Work-life balance 3.0

Apr 03, 2022

Mr. Miyagi was right: Balance is key. So, make sure both sides of your work-life scale are balanced.

I recently began watching a Netflix show called Cobra Kai, which is a sequel to The Karate Kid series from the 1980s. For those Karate Kid fans out there, you’ll definitely get a “kick” out of Cobra Kai. In case you don’t remember the original movie, Daniel LaRusso was a huge underdog but defeated Johnny Lawrence in a modern-day David versus Goliath battle at a karate tournament. Cobra Kai picks up the storyline 30 years later and portrays the lives of Daniel LaRusso and his arch nemesis Johnny Lawrence.

Daniel is now a successful businessman, is married to a beautiful wife, has two kids, and is loving life. Johnny can’t keep a steady job, is divorced, abandoned his son, and is struggling to make a living. In one of the Cobra Kai episodes, Daniel LaRusso is teaching his daughter a life-lesson and he quotes one of Mr. Miyagi’s sayings from the original movie. Mr. Miyagi said, “Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?” Mr. Miyagi’s quote about balance has resonated with me beyond just a funny flashback down memory lane.

When I started my career in consulting engineering in the early 2000s, one of my mentors taught me that to succeed in our profession we need to work hard, win work, and then work hard. As a highly motivated assistant engineer right out of college with a ton of energy, I took his advice literally by working tirelessly. My brain translated this advice to mean I should be the first one in the office, work through lunch, stay the latest, and work weekends so I could get as many tasks done as possible for as many people as possible. Did I worry about burning out? Not at all! I thought working hard was the only way to succeed in my career. Some of you may be thinking, what’s wrong with good, honest, hard work? The truth is … nothing at all. In fact, this attitude of succeeding by outworking everyone else is a mindset more people should be adopting.

However, as my career progressed, I soon realized that what I defined as success as a consulting engineer did not fulfill my life at all. I found myself reflecting and asking myself questions like: “Why did I miss the Sunday afternoon barbecue with my family so I could finish a report?” “Why did I work through lunch and miss that professional luncheon?” “Why am I eating at my desk reviewing company financial reports while my colleagues went to grab a pizza together?” I realized I was only working hard on one side of the scale, completely out of balance.

We’ve all heard about work-life balance, and how it’s a big deal for employee satisfaction. Although I agree that work-life balance is important, I’ve learned that it’s much more than a balancing act between work and life. Work-life balance 3.0 means that balance must also be achieved between work-work and life-life.

Work-work balance means that your direct work is balanced with your indirect work. Your direct work includes your day-to-day job functions. This is the type of work that would fall under your official job description and likely be completed during your normal work hours. Your indirect work includes the extra-curricular activities that support your professional success but are not requirements specified in your job description. You would likely complete indirect work outside of your normal work hours. Here are a few specific examples of how you can achieve work-work balance:

  • Invest in your people. You likely work in a team environment, and you typically see your work associates even more than your own family. Develop a personal relationship with your colleagues. Get to know them and their families. One of the best business tips I ever learned is from Dave Ramsey’s book EntreLeadership. He has an entire chapter titled “People Matter Most” where he discusses that the people are the most valuable resource within a company and the best way to build unity and loyalty is to invest in them. Investing in people doesn’t mean paying them more money. It’s about taking time out of your busy day, getting to know them, and developing an authentic relationship with them.
  • Never stop learning. Continuous education – like getting your MBA, obtaining a new certification, or completing continuous education courses – will grow your knowledge base and keep it current. Especially with the ability to access unlimited resources at our fingertips, there is really no excuse. Companies like RedVector provide very specific online trainings on just about any technical topic, and every industry has its version of online trainings.
  • Support your local students. Supporting your local schools and universities is an extremely rewarding way to represent your profession. Reach out to professors and teachers and ask if you can guest speak in their classes. Participate in career fairs. Visit a student club meeting, bring some pizzas, and talk about your profession with them. They are always looking for real working professionals willing to spend some time with them. You can make a long-lasting impact on the students at an early phase of their academics, and maybe they’ll even remember you when you try to recruit them after they graduate.
  • Join and actively participate in professional societies, alumni associations, and industry organizations. Not only will you be giving back to your profession, you will also be expanding your professional network and likely improve your business development opportunities. Having an established, wide-spread professional network is important in any industry. Active, consistent, and long-term participation is critical for this indirect activity to be meaningful in your life. Professional networking is much more than just attending a meeting and getting a free lunch or liking and sharing a few posts on LinkedIn. You have to invest significant time and effort to make a lasting impact, usually over the course of several years.

Life-life balance means that all areas of your personal life (family, spiritual, relationships, etc.) also need to be balanced. Your life-life balance is something I am not even going to attempt to pretend I can understand. Everyone’s life-life balance is going to look different and only you can decide what needs to go on each side of your life-life scale. They key is to remember that it’s much more than balancing work and your personal life. Each side of the scale also needs to be balanced. Balance good, everything good. 

Henry Liang, P.E., is a principal at MKN. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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