How to balance “work” with the rest of “life” is a discussion that comes up in almost every workshop and conversation I have with new entrepreneurs and business owners.
In many instances when you ask someone why they chose to start or own a business, they’ll reply, “To create work/life balance.”
But the challenge is in the phrase itself. Work, especially for those of us that are doing something we love, are passionate about, is our life. Our life is also our family, friends, alone time, music, reading, dancing, running, etc. So what is the balance?
For many years I held the belief that this much-talked-about balance was a myth. That when life included work you loved, it tended to take precedence over almost everything else. I believed this was ingrained in the fabric of being an entrepreneur.
Then in 2017, with my husband’s formal diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, “balance” slowly took on a whole new meaning.
What has Alzheimer’s taught me about work/life balance? And does my experience hold value for you?
My bumpy journey to embracing a deeper understanding of balance began way back in 1987, when I started my first company, Media Link Inc. I became very laser-focused to the detriment of several relationships.
The company grew. We hired staff and eventually moved to what is today a very trendy office space in Toronto’s Darling Building on Spadina at Adelaide. All very exciting … and an incredible amount of work.
At that time, I searched for balance in the form of calm. I wanted workdays that flowed. Days where everyone was happy, revenue steadily increased, the technology worked, my evenings and weekends were free from worry. And I did actually have days exactly like this. Sometimes two in a row. Sometimes a whole week or more.
But it’s not the norm of business ownership – or life for that matter! There are always challenges, always the unexpected. And when I went from those moments of calm to the ones filled with chaos or upheaval, I felt like a failure. I believed it was my fault, my inadequacies, that allowed “balance” to slip away.
When I started The Phone Lady in 2006, I committed to finding balance through time management. I aimed to always finish my workdays by 6 pm and set aside weekends for family and friends. Then … the business grew. It delivered projects and opportunities well beyond my expectations. While 6 pm may have been the end of a workday, the beginning was often 4 am. And travel sometimes meant weekends at an airport. Rather than feel defeated, I decided to accept that the much-discussed balance was a myth.
And now … Alzheimer’s and my slow but steady journey toward becoming a primary caregiver. Being an optimist (and a bit of a goof), I thought I could somehow maintain the same level of dedication to the business. That illusion was shattered one spring day in 2019 when, during a coaching call with a client, David disappeared. (Up until this point, he’d always understood he couldn’t venture out alone, that he needed to wait for me.)
Five hours later, after cancellations and apologies were sent to clients, local police thoroughly searched our home, drove the nearby trails speaking to everyone along the way, and posted bulletins on radio and social media, he walked through the front door. Whew!
And so began my new understanding of work/life balance.
Yes, I do have amazing support from friends and family, from Erin Johnston at Continuing Care, from our family doctor and from our incredible caregiver, Helen, who spends five hours a day with David, five days a week.
And I have the ability to structure my work in a way that fits this life. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to take a hard look at everything and ask the question, “Is this absolutely necessary to the success and health of my work?” If the answer was “no”, even if it was something I truly enjoyed, I had to delegate it, stop it or minimize it.
For example, this blog. For 10 years it was published weekly; now it’s every two weeks. And there’s social media, which I had embraced with enthusiasm and joy. I’m still there but my participation in ongoing conversations is very limited. And the three online business communities I’d like to attend consistently? It simply isn’t happening.
I’ve finally realized this is the entrepreneurial balance. It isn’t about 50/50 or achieving a perfect horizontal line on the teeter-totter of life. The balance is in the freedom to choose and to change. My business delivers the privilege of loving and caring for David … and nurturing and growing my work.
While I do wish I had owned this understanding of work/life balance years ago, I am grateful, every day, that I understand it now.
For insights into what Alzheimer’s has taught me about communication, check out this post. And the final installment in this series will appear on August 1 – What Alzheimer’s Has Taught Me About Branding.