If you're searching for "work/life balance" you'll always be disappointed because "balance" connotes a zero-sum equation. But if you shift your mindset to asking, "How can I initiate change that's good for my family, and my community, and my career, and my private self (mind, body and spirit)?", then you are more likely to produce harmony in your life.
So, forget balance! Instead, gain greater control and learn to pursue meaningful change in your world by building your skills as a leader in all parts of your life, no matter what your job or age. You can assess your skills for free here. In this post, I describe five of the three dozen exercises I offer in Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Try one and see how it enhances your capacity to integrate the different parts of your life.
The Four Circles. This exercise can be done online on this free link or with pen and paper. Take 100 points and allocate them according to how important each domain is to you now -- work, home, community and your private self. Draw four circles to represent the different domains, the size of each corresponding to its relative importance in your life. Then move the circles to show whether they overlap. Greater overlap signals that the values and interests you pursue in the different domains are compatible. This image will spark your thinking about steps you can take to create more overlap among the different parts of your life.
The Conversation Starter. This simpler exercise is another way to help you increase connections among different parts of your life. You might start by putting something about your family or outside interests in a prominent position in your work place. When colleagues notice, you can mention why it's important and how it helps you at work. Then try the reverse, by bringing something from work to your home so you can talk with your family or friends about it. This creates awareness of who you are as a whole person and might clue others in to how these hitherto unknown aspects of your life might be valuable to them. Your boss may be interested in the skills you have developed organizing activities at the food bank or see a chance for the company to partner with that operation.
Who Matters Most. To lead the life you want, you need help from others. No way around it. To build supportive networks, try this exercise by listing the names of a handful of people or groups who matter most to you in each domain of your life. Write down why each is important to your future and why it's in their interest to assist you. Then come up with one thing -- the simpler the better -- to provide help for some or all of these people or groups. To do that, you will probably have to hold some conversations about mutual expectations, which might create some anxiety initially, but help you (and them) over time.
The Tune Up. Here's another easy one. When you're doing something that you do regularly, but not daily, like getting your car tuned or going to the dentist, why not build into that time a chance to look inside yourself and see if you need to make any adjustments to your life? Ask yourself: Am I living in a way that's consistent with what matters to me? Take 20 minutes to see how your inner engine is running.
The Talent Transfer. Take an inventory of the key skills and talents you've developed and think about creative ways to apply them in different parts of your life. If you play piano, maybe you can teach kids how to play or you can play for people at work or when you visit relatives.
There are so many ways to strengthen your capacity to lead the life you want. As demonstrated by the six remarkable people I profile in my book (Tom Tierney, Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Greitens, Michelle Obama, Julie Foudy, and Bruce Springsteen), creating harmony among the four domains means helping others, which in turn helps you, over the course of life. The paradox of leading the life you want is that it's only possible when you take what you care about most, your passions, and your skills and interests, and bring them to bear on making life better for other people. The good news is that anyone can get better at doing so.