THE BLOG

The Massive Barrier to Work-Life Balance That Nobody Talks About

02/12/2015 03:09 pm ET | Updated Apr 14, 2015

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Feel consumed trying to fit the rest of your life around work rather than fitting in work around your life? Tired of your career getting the best of your time, attention and energy?

The biggest, least talked about reason we fall into this trap is because of our addiction to our careers, "success" and all of the material goods they both pay for.

We must be addicted. Or obsessed at the very least. How else can we explain getting it so backwards, waiting until our deathbed or a catastrophe to learn the sobering truth -- that pouring the best of ourselves into our careers and being "successful," reserving only scraps of energy for our children, family and our health, is not the point of life.

Big Rocks + Small Rocks

Stephen Covey's metaphor of filling a container to the brim with small and big rocks is a great analogy applied to how we fill our life. The big rocks and small rocks represent what's most and least important, respectively, and the idea is to be discriminate about which rocks go in at what time.

If we starting filling the container -- our lives -- with the small rocks that represent the stuff that doesn't really matter, we run the risk of not having room for what's most important, the big rocks.

Common sense dictates that we must start with the big rocks and then move onto the small rocks to ensure we don't miss out on what's most important.

But common sense isn't so common.

We've become a society who, by in large, fills up our proverbial container of life beginning with the small rocks -- 5-star career, owning big homes and being surrounded by lots of stuff -- barely leaving room for our big rocks, what matters most.

I'm not bagging on careers. They are an important outlet to express our passions, talents and making a difference in the world. I know I am a better person for having a career.

I also know that I am a better, happier human for staying awake at the wheel of life to ensure I don't get caught up chasing what doesn't really matter and filling my container with small rocks.

Two Caveats

For countless, work is a necessity, not an addiction, putting shelter over heads and food in bellies. It's an addiction when we have the luxury of making different choices about how we devote our time and energy yet do not (we know who we are).

There's also timing for everything -- working hard early in our careers is an important step to be able to enjoy the freedoms later once we start having families to adjust how we fill the container. Not knowing when to stop or switch how we define our big rocks is where we go astray.

My Career Addiction

Stepping down from a thriving career to be at home part time to raise my kids were some pretty tough years. I felt like a fish out of water. I went on withdrawl from the "high" I got from work.

Suddenly, I felt all kinds of discomfort: vulnerable, lost, scared and worthless without my full time career to stand behind. I wanted out, back to work full time to avoid it.

While all of that crazy-making was going on, deep down I somehow knew that the weight of my regret later in life for not standing two feet in this mess would be greater than the discomfort of the feelings themselves. So I went with it.

And it was all worth it. It is so liberating not to have my universe consumed by small rocks. A natural balance and contentment seeped into my life as a result.

Strategies to Stop our Addiction

The good news is that we have the power to transform our relationship with career and success and start filling our container with more big rocks. We first need these two things:

1. Realize That We Are Enough

The single most important thing we can do to strike a more sustainable balance is to realize that we are enough as we are. When we realize this, a natural order and ease begins to permeate our lives.

Yes, life still gets busy and yes, we can still lose balance, but it occurs much less often and with much less severity.

2. Get Aligned: Walk Our Talk

The second thing we can do is live with greater alignment between what we say is most important and how we spend our time. We might say that our children, families and health are what's most important, yet we can barely fit them into our busy lives.

It's Never Too Late

Ready to create more space in your life for the big rocks?

1. List your big rocks -- the most important aspects of your life (family, health and wellness, travel, creative or spiritual pursuits, etc.)
2. If a complete stranger watched how you spent your time for 24 hours, would they get an accurate picture of who you really are and what is most important to you?

I've outlined 7 game-changing habits that changed my life drastically, keeping me focused on what's most important. Learn more in my free 21-page Pocket Coach Workbook here.