A friend of mine and fantastic leadership coach D.J. Allen has a great view on work life balance. He says that our loved ones deserve our best, not what is left of us after giving our all to work.
But like many “easy” statements this one comes with some unfortunate realities. We often do the exact opposite of giving them our best. We often leave our best on the battlefield of work, or in the quagmire of a “friendship” we can’t seem to figure out, or in the throes of an addiction. We assume that our loved ones will understand, that they will be happy to “take it” and then do their best to build us back up to full strength. That may be true in the short run, but in the long run that emotional bank account will get overdrawn.
I have certainly been guilty of this pattern, probably in some form almost every day of my life. I believe this is one of those areas of life where perfection cannot be attained, where we are simply always trying to do our best. But to do that, we must ensure regular focus and dedication, it won’t just happen without being intentional. Our wives, husbands, kids, brothers, sisters, moms and dads, best friends – they deserve your effort and energy on this area of your life. If we are to improve, here are a few things I can think of that may help us all, me included – there is no doubt that my loved ones will recognize my own “bad behavior” in every one of these.
Listen with purpose. Listen like the loved one is your boss giving you an assignment. Focus on your loved one. NO PHONES OR TABLETS! The emails will still be there in 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, or an hour. Sacrifice another piece of your existence for them even if you can’t (or don’t think you can) sacrifice at work. You don’t actually need to watch all the DVR’d episodes of “The Bachelor” do you?
Look your loved ones in the eye. Face to face, not side by side. Eat dinner at the table, not in front of the TV. Ask them questions, even if you already know the answer, or even if you don’t want to know the answer. Have your best “high energy” voice ready to go when you call your parents. When you go out with great friends or distant family you haven’t seen for a while, be present the entire time; allow yourself to remember all the special times you’ve shared.
Even if you are not being active, if you are lucky enough to be in the same room as a loved one, be close to them. Touch your brother or sister on the shoulder to acknowledge how much they mean to you; hold your wife’s or husband’s hand when you are walking through the store; high-five your friends when they get that promotion. Humans need touch, and sometimes we are so worried about appearances or protocols we don’t do the simple things. Guys – next time you see your dad, give him the biggest hug you’ve ever given anyone. He needs it, and wants it. And so do you.
I am sure there are other great ideas out there to better give our best to our loved ones. Keep the conversation going, and include your loved ones in it!