“I’ve spent my whole life working to provide for my family. When do I get to make it about me again? I’m not a selfish man, but isn’t it ok to rebalance at some point? The challenge is, I’m just not sure how to even start!”
My last column titled “Being the Best Damned Provider You Can Be – Because Failing Your Family Isn’t An Option” sparked a ton of emails and calls from readers.
Some, like Glenn above, are nearing retirement and are disappointed to have lost touch with what they hoped it would be like at this point in life. Others, like Bobby who is in his early 50’s, were really incensed about how unbalanced their lives have become saying “I’ve busted my ass for the past thirty years, when is it my turn?” Another camp, voiced by thirty-something Tom, who told me “I feel like I’m constantly getting pulled between work, the kids, my wife and the few friends I have left – most days it’s a struggle just to get to the gym unless I’m willing to do it at 5:00 in the morning!” They are each trying to figure out how to manage building resentments and get their lives back on track.
I asked each of these men when was the last time they had reviewed their PLAN. “What plan?” was the most common response. I said, “You know, YOUR PLAN. Your 5 year, 10 year, 25 year PLAN.” Each one acknowledged that they didn’t have a clear plan, beyond that of “providing for their family and making sure they had ‘enough’ to retire.”
Most of my readers are intimately familiar with the need to outline an investment strategy and to periodically rebalance their investment portfolio. It involves the action of bringing a portfolio that has deviated away from one’s target asset allocation back into line. It’s accomplished by transferring assets, removing excess from an asset class that is overweight and contributing it to an underweight class.
The same strategy applies in rebalancing the other sectors of our lives.
Clients come to me for lots of different reasons. They want to be better leaders or are considering changing jobs. Or they plan to sell their business and retire. Or they’re just flat out dissatisfied, but can’t quite pin down what it’s about, asking “Is this all there is?”
Before we begin to chart a course, I ask them “What sectors of your life are you over-invested in or under-invested in? By how much?” Just like with any other journey, unless you have an idea of where you’re headed and a way to periodically ascertain where you are, it can be supremely frustrating to realize you’re far off course and have no idea how to get back on track.
I recently suffered a knee injury. Candidly, it’s the result of overuse. I run, I hike, I dance – all weight-bearing exercise heavily involving my knee. I’ve overdone it and my knee is squawking. It has been for a while, but I’ve been ignoring it because I get a lot of satisfaction from the exercises I enjoy. This injury has forced me to revisit my fitness sector and rebalance. So, I’ve recently begun taking swimming lessons with a swim coach. (Yes, I hired a swim coach. I know enough to get help from a professional since I can’t see my own blind spots, especially when I’m under water – a great metaphor for life.)
She asked me “What’s your goal?” I admitted that my initial goal was to get over my fear of the water and learn to breathe properly and get some of the basic mechanics down because I can’t do my preferred forms of exercise right now. We agreed to start there and then to revisit my goals at regular intervals. I jokingly said maybe my dance skills would be a good tool to becoming a world-class synchronized swimmer (remembering this hilarious Martin Short SNL clip). As my lessons have progressed, I’m actually thinking my plan might change to join a local swim team for the social/competitive aspects and perhaps work toward a triathlon. As you can tell, having a plan (one I’m willing to periodically review, including making changes to my priorities, as well as an accountability partner/coach) is what’s helping me advance.
The squawking in your life that says it’s time to rebalance might be your own knee, or it might be your spouse or it might be your desperate need for some “ME time”.
Since most of us (here in the US) are about to embark on a 3 or 4 day holiday weekend (and the rest of us will at least find ourselves having a weekend), I’m offering you this exercise to begin creating (or rebalancing) your own plan. You certainly could do this at the beach, at the pool, or over breakfast wherever you choose to spend this Fourth of July holiday weekend. Just begin.
STEP ONE: WHERE ARE YOU RIGHT NOW?
Let’s use the visual of a pie to find out where you are most and least satisfied. Draw a circle and split it into 8 equal parts. (You can use a bar graph if you prefer. Don’t get hung up on the format, just get started, even if it’s a wonky looking circle you draw on a cocktail napkin on the plane.) Although this seems simple, and you might say “C’mon, Denise, my life’s great except in one small way, I don’t need to look at those other areas” – humor me, and give yourself the opportunity to do this small check-in on each part of your life.
These are the 8 categories I use, feel free to adapt or rename the categories as they are appropriate for your life.
