Many successful leaders who have advanced in their careers eventually arrive at a point of feeling unfulfilled and dissatisfied with life. They discover they have put so many things on hold to achieve in their careers that their lives no longer feel complete. This article explores what it takes to have a great job and a rich, fulfilling life. Regardless of what many may have you believe, I will show you that it is possible to have both.
Have you ever experienced being in that position you’ve always wanted at work but lacking the enthusiasm you think you should be feeling? It might be the promotion you have been working towards, the dream project you’ve been assigned to manage, the team you are now leading or the exposure you desired. You are finally there; you’ve made it! People around you congratulate you on your achievement. Others now look up to you. The extra money coming in will enable you to finally start saving for the holiday you’ve always longed for. But what other people see isn’t how you feel. It feels like the joy and energy are being sucked out of you, and you are constantly anxious and stressed. You’ve stopped doing what you love, and you aren’t spending as much time with your loved ones as you would like. You’re also not keeping up with your exercise, and your healthy food habits have fallen by the wayside. If you keep going like this, the job you so longed for is going to be the end of you.
I’ve experienced this scenario myself and have worked with many high performers in organisations that have too. They desperately want to do more in each 24-hour day, but their energy tank is depleted. No matter how much they put in, they are always left feeling guilty and dissatisfied, knowing they are not bringing their best selves to work. So they push themselves harder by joining the next challenge at the gym to get fit again. They start taking sleeping pills to fall asleep faster after finishing work late, still wired up. They get healthy food delivered at home so they can stay back at the office till late knowing dinner is waiting for them. Why? Because they know they have a lot to offer and others are relying on them. Ironically, they’re so full of drive that they’ve driven themselves to exhaustion!
It’s time to get real about our limitations as human beings. The emphasis needs to change from a focus on doing to being. After all, there’s a reason we are human beings and not human doings. If you can relate to this discussion, I encourage you to ask yourself, ‘Who do I need to be to bring back the joy and make my job part of a full life? How do I provide myself with the fuel to reach peak performance?’
How authentic is your conception of reality?
Competing priorities between family, friends, your deliverables at work, the needs of the people you lead, and your own needs to eat, exercise and sleep must all happen in a day that has 24 hours. The question to ask yourself is, ‘How authentic is my perception of my limitations and the finite limit on time?
As an ontological coach, my work centres around the study of Being and reality. I work with my clients to bring an authentic view to their expectations of themselves using the distinction of authenticity, a Way of Being described in BEING, a body of work written by Engenesis founder and director, Ashkan Tashvir. Here is an excerpt from that distinction:
“When you are being authentic, it is paramount for you to care sufficiently that your conception of reality, which shapes your beliefs and opinions, is accurate and congruent with how things are.”
Admitting to myself that I was not ‘superwoman’ back in 2013 and that I could not just keep adding things I wanted to accomplish to my to-do list came at a high price. Back then, I was part of a successful management consultant firm and studying for my entrance exams to do an MBA. At the same time, I was also pregnant with my first child. My beliefs around what was possible and how much was required to enter an MBA and become a mother were far from reality and not congruent with how things actually were. Unfortunately, I ended up giving birth prematurely at 32 weeks after being in and out of hospital for a month as my body struggled to hold onto my unborn child. I remember the overwhelming feeling of worry and guilt for everything that I had let go of and the consequence of not having done it sooner. I can’t take that time back, but it definitely taught me a lesson to be real about what is possible and to acknowledge when enough is enough.
Factors to consider to maintain a high level of performance AND live a full life
It takes courage to look within and acknowledge what is required to maintain a high level of performance that keeps you going and allows you to live a full life. I have worked with many individuals to support them to arrive at this place. Some of the top things we consider and assess are as follows:
Your limitations. What are the things you need in life that are not negotiable? For example, spending time with your family, exercising, sleeping, etc.
Your priorities. What are the things you value most and want to prioritise no matter the job or project you are working on? These might be relationships, having days off on the weekends, participating in a hobby, having dinner with your elderly parents once a week or getting your kids to bed. Whatever it is, get clear on it.
Challenge boundaries. Where do you need to push back and start challenging some boundaries? Ask yourself, is there someone in my team who could take that task off my hands? Is this where I add the most value? Is that deadline renegotiable? Can I shift my work hours? Can I take turns with a friend for school drop-offs? Can I suggest that the team change the lolly bowl for a fruit bowl at work?
Accountability. Find someone who will keep you accountable for the things you have declared are important to you. It could be a friend, colleague, mentor, or coach. Find a workable structure that ensures you keep bringing awareness and responsibility to your decisions and actions.
Last year I supported a young woman to reinstate the small things that made a big difference in her life. She believed she no longer had time to do these things due to her greater responsibilities at work. With my support, she courageously inquired into the source of her growing dissatisfaction with her professional life. By getting back to the things she loved, like participating in sports and hiking trips on the weekends, and challenging some of the requests she was receiving at work and learning to say no more often, she managed to turn her life around full circle. She is now continuing to grow and is enjoying who she is today and the person she is becoming.
I hope this article has opened your eyes to the possibility of being highly successful AND feeling good about your job and yourself. When you have an authentic conception of reality, you will discover the value of being realistic with the expectations you place on yourself for a life of fulfilment, personally and professionally, without being driven to exhaustion.