Years ago on my birthday I received a gyroscope for a gift. Perhaps you’ve
seen one of these fascinating, scientific versions of a top. Still in production
today, they have changed little from the original model produced in 1917. Pull
the string and the finely tuned wheel whirls softly as it creates a near perfect
balance. Place the spinning gyroscope on a taut string or the edge of a drinking
glass, and amazingly it twirls along contentedly. The gyroscope is more than
a toy — gyro-controlled guidance and navigational systems are used on
ships, airplanes and even spacecraft. Have you ever wondered how those two-wheeled
Segway Personal Transporters maintain their balance? Gyroscopic sensors.
As a kid I got hours of entertainment out of my gyroscope until the day it
fell and dented the inner wheel. From that point on, it shuddered when it should
have spun; its balance was forever compromised.
Most people I meet truly want balance in their lives. Unfortunately, it isn’t
as easy as pulling a string and watching life twirl contentedly. Through life’s
ups and downs, we accumulate a few dents; we shudder when we should be spinning.
Balance has been compromised.
Being out of balance is not intentional with most people. Nobody starts out
to sabotage the equilibrium in his or her life. It just happens. Unfortunately,
work is often an accomplice in chipping away at that inner wheel that keeps
us spinning smoothly. I remember when I first started out in my career, the
job was all consuming. I not only worked six days a week, I worked most evenings,
as well. I wasn’t trying to neglect my family or my own health, it’s
simply what I thought was expected of me. As a matter of fact, life actually
felt pretty good. I seemed to be accomplishing a great deal, and people honestly
appeared pleased with my work. I was spinning fast, and no one tried to slow
When a gyroscope loses speed, it begins to wobble before it crashes. If you
catch it in the wobble stage, you can give the string another pull and all is
well. But once it falls from its pedestal, that’s when it can sustain
permanent damage. Most of us wobble before we crash. Hopefully, someone —
a friend, a family member, a spouse — will help us realize what is happening
before we do too much damage. My wife helped me realize that my work/life balance
was actually out of balance with the rest of my life. Together, we worked to
insure that balance returned to our lives.
We talk a lot about our work/life balance, but I suggest the focus should
actually be on balancing our life’s work. The priority must always be
on life and how work can be a supportive element in that process. When work
is the priority and life becomes merely a supporting element, that’s when
everything begins to wobble. So here are three suggestions to help prevent the
wobbles and keep you balanced.
(1) List Your Priorities
Through the years, I have found this little exercise helpful when making crucial
decisions. List, side-by-side, the advantages and disadvantages of each possible
decision. When all the possibilities are spelled out before your eyes, it may
help you make a more informed and wise decision. In a similar manner, list your
major priorities in order of importance to you. Start with what you consider
to be most valuable in life (family, marriage, contentment, spiritual matters,
work, clients, etc.), and work your way down to the lesser priorities (hobbies,
discretionary choices, etc.).
Next to each priority, assign an honest estimate of the time you devote to
that concern. If you notice that your higher priorities are receiving a disproportionate
lack of your time and energy, be assured that you are out of balance. You can
delude yourself into thinking that quality time can compensate for quantity
of time, but it simply isn’t true.
(2) Learn to Say “No”
Our egos are easily manipulated; everyone loves to feel needed! So when someone
of influence appeals to your ego and suggests that your help is vital to a critical
project, or only you are capable of getting the job done, it becomes hard to
say no. I know; I’ve allowed my ego to talk me into accepting unnecessary
added responsibilities way too often. Very few people are indispensable to any
project or program so don’t let guilt squeeze a yes from your lips. Remember,
your time is indispensable to your family and friends; save your best for them.
Learn to say NO.
Your ego will wince, but it will get past the pain. More often than not you’ll
be glad you declined. Save your yes for the challenges and opportunities that
really inspire you. That will help keep you balanced!
(3) Lean on Technology, Don’t Labor Under It
I marvel at the technological advancements of the twenty-first century. In college,
I did all my term papers using a used manual typewriter long before little bottles
of correction fluid were even a wistful dream. My goal at the time was to own
an IBM Selectric typewriter with a built-in correction ribbon. Today, you can’t
even give one away for a boat anchor! I can’t imagine trying to do my
job without the word processing wizardry of a PC.
From cell/data phones (named after various fruits) to instant information via
the Internet, the technology of today is astounding. Software that makes your
job easier and more productive is a must-have for most businesses. Just a word
of caution: Technology was intended to reduce our work week and make life easier.
But in too many cases we’ve allowed it to do just the opposite. The problem
is not technology, it is the user. It is so easy to get caught up with the need
for the latest technology that we suddenly find ourselves being controlled rather
than being in control. You know what I mean — constantly checking email,
never turning off the phone, always being available to everyone. When that happens,
you will find yourself wobbling out of control. Technology is a wonderful partner
but a terrible taskmaster. Lean on it and you will find stability. Labor under
it and you’ll shudder through life unbalanced.
I have a birthday coming up in the near future, and I think I will put a gyroscope
on my list. It would be a vivid reminder as to the importance of balance. This
time I’ll watch more carefully. I’ll guard that inner ring because
life is too precious to let it accidentally fall out of balance.