On Achieving Balance in Crisis

Published in Womeninc, April/May 2007

by Diana Gabriel

I am often asked to speak about Work-Life balance. It is one of my favorite topics, because all of us struggle with what it means to have it and how to achieve it. It is also one of the most important aspects to our long term sustainability as leaders. If we are not self-aware and able to address balance in our lives, how can we credibly assist others? Most of us are far better at giving great advice about balance than living it.

This past month has put what I speak about, believe in and try to live to the test. I had just presented to the Leadership Institute of Greater Mankato on Life-Work Balance and was feeling in a good place myself. I thought I had planned well for the holidays and the start of 2007.

My son and his wife, who live in Spain, were going to be in the States for a month. I had taken off as many days as possible to be present and enjoy their visit. My other son and his wife arrived just in time for Christmas and things seemed to be going as (I) planned. I had allowed time to get myself and my personal and work life in order, so there would be an ease to the beginning of the New Year. The universe apparently had other plans for my time and reminded me that our planning and control over schedules and calendars is ever so fragile.

The last weekend in December started a series of events that would stretch me and offer me the opportunity to apply the principles I speak about. Both of my parents experienced medical issues resulting in both of them having major surgery and being hospitalized at the same time. I had committed to facilitating a Leadership Development Retreat in Chicago during this same period of time. What was I going to do?

I am grateful to have had a guide to turn to in order to make this decision. The guide was simply having clarity about my values and knowing my strengths. I knew that my values dictated that it was important to me to make sound decisions that honored the need to be there for my family and also honored my commitments to others. Being aware of my strengths permitted me to experience some ease in my decision-making during a stressful and difficult time.

Knowing that I was going to need to care for my family and keep my work commitment allowed me to simply employ my strengths to make it happen. My Connectedness* strength served me in trusting that there are links between all things and there was something important for me to learn in what could be perceived as an overwhelming situation. My Activator* and Command* strengths allowed me to hunker down and focus intently to be able to put the final touches on my preparation for the retreat, before heading over to Rochester to be with my parents.

While dealing with this type of life situation is never easy for anybody, having this knowledge of my values and strengths took all the guess-work out of how to address it and proceed. This made it far less complicated than it would have been had I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do, where to be, how to do it – and if I even had the ability to make my decisions happen.

This experience has reinforced for me the importance of taking time for self-examination, so that when things do not go as planned or become chaotic, we have a solid foundation to fall back on to assist us in our decision-making. Anyone can do this. You simply need to know two things: what are your core or sacred values, and what are your strengths? Having these pieces in place will help you not only through the everyday achievement of Work-Life balance, but also through the inevitable crises that life throws our way.

* Terms throughout the article are taken from the book Now Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. This is a valuable resource for self-examination and will help you identify your core strengths.

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