For most leaders who are results-oriented, high powered and fast-paced, life is work. But what happens when life interrupts work?
Several weeks ago, one of my best and oldest friends passed away. I had the privilege of spending the last few days of her life with her, as I canceled my role in leading a meeting and rushed to the airport in tears to catch an earlier flight than originally planned to see her. It was a precious time that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But it impacted me more than I realized. Only several weeks later did I realize some of the work-related things that totally slipped my mind while I was supporting her family and processing my loss.
About eight months ago, I was facilitating a meeting of women business owners and casually stated that I wasn’t at an earlier meeting because…then I suddenly burst into tears….sobbing! The good news is that I was in a “safe space” where they were very supportive, though confused because it came with no warning. I was finally able to communicate that the memory of missing their earlier meeting triggered the recognition that it was because my husband was having a heart transplant at that time. And for some reason, my emotions came pouring out uncontrollably.
Some years ago, the son of a gentleman who used to work for me passed away at age 20 from a tragic cancer diagnosis. Family, friends and co-workers gathered for two and a half hours to celebrate his life, during which time none of us dared to breathe deeply lest we break down crying. Afterward, we were all so emotionally exhausted that one business unit leader canceled his strategy planning meeting, and I was of absolutely no value in the meeting I had to attend later that day.
And these are just the situations that I remember!
What happened? Life interrupted work. Amid deadlines, pressure, politics, production planning and performance, the personal aspect of life became a priority. I could no longer put on my stoic and composed face and focus on the tasks at hand. I was reminded, again, that it’s all about people and relationships. Because without people, the products and services we provide mean nothing. As leaders, we must understand and address our people needs above all else.
Here are my “aha” discoveries through this journey.
- In the never-ending search for work-life balance, there’s a tipping point where you can literally fall over. There’s too much “stuff” on one side of the scale. It’s important to recognize when you’re becoming too off-balance and to find a support system to steady yourself.
- Don’t overestimate your capability to manage in times of intense stress. Just because you can’t see what’s going on doesn’t mean others aren’t seeing it.
- Emotional health, like physical and mental health, should be a priority. Even though you may not have a formal or long-term diagnosis doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue. Find an outlet to release the stress.
- Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of wisdom. Often, people want to help you but don’t know how, so give them a chance to show you that they care.
Finding that right work-life balance is different for everyone. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, says that there’s work, there’s life, but there’s no balance. Others say that it’s not a balance but a blur. I believe that it’s all life, and we simply must prioritize everything based on what’s happening at the moment. We likely have more control over that than we realize, and when we put our relationships first, we can’t go wrong.