Probably the deepest and most often expressed pain in the area of “time management” comes from the area if imbalance, Stephen Covey observes.
Many people who go through a mission statement experience come to a painful awareness of important areas of their lives they have been neglecting. They realize they have invested tremendous time and energy in one area of their lives – such as business, sports, or community service – at the expense of other vital areas such as friends, health, or family. Others are more aware of their various roles, but they feel torn between them. Their roles seem to be in constant conflict and competition for their limited time and attention.
Obviously, balance is a “true north” principle. As with any principle, one of the most powerful witnesses of its reality is the consequence of living with its opposite – imbalance.
Many in the Western world and those of us with its education are programmed from an early age to see roles as separate “compartment” of life. We go to different classes in school, we have separate subjects, and we have separate textbooks. We get an A in science and C in social studies and it never crosses our mind that there is any relationship between the two. We see our role at work as completely separate from our role at home, and neither as having much to do with other roles such as personal development or community service. As a result we think in terms of “either/or” – we can focus either on one role or another.
Covey believes that this compartmentalization translates into our character. What we are at work is somehow separate from what we are at home. What we do in our private life is detached from what we do in our public life.
In the book “The Unschooled Mind,” Howard Gardner shows the impact of “compartmentalized thinking.” People with advanced degrees perform well as long as they work in the way they are trained. But give them a test where you change the situation or the circumstance and they not only do worse – they flunk. They cannot do it. They cannot think across borders.
“The way we see the problem is the problem.” This compartmentalization is based on illusion, and to try to live this illusion is incredibly strenuous.
In reality, these roles are parts of a highly interrelated whole, a living ecosystem in which each part impacts every other part. As Gandhi observed, “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.”
The more holistic paradigm is foundational to Eastern wisdom, where balance is considered essential to life and health. As a Chinese-trained physician observes: “The patient sitting before me brings with him or her not only chemistry, but also family, relationships, emotions, and character. The distinctions we bring to a hospital in terms of mind and body are abstractions that we make. The patient is still a whole person, and to help him or her get better, ideally we would deal with all these aspects – the balance of a person’s life.”
The essence of this more holistic paradigm of balance is captured in the words of an ancient Muslim teaching: “You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one makes two. But you must also understand AND.”
Covey believes that if we begin to apply this paradigm on a personal basis, we see that balance in our lives is not a running between compartments; it is a dynamic equilibrium. It is all parts working synergistically in a highly interrelated whole. Balance is not “either/or” it is “and.”
The personality ethic would have us believe that “success” in some roles means putting on a different personality. It creates fragmentation and duplicity. Whatever we are we bring to every role in our life. And what is true of character is also true, to a large extent, of competence. Although there are certain specific competencies attached to each role, true north principles empower us with competencies basic to every role, creating a powerful synergy among roles.
The same principles that work in a business setting could be applied in the leadership and management of a home. It is thrilling to discover that the principles of empowerment that develop responsible, competent employees can be translated to empower teenagers to clean their rooms.
Similarly, many of the principles that create strong, positive relationships in the family could be applied with significant results in a business setting. “Trust is the foundation for effective corporate synergy; integrity is essential to lasting corporate influence.”
Once we focus on principles, our different roles are no longer compartments that segment and separate our lives. They become avenues of application for universal principles. It becomes an exciting challenge to see how many ways we could apply the same principles in the different arenas of our lives.
Understanding this synergy helps us to transcend either/or dichotomies. A woman who chooses to have children and to be with them can transcend the painful “chronos mentality dichotomy” of children or career. She becomes energized by the vision of her mothering role as a significant contribution to society. She develops character and competence that empower her to fulfill other roles.
The transcendence of either/or thinking is becoming critical for our contemporary organizations. In a segmented society that is sometimes slow to appreciate and translate the skills of the competent home manager – man or woman – to the job market, it is society itself that suffers. Current research indicates that the so-called feminine attributes (well exercised in parenting) are critical capacities required to effectively manage in the emerging democratic cultures of our organizations.
Where do we get our roles? If we have not paid the price to work them out in our deep inner life, they are probably a combination of feelings we have about ourselves and the social mirror.
But if we have paid the price, our roles are like branches of living tree. They grow naturally out of a common trunk – our mission, the unique fulfillment of our needs and capacities – and common roots – the principles that give sustenance and life. Our roles become the channel through which we live, love, learn, and leave a legacy.
This deep connection with vision gives passion and energy to our roles. For example, when parents begin to detect the powerful uniqueness of their role – their singular opportunity to enhance the growth and development of a new life and the generative force the new life represents in affecting future generations – they become energized and liberated to transcend old scripts, old baggage, and the weaknesses of prior generations. “Instead of passing them on, they change them. They become transition instead of transmission figures. A sense of legacy empowers them to deal with themselves in transformational rather than transactional ways.”
On the other hand, roles that are truncated from needs, principles, and mission – a work role that has no meaning except economic security; a relationship based on illusion instead of principles; or community service based on expectations of others instead of inner conviction – have no sustaining power because they do not tap into that deep burning “yes!”
Understanding “balance” and “roles” in a holistic way empowers us to transcend the conventional constraints imposed by ‘chronos’ time. With ‘chronos’ mentality, we see our roles as segmented compartments of life conflicting and competing for our limited time and energy. This paradigm creates a scarcity mentality. There is only so much time. It is “either/or” We cannot possibly do it all.
But with more holistic paradigms, we look at our roles through the lens of “and.” We see a deep connection between the roles in our lives and incredible opportunity for synergy. It creates an abundance mentality. Time may be a limited resource, but we are not. As we create synergy among the roles of our lives, there is more of us to put into the time we have.