Work life imbalance
Why do we think of imbalance as a bad thing?
A basketball player in the moment before their most impressive three-pointer is definitely in a precarious state.
A water-skier emerging from the surf is leaning backwards in a way that seems untenable. Their beautiful slalom fan doesn’t happen unless they lean sideways, almost too far.
The moment before you say “I love you” is free-fall-y as all hell.
Greatness, beauty, daring, chance is predated by a moment of acrobatic, breath-taking imbalance. Always. Some times you fall. Some times you crash. Some times you die. Some times you land on your feet. But some times you soar.
That chance is what it’s all about. We risk because we hope. The imbalance is your moment of fierce grace.
So what do people mean when they talk about balance?
Especially the work-life type?
I am not the right person to ask. I am told I am too intense on a daily basis. And I don’t mean just at work.
We like your outcomes, but you are full-on, man… can you tone it down a bit? We like how far you go, but the speed and focus… can we like… chill out a bit?
Be it how I deliver at work, how I read, how I live, how I love. Always the same. Can we have the happy ending without the Messy Middle?
No. No you can’t.
I can’t even.
I am really not the right person to advocate for balance. I am a big believer in the dialectic of the enlightenment (don’t sweat it, think “healthy tension”) and if you ask me what I’d go for if I had the choice, it would be a moment shining bright rather than a lifetime of shuffling undisturbed. But I am not for everyone.
So when Louise said that, after writing about the false dichotomy of doing things for love or money, I should take on “work-life balance”, I thought: I am the worst person to speak to that. But that was her point, I guess. Don’t speak to it. Do the exact opposite. Blow it out of the water. Turn it on its head. Do it for the intense misfits. Louise (Dr Maynard-Atem @LMAtem to you) is of #mytribe, she gets it.
Being on the back foot ain’t all that bad
Have you had to go into the office after a break-up? The day after a funeral? The day your younger sister was getting tested because they found a lump in her breast? (She is fine and I cried in the office when I got the all-clear call and I have no shame about it).
If you have, then you know that there is no such thing as draping your personal life over your coat like a scarf in the tastefully concealed cupboards behind reception, as you walk into the office before you grab a coffee and sit at your desk.
Have you ever left the office so hurt by how little your boss sees you, by how cavalier he is about your successes and how critical of your shortcomings that going back to an empty flat was not an option and you sought a friend or a mentor for a session of unadulterated venting that descended into incoherence before it landed on a solution?
Have you gone home to a loved one and taken over a dinner with a repeated loop of doom about a process you can’t change but neither can you understand or respect it? And on you go chasing your tail till they opt to do the dishes for a moment of relief?
So don’t you talk to me about work/life like they are things that can be held apart and weighed against each other to be balanced in measured conformity.
Work/life is a continuum. It is you.
The balance part is not about the relationship between them. It is about you in the moment.
And I say let’s hear it for imbalance.
Because being on the back foot is when you can kick the hardest, spin into the most wonderful dance manoeuvre and pivot with élan.
Being with your back against the wall is when you make your bravest calls because, hey, what’s the worst that can happen?
Being emotional and angry and not trying to contain it is how you work through it.
Being a human at work and a business person at home is not weakness or workaholism. It is activating the “bring your whole self to everything you do”, it is appealing to your tribe to do their thing and look after your self and your life. To contribute. To help you think.
I once left my desk at insert-big-bank-here in floods of tears. I was holding it together mostly but something pushed me over the edge. I was dealing with loss and not dealing well.
When I came out of the ladies room, red-eyed and ashamed, the EMEA chairman stopped me and asked: “Can I give you a hug?”. I was mortified. But then he said: “Thank you for trusting us enough to bring your whole self to work.”
You know what I did for that team and that man from that afternoon onwards? And for the years to come?
Not because I wasn’t trying enough before.
But because I felt I owed him.
He caught me off balance and didn’t push me over, he helped me pirouette.
And I learned two things that day: that I can be off balance and not fall. And that I will forever seek out the people who see you on the back foot and neither ignore nor berate you.
Because the back foot is where the push comes from. It’s where your greatest leap comes from.
I don’t know how to put this other than bluntly.
I always know exactly what I am doing in a job. I have a work ethic worthy of years in therapy (seriously, why do I do this). I am not afraid of asking for help. I love working with hugely smart people. I learn fast. But the main reason I do well is because I care. In a way that is all-consuming, fire-in-the-belly, do-or-die imbalanced. I care. About the people. The team. The work. The organisation. In a way that is neither contained nor measured. And it is definitely not balanced. Which is why it works.
