Written by: Kevin Sansberry (UMSL DBA, 2020)
Redefining “Balance”: My Journey to Equilibrium
What if I told you that my goal for work-life balance was over? In America, we have a constant tension between balancing all of the demands that are placed on us at work, with family, with our social lives and for some, at school. This notion of balance through a positive sounding goal does not necessarily come to fruition, the OECD Better Life Index ranks the United States 28th in work-life balance.
My realization of how the path to the traditional sense of balance was not going to work for me began four years ago. I was recently promoted to a leadership role and was known for working all hours of the night, rarely took vacation time and gave up on trying to balance work and life because it was not a priority for me. Even though my social life and family life were important to me, my career was my primary focus. My justification was that if I focused on my career and my sense of financial security was positive, everything else would fall into place. I was wrong.
Over the last four years, my life has become increasingly complex (Table 1). The sense of balance that I read about, never worked for me mentally and I hit a wall where my many demands forced me to reevaluate my approach.
As I began the UMSL Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) program, my desire for earning my doctorate was finally coming into fruition after years of debate. As I investigated the program, I was intrigued by how the DBA program was designed in a manner that I could attain an AACSB accredited doctoral degree that would feel more complementary rather than supplementary to my life goals. As I planned to start the UMSL DBA program, I had to do an analysis of how I would be able to manage all of the expectations that existed in my life.
My analysis began with trying to understand why I was unable to find a sense of balance over the years. I realized that seeking balance through all of my many endeavors was nearly impossible. Mentally, holding everything as equal caused this balancing act to feel more like multitasking and I hope we all recognize the costs of multitasking!
I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I was not the type of person who could sit still. While I have the energy, I am determined to take opportunities by the horns. With this in mind, I began doing research on multitasking, time management and started meditating.
My approach began to solidify as I found great success when I focused on one thing or set of complementary things at a time. This allowed me to respect the task or set of tasks fully and not allow other tasks to creep into my mind, impeding my performance.
My Approach to Equilibrium
As you can see above, my approach is not rocket science. This is actually the first time that I put into writing how I am able to achieve a sense of what people assume is “balance”. I now have an answer instead of sitting there dumbfounded trying to codify an approach that seems so second nature for me!
Beginning Your Journey
My recommendation as you begin your DBA journey actually doesn’t start with you, it starts with those around you. As I began to evaluate my current state years ago, I realized that the many demands that I took on as a married father of two children were a little short-sighted. As I justified my lack of balance as a way to continue to provide for my family, I realized that my presence with my wife and children was actually more valuable in the long run than anything tangible or financial that I could provide. For equilibrium to sustain, the support and understanding of those around you is essential as you are engaging in activities such as work or attending school over the weekend!
As indicated above, focusing on all aspects of my health was something else that really helps me on my journey. I weightlift in the gym on average five days a week and realized that while this aspect is a solidified part of my life (10 years and counting), focusing on my mental health is a relatively new but equally-important priority. The classical form of “work-life balance” caused me to ignore my mental health as a way to keep everything going but persisting and enduring was not a sustainable approach.
In finding equilibrium with work, life, while working towards a DBA, recognize that this task requires you to recognize that this feat is arduous and not to be taken lightly. However, with proper preparation and recognition of the fact that you will need to make reasonable sacrifices during this journey, you are setting yourself up for success.
1. Study in different locations
Break up the monotony and routine. This also allows for new ideas to manifest and if you prefer, you can spend some time in nature!
2. Breaks and periods of reflection are necessary
Recognize that if everything is a priority, nothing is. Give yourself permission to take breaks. Approaching any of your tasks with the best version of yourself is the optimal approach rather than tackling everything at 60%
3. Find organizational support from your workplace (financial, time, access to data)
Having support from your workplace makes the journey a little easier. Support may look different than others, depending on your workplace but the support whether financial, time-related or related to you gaining access to data or resources can all help you in different ways.
4. It is helpful if your academic studies/interest are aligned with your work or career
If you are working in the field or area that is closely related to your academic area of interest, you may find this synergy to be extremely beneficial. This is with the caveat that you actually enjoy your field!
5. Recognize that you are not alone in your DBA journey
You are not alone in your DBA journey. There are many sources of support as you continue on your journey, including your familial support system, your DBA peers and of course your DBA faculty, staff and internal support resources. You are not alone and it is important for you to recognize that everyone around you wants to see you succeed.
This journey is not one where I am seeking to find a destination. I recognize that my journey to equilibrium is ongoing and that it requires monitoring, revaluation, and shifts as my life evolves. As you think about beginning your journey or re-evaluating your current situation, keep in mind that no journey worth taking is ever easy.