Refuting the concept of work/life balance, Leading the Life You Want instead explains that whatever balance we wish to achieve will always ebb and flow.
Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life by Stewart D. Friedman, Harvard Business Review Press, 256 pages, $27.00, Hardcover, October 2014, ISBN 9781422189412
In 2008, I chose Stewart Friedman’s Total Leadership as the top book in the Personal Development category of our annual business book awards, saying, “In Total Leadership, Stewart Friedman, founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program, presents a concrete methodology for building a more integrated life. His program is really a practice, requiring both action and reflection … ”
In many ways, Leading the Life You Want is a sequel to that book, as those same fine qualities—the concrete methodology, the practice, the action and reflection—are all present here. Friedman also calls on the same key principles of an integrated life that he introduced in Total Leadership.
It starts with three principles: be real, be whole, and be innovative. To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. … To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life affect each other. … All this examination allows you to be innovative.
Friedman builds on his previous work by presenting the stories of six well-known personalities who exemplify the well-integrated life: Tom Tierney, Sheryl Sandberg, Eric Greitens, Michelle Obama, Julie Foudy, and Bruce Springsteen. Then, in the second half of the book, which acts as a workbook complete with exercises, uses their successes and struggles as points of reference as he teaches us how to develop the necessary skills.
So why did Friedman revisit this material some six years later? Because it is getting ever more difficult to pay adequate time and attention to every aspect of our lives, and all signs point to us becoming even more distracted and overwhelmed.
These are the chaotic, early days of the “twitch” era, in which we often feel as though we’re drowning in a deluge of data and yet can’t stop picking up our smartphones, checking our social media accounts, flailing in the wash of e-mails. Few of us are skilled enough psychologically to exploit the power of new communication tools, and it’s increasingly difficult to maintain the boundaries that allow us to give our projects the attention they require, and our people the care they deserve.
Refuting the concept of work/life balance because it “ignores the fact that ‘life’ is actually the intersection and interaction of the four domains of life: work or school; home or family; community or society; and the private realm of mind, body, and spirit,” Friedman instead explains that whatever balance we wish to achieve will always ebb and flow. He compares the integrated life to a jazz ensemble: each of the four domains of life plays it’s own notes, but if arranged and practiced, life can become one coherent piece despite the disparate pieces. As he writes about such integration in his chapter on Sheryl Sandberg, “it’s not yielding to either/or; instead, it’s searching for both/and.” But we must adjust our expectations and commit to the practice.
Leading the life you want is a craft. As with music or writing or dance, or any athletic endeavor, you can always get better at it. Some of us start with greater natural assets than others—a strong body, a gift for creative thinking, a conscientious personality, or mathematical ability. … But this capacity can be learned by any individual. In fact, it must be.
And that is what Friedman offers in Leading the Life You Want. His methodology gives us a functional way to make good decisions and take back some control over how we manage all areas of our lives.