ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2000

Issue Highlight - Homeward Bound
--- Peter Block offers some practical reccomendations about how to create balance and harmony in your life.
These recommendations are guaranteed to work or your time back."

In This Issue...
The Economics of Choice
Children: A Blessing or a Lucky Taxbreak
Welcome to the Wild West
The Struggle to Have It All

Peter Block Column
Day In The Life Stories
Views for a Change

Heard on the Street
Letters to the Editor

  One From Column B                                                                         Peter Block

Homeward Bound

  We are in a period of great prosperity, record spendable income, jobs galore, and yet we seem obsessed with how long it takes to get to work, how many hours we spend there, how to make more money and manage it better. Plus we work at home too much and what about the radiation danger of a cell phone permanently affixed to our ear?

  No wonder we are worried about being off balance.

  So, here are practical recommendations about how to create balance and harmony in your life. These recommendations are guaranteed to work or your time back. If you follow this advice your life will be in balance and what I want as payment in return is an agreement that the next time we meet, we will talk about something other than work hours, travel time and the stock market.

Recommendation #1-Stop planning your exit strategy.

  People at the beginning of their careers now talk about getting a job that pays enough money so they can quit in five years; people at the end of their careers now talk about 55 and out, off to the golf course and waterfront living. The focus on exiting is really a way of postponing our life. Believing that we will find love, God, peace of mind, meaningful work later. It means we want to get out of doing what we are now doing, but we haven't been shown the money. Exit strategies rationalize our caution. Accept the fact that the next job is not going to be any better than the one we have now, so this is it. There is no exit, no change in place that will make any real difference, the future will still have you in it, so find a job you want now, or find meaning in the work you are now doing.

Recommendation #2-Stop thinking of yourself as a brand.

  The work-life stranglehold on us is caused by our belief that our personal value is determined by our market value. This is the cultural message, transforming us into a consumer, as a substitute for being a citizen and a human being. After a while, we begin to think of ourselves as a brand, a free agent on the open market, and our life work is to build the brand. Becoming a global "I Inc.". We think our job is to market our self, build our portable skills, mold us into an attractive package and then leverage the product into wealth and happiness. The moment we are branded, we live with a permanent mark burned onto our skin that indicates someone else owns us. There are worse things than going to a high school reunion and appearing somewhat unmarketable.

Recommendation #3-You are never going to be CEO.

  Your boss will never really appreciate all you do, if they do decide to promote you, the business will get sold one day before you are annointed and all promotions will be frozen. Live with this reality. We think in order to be fulfilled we must advance, take on positions of greater responsibility and ultimately be wealthy. Our freedom is something we claim in the face of our circumstances, not because of our circumstances. Until we understand that, we will always give away a part of ourselves for a more successful tomorrow. Fire your mentor, your personal trainer, your financial advisor, your children's SAT coaches, and the next time they schedule your performance review, tell them you are not interested.

Recommendation #4-Be satisfied with average customer service.

  We have become spoiled by the promise of 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week service. We are told that we can get what we want any time, anywhere, any way. What began as a service guarantee to us as a customer has come full circle to become a requirement on us as a supplier. Customer expectations have become narcissistically high and the world is organizing itself to meet them. Whatever service we receive, we ultimately have to supply. Now our customers want to reach us anytime, anywhere, so we are now on call and reachable around the clock.

  As an aside, the net effect of the royal customer promise is to reduce the quality of customer service. A friend of mine, Meg, said she knew a poet who committed to write poems for publication on a regular, short cycle time schedule. When asked how he was able to do that, he said, "Its easy. I just lowered my standards." Companies have done the same, externalizing time onto the customer by substituting Web sites and automated phone trails for human beings.

  Let's just make it all explicit and agree to lower our standards on customer service, fit the service guarantee to the actual urgency of the transaction, and then we can leave the cell phone at the office. For most of us, there is nothing we are doing that is so important that it cannot wait until tomorrow. The instantaneous, just-in-time response is a form of self-importance, falsely generated by the manufactured scarcity of time.

  It needs to start with us. We will control the 24/7 life only when we lower our expectations of those who serve and supply us. This will start a chain reaction that eventually will shrink our work demands back to manageable levels.

Recommendation #5-Reclaim your home as a place to eat, sleep and be part of a family, regardless of its dysfunction.

 Working at home has its advantages, but you can also look at it as a way the workplace has invaded our private living space. Once workplace technology has a foothold in the house, it will expand to fill the vacuum. The technology has a little publicized, but powerful gravitational field. It consumes our time before we know it. It may expand your world to search the web and put you in touch with far flung interest groups, but it eats time. Minutes turn into hours, the day loses the sun as its measure and we live with the anxiety that there is a message waiting for us that we have not read. At a recent conference on the New Economy, Valorie Beer articulated a growing question by asking who is it that we are not really with when, we are locked onto the screen or on our cell phone? The answer is, our family and close friends and, most of all, ourselves.

Recommendation #6-Stop expecting your organization to solve the problem of imbalance in your life.

  Finally, we need to grow up. Stop hoping for management approval or policy to contract the work day to eight hours and empty our plate so we can reclaim our nights and weekends. It may be easier if the boss locks the doors at 5:00pm, or if daycare is onsite, or if we can do all our shopping and exercising where we work, but all those conveniences make the problem of consumptive work even worse. We begin to feel more at home at the workplace than where we reside.

  Even if we follow these recommendations, however, we will still have to face the reality that feeling balance in our lives is more an emotional state than an external reality. The real goal is to be in balance and feel at home where ever we are and what ever we are doing. In the middle of a crisis, on the highway, raising unrelenting kids, or building a business, we have the potential to stay detached and grounded. This is not easy for the western mind that loves the action.

  It is not easy to constantly remember that there is a long run, that anxiety is a constant companion, even on vacation. My concern about balance in my life is really the external expression of my internal addiction to activity. The cell phone, pager, fax and my personal abs trainer yelling in my ear at this moment have become a drug and I am lost in them. Our task is to drain the energy out of these defenses and find our home again.

August 2000 NFC Homepage


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