- Intellectual Stimulation
Shade in each slice of the pie to represent the amount of fulfillment you presently feel in each category. A small amount near the center if you’re feeling pretty depleted in this category or nearly all the way shaded in if you’re feeling really satisfied. It doesn’t have to be precise; trust your gut on this. You’ll automatically know where you feel you are. The visual you’ll get of where you’re needing to rebalance will be apparent.
Next, I have a little tool for you to use in moving the needle as you begin the process of rebalancing. Just as with rebalancing your investment portfolio, you won’t likely start with radical adjustments – we’ll begin by taking stock and then looking for different sized opportunities to make change.
Because you’re a good sport (and I want to make sure that one year from now our conversations are on a different dimension) – just pick two categories (or slices of the pie) to begin with. Choose the one where you have the most satisfaction and one where you feel a moderate level of depletion. Don’t choose the most depleted slice to start with, we’ll work toward it, and we’ll come back to the other slices in a while.
STEP TWO: WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
Before we can make a plan about where you’re headed in rebalancing, we’ll want to take stock of where you’ve been. We’ll take a little trip down memory lane and we’ll do a little future-tripping, too.
Try to reconnect to what was happening for you overall when you were each of these ages. Jot a word or five about what that age in your life felt like and a key memory or two from that period of your life that is most descriptive or vivid for you. By the way, these can be positive or not, go with what comes up and know it may change as you work with this tool. If you haven’t yet hit that age, here’s where you get to imagine a bit about what you want your life to feel like when you do turn that age. Try to go at least ten years further than where you are now (though I encourage clients to go 25 or more years out with this exercise – our goal is to create a plan eventually).
- Imagine 65
- Imagine 75
- Imagine 85 (c’mon, I’m taking mine out to 150, but I’ll cut you some slack here)
STEP THREE: WHAT USED TO WORK?
What two or three things did you do that helped elevate this slice of your life at each of these ages? Be specific. For the future ages, jot down any ideas that pop in, don’t worry about HOW you will make them happen yet or if they’re realistic.
An example might look like this:
- Walking to my job after school, eating an apple every day
- Biking with my friend Shelley along the canal, feeling the wind in my hair
- The hoola hoop contest I won
- Became vegetarian & took cooking classes
- Quarterly 10K races & setting regular personal record goals
- Climbed Mt. Rainier
- Cycling trip across Italy
and so on.
STEP FOUR: MAKE ONE SMALL CHANGE
When you have a pretty good framework of what were the key things happening at different stages of your life and the ways you were activating just these two slices of your life differently each decade or so, find one or two of the things that you used to do (and enjoyed) in just the ONE sector that is low for you now and try re-introducing it (or trying a variation on a theme you used to enjoy).
This is a tool to simply start it all moving under the surface for you now. Call me and I’ll help you with this if you need a shot of inspiration.
Here are some examples …
- You might realize that, in your 20’s, you and a friend went to a particular concert and each time you hear that artist, the memory makes you grin from ear to ear. Find a place where that band is playing (yep, a lot of our favorite bands still tour!) and reach out to your pal to reignite your own version of a reunion tour. Or visit one of the vinyl record resale stores and send one of that band’s albums to your pal with a note to rekindle a little conversation/connection.
- You might remember a particularly simple but romantic/tender gesture you made when you were courting your wife, or early in your young marriage when money was tight and spark a little play with an unexpected return of that gesture.
- It might be a memory of a moment of spontaneous service you offered to someone – say, the day your eyes gently met those of a young father struggling with a toddler’s tantrum and you could sense the ease that crossed his face from having your shared humanity acknowledged in that moment. Sometimes, those moments of shared humanity are as meaning-filled as more grand acts of philanthropy and you may begin to find one person a day whose eyes you can meet, signalling some silent form of the message “I know what it is you’re going through & you’re not alone, you’ll ge through this.”
You will find your own ways, these are just some suggestions to get your mind working. I’ll help you find others if you want to have a conversation.
Tune in to the July issue for the next steps in rebalancing and creating your own 5, 10 and 25 year plans.
The benefit of taking these first 4 steps now and letting it percolate before we get to the next part is the amazing way your synapses will bring more and more of those memories forward at unexpected moments when you are engaged in something else and spark ideas of how you can incorporate them into your life now. Don’t worry if you can’t fill in all of the slots when you first begin, the memories and ideas will surface, just add them in as they arise.
You and your family deserve a leader with a plan. This is a way to build your compass to get back on course. The first step is to begin.