In graduate school I chose to pursue three concurrent degrees: a doctorate in clinical psychology, an MBA, and a master in criminal justice.
I wanted to do forensic work (I fantasized about working with Agent Mulder from the X files) and organizational psychology.
Those of my fellow psychology grad students who knew about my family history loved to psychoanalyze me – it’s what psych grad students do.
Everyone insisted I was pursuing three concurrent degrees – not because I was driven – because I was running away from my problems, keeping my emotions at bay. They were sure my ambition was largely due to the fact that I didn’t want to deal with the emotional trauma of my past…
…When I was nineteen, my mother died. I was a sophomore in college and it was devastating. My brother and I – now orphans – had to sell the house I grew up in, settle my parents’ estate, deal with meddling relatives, and learn how to navigate life without parents.
Though my parents were teachers in the South Bronx they managed to raise us in an affluent community outside of New York City. After my mother’s death I experienced a lifestyle 180, having to adjust from my prior privileged lifestyle to working three jobs. As a 19-year old I felt lost and unsure of where my next meal would come.
This life experience spawned the following two pieces of unsolicited advice when I was in graduate school:
You need to balance your life
You shouldn’t work so hard
I didn’t heed either piece of advice. It simply didn’t resonate with me.
Shouldn’t work so hard? If I wasn’t going to work hard now, when would I?
I was twenty-five, eager to start my professional life, learning tons of interesting stuff, and getting two degrees at half price.
I like to work. I am extremely driven. I also like to play. In fact, work and play were comingled for me at an early age.
When I was five years old my parents informed my older brother and I that we were going to start our own business, so what did we want that business to be?
“Toys” we said unanimously.
So they took us to the wholesale district in Manhattan to purchase our inventory. My dad, a math teacher, taught my brother and I how to keep records of our inventory and finances; my mother, an English teacher, taught us how to market ourselves.
My grandfather, the consummate salesman, taught us how to sell. Our mini board of directors taught us how to maintain our business. This early business tutorial was the impetus I needed to reveal my inner entrepreneur.
Cut to the beginning of my career:
I started out doing forensic work, which I found extremely interesting. Unfortunately the company I worked for was less than desirable.
So I left.
And soon after I opened up a group therapy practice. Soon after that I opened up Equilibria Leadership Consulting, a leadership development and consulting firm.
If I were someone who took the advice of not working too hard I would never have had the courage to embark on my own and start my own business.
Looking back I realize “You shouldn’t work so hard” and “You need to balance your life” were probably projections my fellow grad students (and people throughout my life) had cast on me. They didn’t have to do with me, they had to do with them.
I can’t imagine in my leadership consulting and coaching work telling executives and managers, “You shouldn’t work so hard.” That would never fly.
On the contrary, I urge them all to work harder at being better, more self-aware leaders. How is an OK leader ever to evolve into a great one if they don’t work hard?
I do believe in R&R when my brain and body need it, but if you are an otherwise healthy person and are simply growing a business or a career you are going to need to work hard. Hard work is good.
In Gary Keller’s book “The One Thing,” he talks about how some aspects of your life are going to fall by the wayside as you focus on the one thing that is most important to you.
In some cases this could mean your social life, this could mean TV shows, this could mean anything you once enjoyed immensely but is not imperative to your one thing, which in this article is one’s career.
My romantic relationships were often second to my career aspirations. Mark Cuban has said many times on Shark Tank that if the girlfriend he had while he was growing his first business got needy he would respond with, “And your name is…?”
I wonder if Mark Cuban also heard, “You need a more balanced life” while he grew his business, or is that a comment reserved for female entrepreneurs?
The structure of my current life looks a bit different than it did in my twenties. I work just as hard, if not harder, but I do it within the time I allot for work because I have One Things in other areas of my life that I dedicate time to, by choice.
Coincidentally, the name of both my companies start with Equilibria. This means multiple equilibriums or if I have to use the word “balance” I would coin it “integrated balance.”
The concept of balancing work and life means they fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. For me, work/life are one in the same and part of my identity.
I am a woman. I am a friend. I am a wife. I am a sister. I am an athlete. I am an entrepreneur. I am a business owner. I am an author. I am a yogi. I am a hard worker. These are the things that make me and no one thing defines me more or less. As long as I commit to honoring all aspects of my identity, balance will fall into place.