Stress Will Always Be Present, But How We Manage It Is a Choice
Nonprofit leaders and managers, regardless of organizational size or mission, have stressful jobs, but instead of striving for “work-life balance,” they should seek to harmonize all aspects of their lives, advises The Work-Life Balance Myth.
“Work-life balance may be a myth, but the problem it tries to solve—dealing with persistent stress—is very real,” writes David McNeff, founder of Peak Consulting Group and a CEO coach.
His advice: recognize that all lives contain seven components, what he calls ”slices” – family, professional, personal, physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. All need attention, but in seeking to reduce or relieve stress, most people, and many advisors, emphasize balancing the professional and personal sides of life. This, McNeff says, is unachievable “because we are all actually living seven lives.”
McNeff asserts that the path to managing stress—it will never be eliminated—is not to seek balance, but to seek harmony. And the place to start is to recognize that time, not work, is the enemy. If there never seems to be enough time to get everything done at work and tend to family obligations, McNeff suggests that learning how to spend short periods of time on the other five slices of life will help disperse stress and anxiety.
He writes: “When confronted with a stress-producing crisis, most people take this approach: ‘I have to wait till the crisis ends before I can feel better.’ Sound familiar? That is one way to go, certainly. But the Seven-Slice Method provides an alternative that will enable you to find moments of rest and ease during the challenge and will give you a fuller and better sense of yourself along the way.”
Attending to the seven critical aspects of life means integrating, and not compartmentalizing, those elements. Lack of integration, McNeff argues, “ends up compounding people’s stress levels instead of reducing them.”
McNeff devotes substantial detail on how to assess the status of each slice, e.g., signs your family life is in good shape, indications of healthy or unhealthy work life, identifying what you like to do in your personal life, attending to physical well-being, identifying what kind of thinker you are, understanding emotional intelligence, and recognizing your own spiritual side even if you are not religious.
Case studies enable readers to obtain, as much as possible in a book, a first-hand view of what it takes to get a handle on each slice of life. Most importantly, it’s a process. Self examination, to understand where you stand in each of the seven components and how you might respond, takes time. (For that reason, absorbing the book over time—reading a section, setting the book aside, thinking about it—will likely deliver its fullest value.)
Beyond providing a way to assess the seven slices of your life, McNeff delivers substantial value by recommending to integrate them through assessment, reflection, and action. In fact, thinking and reflection is a large part of his message, as emphasized in the book’s sub-title: “Rethinking your optimal balance for success.”
Ultimately, McNeff writes, people who consciously decide to spend more time in previously empty slices of their lives, and thereby adding to their lives without subtracting from slices already getting attention, end up feeling more that life is like a journey as opposed to something they had to do.
The Work-Life Balance Myth is available from McGraw-Hill.
Reviewed by Peter Lowy