For most of us, walking upright doesn’t require a lot of thought. We took our first steps when we were young and now we just do it. Throughout our day, walking from the bedroom to the kitchen or from the car to the office door, we don’t think much about staying balanced or avoiding a fall.
But what happens when we’re not just strolling on a wide, level surface? Have you ever tried to walk on a log across a creek? Or the length of a gymnastics balance beam? Suddenly falling becomes a real possibility. When that happens, our minds focus on balance. We think through every step and continuously make minor adjustments to stay upright.
Balancing work and family tends to be more like walking on a log than a sidewalk. It requires intentional focus and concentration. Deep down, we all know that. But it’s easy to forget and approach it casually, which can set us up for a fall and damage what’s most important to us.
So how do you maintain work-life balance? Here are four things you can do right now to focus on keeping your balance and avoiding the pitfalls.
Success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most.
When my career first began, I enjoyed the new challenges. But I also knew I didn’t want to lose what was important to me. That prompted me to make a key life decision: rewriting my definition of success. Instead of acclaim or advancement or achievement, I decided that, for me, success means having those closest to me love and respect me the most.
For me, success was possible only if the people I loved were standing beside me. If you want to truly succeed in life, you must ask yourself a question: By pursuing success, am I drawing closer to—or pushing myself further from—the most important people in my life? When you choose a definition of success that includes your loved ones, you make them a priority. And you take the journey together.
In a university commencement address, Brian Dyson, former CEO of Coca-Cola, gave this advice to the graduating class:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls: family, health, friends and spirit, are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same.
A glass ball is not only more fragile than a rubber ball; it’s also more valuable. When we devote ourselves to keeping the rubber ball in the air, we risk the others crashing to the ground.
After defining success in a way that includes your loved ones, the next step is to adjust your priorities to reflect that. If your family or close friends have been pushed to the side for work, address the problem immediately. Schedule time for them just as you would a meeting or task. Put the people you love on your calendar first and let other priorities follow.
So much of balancing work and life is the practice of making small adjustments. Responsibilities ebb and flow like the tide. There will be times when much of your attention has to be focused on one side of the equation, maybe because of a big project or a looming deadline.
And it’s OK for the balance to swing in one direction for a short time. Those times are necessary, and they’re not a problem unless you remain there for too long. Remember your top priorities and make the necessary adjustments to rebalance.
Knowing what to focus on, and when, establishes the balance you need to be successful and still keep your sanity. Preparing for the tide not only frees you to succeed at work, but also empowers you to build a rich and rewarding life outside of work.
It’s never too early to start thinking about your legacy. In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he writes, “Begin with the end in mind.” Whether you are just starting out or you have more years behind than in front of you, you can still keep the destination in mind.
What do you want to be known for? Who do you want to be with you in the end? What do you want written on your tombstone or in your obituary? These are the questions to ask yourself. Your legacy will be built from your answers, but only if you act on them. It’s crucial that your daily actions match your goals. Small significant daily actions build momentum over time and establish a legacy you can be proud of.
Taking care of your family, your health, your relationships and your spirit is not a selfish act; it’s a sustaining one. By maintaining an intense focus on balancing work and life, especially when you feel like you’re walking a tightrope, you’ll protect what’s most important to you and continue the journey without faltering.
This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.