THE BLOG
09/16/2013 06:36 pm ET | Updated Nov 16, 2013

Want a Worthwhile Life? Focus on the Big Rocks

Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.

There is no such thing as "work-life balance". There, I said it. In my opinion, the coining of the phrase "work-life balance" created a terrible misperception that work and life were somehow two separate and distinct things. My view is that work is a big part of most of our lives, not separate but a subset.

Imagine your life as a jar that has just enough room to fit a few big rocks and a handful of pebbles. Those big rocks represent the most important things in your life - spiritual growth, health, family and friends and career; you always have to make room for them. The pebbles are all the distractions and diversions you face every day - watching TV, shopping, obsessing over things out of your control and anything else that takes your attention away from the big rocks.

Several years ago, I put my pebbles before a big rock when I decided to miss my good friends' wedding. Unfortunately, I had what seemed like 200 pebbles in my jar and convinced myself that I couldn't add one more thing. With this moment lost, I later realized that while the number of pebbles I'd stuffed into the jar was an issue, the bigger issue was that I failed to assess the importance of the items before me and put them in their rightful place. The big rock should have taken priority.

Balance implies that everything has equal weighting or time allocation. That's also not true. The biggest rocks rarely change, but the amount of time and attention they share with the pebbles varies with your current situation. When you're at work, you have to be all in, fully engaged and focused. When you're with your family or friends, you must be all in, fully engaged and focused. And getting there is sometimes as simple as making a decision to be present. The simple truth is some days, and perhaps some weeks, one priority will get more of your time than another. The goal is to be able to look at your life in totality with no regrets, knowing that you gave your all with each moment.

In addition to achieving my own "life balance," as a leader I am also conscious of the influence I have on others achieving life balance. I've learned that a good leader:
• Can't "make" people go home, but can "give them permission to" if they chose.
• Is mindful of when her schedule and decisions to be made impact when others can get their work done.
• And offers guidance to her employees on managing the big rocks around the pebbles.

In his book It Worked For Me In Life and In Leadership, Colin Powell talks about not being a "busy bastard" (he admits that it's not a great term to use, but it's certainly memorable). He writes, "I worked hard all my life and always expected those who worked for me to do likewise. But I tried not to generate make-work. I learned early that a complete life includes more than work."

Life is a journey, some days it feels like an obstacle course, some days like a cakewalk. But all in all, when done right, it should feel worthwhile, knowing that you were present and gave your all to the things that mattered most - the big rocks.