Bennett: Mastering Your Work-Life Sway

July 22, 2022

Is it possible to achieve a good sense of work-life balance? Ratchet+Wrench columnist Mike Bennett explores this popular holy grail of lifestyles and why an asymmetrical approach to balance may be in your best interest.

In today’s fast-paced and chaotic world, we seem to forever be chasing the elusive “balance” between the demands of our work and the leisure and/or family lives we crave. The Cambridge dictionary defines work-life balance as, “the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one's career and the demands of one's personal life.” As professionals and business owners, managing professional demands and ambitions can often run in direct conflict with society's expectations of social and family quality of life. It’s this conflict and the constant battle of being pulled in multiple directions that often results in stress, anxiety, burn-out, and ultimately diminishing returns as we constantly strive to meet all demands. 

In contrast, there are those that seemed to have it figured out, operating highly-successful businesses and lives of happiness, comfort, and leisure. The perception is that they were either very lucky or had worked their tails off and somehow crossed the mythical threshold to the “promised land.” Here in lies the trap that ensnares most who strive for a better life and more balance. The perception that hard work and sacrifice are the secret to success—that outworking the competition is the only path to success. This is often at the exclusion and sacrifice of all else including family lives, friends, and quality recuperative time. In reality though, simply working harder is most often not the secret. Working a longer and harder plan is rarely the key to prolonged success.

In contrast, the most successful and enterprising folks have mastered the art of focusing on work and life. The longevity of success is tied to keeping work and play in ratio. More specifically, they understand the notion of “swaying effort” as demands require and purposefully apply themselves to the most important and valuable tasks with the effort and attention necessary even when those efforts preclude life, leisure, and family. In contrast, though, they also recognize that when those efforts are realized, they sway back to balance or even tip in favor of the life, leisure, and family side. They recognize that life is not a stagnant stick that rests in the middle of work and leisure. In contrast to the Cambridge definition of balance as “equal priority,” many of the most successful entrepreneurs look at work and life demands as a pendulum that must sway back and forth, at times pulling more to one side than the other. What successful owners have discovered is that their businesses flourish when their time, energy, and focus sway in and out for quality impact rather than simply committing to the longer-harder plan. 

The question then becomes: How do we find our own “sway effort” balance? Step 1 is acknowledging that “all-in” is not sustainable and that there has to be a give and take or “sway” in the focus of our energies and effort. Too often, our identity and our self-worth are tied to our work and career. The “job” defines who we are. Take a minute to ask yourself who you are. Are you solely defined by the job or your business? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t necessarily a negative. Passion and pride in the job are powerful identity traits, but they shouldn’t be the limit of who you are and the only way you find enjoyment and gratification in life or enterprise. 

When demand swings the pendulum toward your business, you need to lean in. Embrace the need and focus on meeting the demand. Once the immediacy of the demand is satisfied, be OK with returning yourself to the balance of equal focus between work and life. When you have the opportunity to embrace time away from work, do so passionately and without guilt. Life is about balance, however, balance doesn’t mean demand comes in equal measure. Embrace the idea of swaying into and out of work and life. The tricky part to this is there is no golden ticket. No magic bullet. No one size fits all. You have to discover and define the work-life equation and what the sway looks like for you. Success and happiness don’t occur simply by finding a balance. Successful balance is achieved when you master your ability to embrace and manage the sway.

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett has more than three decades in the Independent Auto Repair industry. Mike has been an ASE Master Technician and is the owner of Mike’s KARS Inc. in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Fully immersed in the industry for his entire professional career as a master technician, shop foreman, general manager, and automotive shop owner, Mike has a unique and broad perspective on the shop owner experience. Mike is able to communicate with real-world experience and a “been there and done that” perspective. As an Alumni shop owner with the Automotive Training Institute, he continues to operate his shop with his wife Shelle. Mike is now a nationally certified executive trainer and he has spent the last 11 years as a full-time business coach with ATI as well as leading two of ATI’s premier shop owner 20 groups as well as the first-in-industry CEO/COO development program.

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