Guest Post by Aimee Teesdale.
Years ago, I was struggling to do what I thought I was supposed to do: study, graduate, find a job, work… I believed that all I needed to do was figure out the right work role and then everything else would fall into place for me.
Like many people, I also assumed I would have my work on one side, and my life on the other side, and I would simply switch between the two every day. A successful person, we are told, carefully manages both of these, i.e. they find that elusive “work life balance”.
In coaching others, I’ve met countless people who struggle with this same “imbalance”. Our jobs feel disconnected from the rest of life. At work we’re supposed to dress differently, speak differently, behave differently. It’s as though we put on a mask when we enter the workplace; the mask of a “teacher” or “manager” or “accountant”. The idea is that true professionals never allow their messy emotions to get in the way of their jobs. We’re not meant to let the “life” part creep into the “work” part. Our hopes and dreams are not relevant. Our disruptive opinions are not workplace appropriate.
And what about our authentic selves? What about our deeper yearning for purpose? About our fears? Well, there’s a place for that, but it’s only later in the day when you get home, and finally get to take off the mask. Only then are you allowed to “be yourself”.
I’m a big fan of the concept of balance in life, but something about this just didn’t sit right with me. The more I worked with people who experienced this, the more I learnt that the problem wasn’t that people failed to find balance between their professional and personal lives, but that they saw them as two separate things to begin with.
Balance vs. Alignment
I originally believed the right role for me was “psychologist” or maybe “HR consultant”. At the time, I had just ended a long-term relationship that left me feeling completely lost; struggling with making friends in a big new city, launching a career, and finding my place in the world.
During those challenging years, I worked hard on my own personal development. I travelled. I pushed out of my comfort zone and found my passions. I worked on my professional development too, by training hard as a personal performance life coach and starting my own business. Which was all great.
But the real magic happened when I realized that my private life and professional life were really two different expressions of the same thing. I had an epiphany: development in one inevitably led to development in the other.
I quickly found out that my career was the most fulfilling when I approached it as a whole, authentic person and not simply as someone who was playing a part, or wearing a mask. I realized that so many of my clients weren’t struggling with work/life balance but rather with a lack of alignment between the two.
Emotional Intelligence is the Key
When I learnt to bring my genuine self to my work, my world changed.
When I learnt to let go of fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of the unknown, my work became something truly exciting.
Your success at your chosen profession is so much more than your achievements and your qualifications. While they’re important, your skills and experience are only a small part of what makes you the complex human being you are. You are also blessed with emotions, thoughts, beliefs and dreams, and by cutting this part of yourself out of the workplace, you limit what you’re capable of, and stunt your development in both areas.
Personal and professional success are not zero-sum; rather, they both stem from the same source: emotional intelligence. Cultivating self awareness, knowing how to take control of thoughts and emotions …these are the skills that transform you from a cog in someone else’s machine to something much more powerful. A thinker. An entrepreneur. A creator or healer.
Today, I would not be able to help my clients in my professional life were it not for the insights I gained in my personal life. And my personal life would not be as rich as it is now without the skills I am learning in my professional life. I was only able to really grasp this when I stopped seeing work and life as two things that ought to be separated.
Your hopes and dreams are not just something to bring out of hiding when your work is done for the day. How can you develop the courage to bring your complete, full, wonderful, flawed self into your work, right now?
- Instead of finding ways to squash yourself into a pre-defined role, ask how you can create a role of your own.
- Remember that you are not solely defined by the work that you do, or the title that goes along with it.
- Instead of finding ways to separate out the personal and professional, deliberately blend them. Become curious about the ways your personal development can fuel your professional development – and vice versa.
This year I am going to Southwest Collective, a week-long co-working experience designed not to let you “retreat” from work, but rather, to move closer to a meaningful, more aligned work life. Here, a conscious community of likeminded individuals can help you catalyze change, nurture your passions and find those creative connections between your personal and professional worlds. Want to join us? Apply for the 2016 cohort here!