Work-Life Balance for a New Generation

In the age of “work-life balance,” we’re trained to segment our attention, with the goal of being engaged with our professional and personal lives in equal measure.  Among the many benefits of this approach is that we learn to be fully aware of our surroundings, both at home and at the office.  But there is a danger to compartmentalizing our lives in such a fashion, as I recently discovered during a visit with my 79 year old mother.

Though the visit had been enjoyable, my mother was frustrated with my children. She pointed out that the kids were engaging more with their iPhones than they were with human beings.

She went on to say, “These smart phones will be the ruin of this generation!”

“I am willing to bet that your parents had similar observations,” I speculated.

“Well, I do not know what that could possibly be,” she retorted and left it at that.

Later that same day, we were relaxing in the den when she answered her own question.  The television had been on all day long and did not deviate from her favorite station.  I found it important to point out to her that while I was enjoying our visit, I would have found it much more enjoyable without the TV droning in the background.

Whether or not she would agree with my point or understand it, the television, radio, and even the newspaper are just as engaging and distracting as a smart phone.  They are all means of communication which distract us from our environment and the people in it.  They all steal our attention.  Each generation has its unique share of distractions that another finds annoying, and it’s debatable how detrimental this “new device” will be to the next generation.

My question is, just how useful or damaging is this latest set of distractions to our ongoing quest to find balance in our lives?  Ipads, smart phones, Instagram, Twitter, blogs…the list is endless and each day there is a new “something” I must learn to navigate to stay current with my children and my clients.  Is it really different from my Baby Boomer generation first coming of age with computers and email?

Rather than trying to stick to the rigid dichotomies of the past, let’s acknowledge that our technological tools are teaching us the value of integrating a holistic approach to managing our lives, our work, and our relationships. Instead of forcing ourselves to choose between work (or school) or life; clients (or classmates) or family; technology or face-to-face interactions, it’s time to reprogram our minds to recognize the real issue here - the choice between control or change. We must be cognizant of which approach we’re embracing, and understand how that choice is impacting our effectiveness – both at home and at work.

Learning to embrace change and the doors it can open is the common denominator that helps us link generational arms.  The world is becoming smaller as it is more easily accessible to each coming generation.  My 23 year old daughter has connected with our global cultures in a way that my mother has never seen, and I have barely witnessed.  We have a lot to learn from each other.

Let’s embrace the different ways we engage and experience the world around us.  Let’s exchange ideas and teach each other how “new and improved” can be an opportunity to connect our generations, rather than driving them apart.  Let these distractions be the tools to connect with the world, its information, and its people.  Let it also teach us that connecting with our physical surroundings is essential to cultivating relationships and being mindful of the present.  Staying connected while staying present is a challenge every generation can attest to – millennials and boomers alike.

And finally, let us remember not to turn off our minds when we leave the office. Rigid devotion to achieving so-called “work-life” balance can strip our lives of the very opportunities for deep learning that can move us – and our organizations - forward. It’s important to be present for our loves ones, but it’s also important to realize that sometimes the most potent lessons for leadership development occur right in our own homes.

photo credit "The fascination of the museum" by Tony Hisgett

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