We started out with a vague sense that something is wrong with our work/life balance. We have now gone through various steps which are designed to get a much better sense of clarity of what the problem really is:
- unpacking the short-hand of the vague words and labels that we tend to use for a problem like this and get a richer understanding of what is really bothering us;
- getting specific about the evidence that we have for knowing that something is wrong (and, indirectly, generating specific information about what characteristics the best solution might have);
- determining our priorities so that we have a context for understanding what a successful solution really means for us;
- acknowledging that our true values, which are often hidden, determine our behaviour and need to be integrated into the choices we make.
We also need to think about the wider systems in which we live and work: ecology, the impact that we have on others. This can sabotage our efforts as much as our own hidden internal drives – if we choose to have a future that involves others, which most of us do. Put another way: we need to decide whether being rich, famous and successful is OK if it comes at the price of ruining relationships with the ones we love. If it isn’t, we must take care to integrate their needs into our future directions.
When we going through these steps, potential solutions will start to jump out. One of the things that distinguish us as human beings is that we are natural problem-solving machines. When we get stuck, it’s often because the problem has been poorly defined or we are focusing on the wrong problem in the first place. By going through these steps, we enable ourselves to focus on the right problem with greater clarity and vastly improve our chances of developing a solution that is exactly right for ourselves. The process will not necessarily be easy or comfortable, but it will always be constructive.
One of the other things that distinguishes humans is that we are self-aware – we can be highly effective because we know a lot about ourselves and what we are thinking. Douglas Hofstadter, the famous author and cognitive scientist, described us as strange loops because of this ability to be aware of, and operate on, ourselves. The downside of being a strange loop is that the bit that is doing the looking and fixing is part of the problem itself: we can become blind and incapable in the face of issues that are obvious to others.
Fortunately we live in a world full of other humans who are also natural problem-solving machines and have sufficient self-awareness to recognise the similarities and differences between themselves and us. Working with another person to go through the steps, especially if they have a good understanding of them, can accelerate progress enormously because of the breakthrough insights and interpretations they can offer.
When we think we have a work/life balance problem, we can avoid it because we think it is created out there. But it’s not: we create it ourselves and because of that the only person who can resolve it is us. By going through the steps outlined in this chapter – ideally supported by a good coach or facilitator – we can take control and generate new, and often pleasantly surprising, solutions to our work/life balance problem.