styles would steadily work between breaks and cut stacks and stacks of wood.

However, the foolish homeowners would accuse Styles of being lazy and not allow him to stop except to refuel his chainsaw. As the chain became more and more dull, Styles was able to cut less and less wood. He had to work harder and harder with the dull chain to cut the wood. These homeowners failed to realize that this so called “laziness” was actually a help to their bottom line. Styles still got paid the same rate per hour. The foolish homeowners received less firewood while believing he had prevented Styles from being lazy while cutting wood for them.

So have you considered analyzing your life for balance? Have you taken time to sharpen your proverbial chain? If not, there may be other impacts on your journey … more next time.

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