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  • Tom Birchard

In Favor of Balance

On February 11, 2021, Brent Beshore made the following Tweet…

Every once in a while you hear or read something that seems like it’s speaking directly to you, and this was one of those examples for me. I struggle to balance my desire to work hard and accomplish as much as possible with intentionally creating space to do those fewer things that are most important.

This got me thinking what are the other areas of life where I struggle to find the right balance and middle ground? Before we get to those, let’s start with some basics. A dichotomy is defined as being ‘a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different.’ I think there are 3 subtle but really key words in that definition, namely “or are represented.” I read this as meaning there are false dichotomies where it really isn’t an either/or decision, but you can find the right balance between the two. I think these are often represented as right vs. wrong or good vs. bad and in opposition.

That said, in our current environment, the more extreme the view often the better it sells. One thing I’ve noticed with social media is it’s often the most controversial or extreme posts that get the most engagement. For example I could post about eating a balanced diet, reducing refined carbohydrates, limiting calorie intake, but not being so rigid that I can’t enjoy a couple of unhealthy meals during the week, especially in social settings with friends and family. I can guarantee that would drive less engagement than someone taking an extreme stance with a 100 day challenge with super specific limitations on what can or can’t be eaten and promising a defined weight-loss at the end of those 100 days. In other words the system rewards more radical views because whether someone agrees or disagrees, it generates passionate discussion and dialogue.

I think my point with this post is there’s value in thoughtfully considering these dichotomies and where you want to fall on the spectrum given your personal priorities and objectives. I’ve heard this referred to as “leading an examined life”. In addition to what I’ve mentioned already, here are several I’ve been pondering lately…

· Routine vs. Spontaneity – I’m certainly more on the side of routine and I think this has been a key contributor to some of the successes I’ve had up to this point in my life. However I think to live life to the fullest, you have to be willing to break those routines and respond to something unexpected or spontaneous. This could be something as simple as meeting some friends for a meal or something bigger like a new career opportunity you didn’t see coming. I think if done correctly, the routines and habits in the areas that make sense can create the space and mental awareness for the serendipitous

· Standard Work vs. Empowerment/Creativity – This is actually similar to routine vs. spontaneity, but more specific to the work setting. There’s definitely a benefit to having robust processes and standard work as well as ways to measure those. However this can come at the expense of creativity when you focus more on having the right people in the right roles along with empowerment. Again I think you want to strive for both but it’s a constant balancing act

· Fresh Eyes vs. Experience Matters – There’s a school of thought when tackling a complex problem, it’s helpful to have a fresh set of eyes on it and better yet someone from outside the current company or industry. On the flip side, I’ve seen this backfire when that person lacks context and the time to really dig in and understand the business/problem. Unfortunately this can result in bad ideas and wasted time. I think fresh eyes are good but only with the right level of transferable experience and the time to dig in, ask questions, and attempt to truly understand. As the late Stephen Covey said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

· Continuous Learning vs. Enjoying the Present Moment – I’m a naturally curious person and love learning new things. There’s a seemingly endless number of books, articles, and podcasts that look very interesting but nowhere near the time to get through them all. This can create a fear of missing out (FOMO) which gets in the way of enjoying the present moment. Another extreme would be cutting off all or most sources of learning and information. This would certainly limit distractions and provide more opportunity to simply enjoy the moment, but as with all of these I think it’s about finding the space in between that’s right for you

· Helping Others vs. Self-Focus – My personal purpose which I wrote about in a previous blog post centers around serving and lifting up other people through authentic relationships and leadership. In order to do that to my best ability though I need to take care of myself on multiple fronts to have the energy to do this over a long period of time. At times these can feel like competing objectives

· Leadership in General – Jocko Willink and Leif Babin wrote a great book on this called The Dichotomy Of Leadership. If you’re interested in leadership you should read the book but one example they explored was “own it all, but empower others.” An effective leader takes accountability for the results of the team while at the same time empowering others to make decisions and execute

I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on any of these, or dichotomies (or better yet false dichotomies) that you’ve been wrestling with lately. Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a great week as we round the corner on the first half of 2021!

· Article - Why People Feel Like Victims by Mark Macnamara – I’m guessing we all know people who regularly play the victim card. This article does a good job of breaking down why that is and a specific personality trait that can drive this, and briefly touches on some ways to combat it

· Short VideoWhy Your LIfe is Not a Journey by Alan Watts and David Lindberg – I often think of life as a journey and this was a helpful reframe

· Book - Atomic Habits by James Clear – This is hands down the best book I’ve read on the science behind habit creation (and breaking bad habits) and practical advice on how to implement. I consider myself to be pretty good in this area but I still learned a lot from this book

· Article - Blink by MIchael Batnick – This is a short but powerful read. It’s so important to be thankful for what we have and cherish every day, and tragic events like what Michael discusses can make that even more apparent

· QuoteI arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. E.B. White

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