Between jobs though? When I don’t yet care, because I don’t know you yet, do I? Between jobs? I don’t have a superpower.
I have felt stuck at times. And helpless. And lost. And confused. And insanely imbalanced when my life was at its most balanced by conventional measures. Because there is nothing quite like a job that makes you feel stuck for you to start going home on time and not working weekends. And hurrah for your work-life balance…? Not quite. Because you take your helpless nihilism home. The sense of wasted days. Of frustration. Of hunger for more. Of life passing you by. You are there. But you are not who you want to be so what good is it?
And how do you solve that?
Luck. Daring. Friends. Gambles.
Moments of immense imbalance when you lean in, leap ahead, jump blindly or reach out and go “hey guys, I need help”.
You solve it by choosing imbalance, by putting yourself in a precarious place that shouts to the universe: I WANT CHANGE.
And I will put myself in a place where change is most likely to find me, because I will fall forward one way or another and hope will break the fall but fear won’t stop it.
The back foot is a place of worry. It is a place of vulnerability. It is a place of strength.
Aren’t you lucky
If I had a penny for every time someone said that to me.
Aren’t you lucky.
Like I was born with the proverbial silver spoon in my mouth. Like my life was a fairy tale. Like my career was a song.
Aren’t you lucky.
Actually. I am.
But not the way you think.
I chose the back foot. I took the pivot. Again and again. I choose imbalance and impetus every day of my life.
I live life like the building is on fire and the restaurant at the end of the universe is calling last orders.
I live a life of chosen, profound and cherished imbalance.
I don’t separate work and life.
I had a business dinner not so long ago where the client called me a sexual object and was offended I was not flattered. I told my team the next day. My emotions, the realities of the industry and my to-do list need to co-exist in my head, so they get to co-exist in my day. And I share because… why would anyone be richer if I prevaricated?
I come to work and say I am sad. I am worried. I am stressed.
My dad is sick. I am getting divorced. My bloody boiler is not working.
I go home and I say I had an incredible day. I had a terrible day. I have a big meeting tomorrow. I am a little worried these papers are not signed off yet.
And I have had the opposite: the amazing call from work that says the thing is a go and nobody to share it with and let me tell you I would have loved the imbalance of bringing work home and saying can you believe it? WE DID IT. And yes it was my team at work but hey it was you too because life is all the time and we are the same person carrying the same loads in and out of different buildings. We are us. All the time. Anything else is a pretence or a reduction.
I will love you all the time, or I won’t love you at all
I will love you like bird loves flight, like water finds its own level. Or I would not love you at all.
Jeanette Winterson again. In her second and best book. Not out of balance in terms of the rest of her output, you understand. But in terms of the English language. It’s a masterpiece. Or it just captured my heart and never let go of it.
The point is, I love that book. And there is no balance in that love vs every other book I like or love and isn’t that wonderful No, seriously. Isn’t it?
I love you. And if I do, I love you all the time.
I love my family and my friends and my books and my job and my team and the work we do and our clients and humanity.
I can be kind to the homeless and fiercely committed to mental health causes and be a good boss and a good cousin and worried about my sister and fighting a contract clause with an otherwise beloved client all on the same day. Because that is life.
And I can tell the client mid-negotiation that my cousin is getting his exam results today so I am keeping my phone on the table.
And I can hold my tiny godson in my arms while I take a call from a client because it’s urgent and the client gets to see a picture of Gideon and Gideon smiles because he’s that kind of child.
I get to be me and care fiercely about everything I care about at the same time. In profound glorious imbalance.
My work is my life. Not all my life. But my life nonetheless. Not a discernible part. But a molecular fusion.
And my life keeps happening while I am at work.
I am me. At all times.
All of me. At all times.
No balance. No constraint. No filter.
I work and I live in fierce grace. Always at the point of falling, always ready to kick, leap or dance.
You get all of me, all the time. Out of balance but never out of synch.
Intense, that much is for sure, but present. Always. Wholly.
Because I love you. All the time. My friends and my family, my work and my team. My job and my life.
I love you like bird loves flight and like water finds its own level.
Always. All the time. As one. As if there was never another way of being. Until we fall forward and discover. Until “worklife” is one word and imbalance the start of the perfect story.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!