Posted by: OurKudos | April 13, 2011

What’s all this about balance?

I’ve been reading the excellent management blog “On leadership and social networking“, by Susan Wright-Boucher. While reading, I came across a post and active discussion on balance which made me reflect on my own balance.

Having done the startup thing before, when my wife suggested that we start a business, I warned her that it would not be easy. Of course she knew this, but I felt an obligation to emphasize that this was not something to go into lightly. To paraphrase, I said “a startup is a voracious beast that threatens to swallow you whole – consuming any bit of your time that you do not defend as your own.”

Now, some six months in, exhausted yet energized, I think she is truly feeling what I said. We talk about business all day. We take it to dinner, and though we try to avoid it, it follows us to bed. But what of balance?

About the time I started my first startup, I started to seriously ride, then race, my bicycle. Now, some thirty years later, I still ride my bicycle whenever possible. People used to question this ‘habit’ wondering how I could afford to spend so much time riding my bike when there was a company to run and work to do. My reply – I couldn’t afford not to! It all comes back to balance.

You see, when I’m sitting at my computer, I’m “zoomed in” to the details. I might be reading a technical article, answering one of the team’s emails, doing accounting – whatever it is, I’m enmeshed in the fine details required to help the company function. It’s virtually impossible to “zoom out” and look at the big picture when you’re fighting battles on the front line. My time on the bike gives me that opportunity. For me, it’s liberating.

Some may argue that this really isn’t balance because I’m still working, thinking about business. Balance, they argue, is spending time with your children (I have none), being in the moment with your family, and forgetting about work for a while. I counter that hard-core biking (or any activity that truly engages the mind and body) is what I need. It’s worked for several decades, keeping me sane through the hardest of times. In fact, I have found that I get far less done when I hunker down and focus on business to the exclusion of my biking. My mind wanders. I get cranky. I feel restless. I become useless both to my family and company.

Why is that?

For me, biking is a Zen experience. It takes me to my physical and emotional limits: climbing a big hill, so steep that I would fall over if I stopped pedaling for a moment, or flying down the other side at 50mph, knowing that there’s just an inch of rubber and a glaze of Lycra between me and the road. It’s not about the destination, it’s all about the journey.

And in between the physical and mental highs, there’s the beauty of the countryside. Especially this time of year, when the trees are starting to bloom and the waterfalls trickle down the carved out hillsides, the natural beauty sucks me and gives me energy. It reminds me that there’s a whole world out there – one of incredible beauty and pure ‘love’ as I see it.

I’ll be honest. In between those peaks and valleys, I’m listening to podcasts or music, and catching up on the week’s news (yes, I realize the danger of earbuds and biking, no lectures please!). When I’m on a 60 mile bike ride, there is a lot of time to think. With this time alone, I have an opportunity to learn and integrate new information. I can clear my head and think about things in a new way. I’m “zoomed out” so that I can look at my life and business with perspective. For me, the time on my bike is every bit as important as the time in the office.

I personally think the term ‘balance’ is a misnomer. Balance implies equality. People try to make triangles or three legged stools and convince you that balance is equalizing work, family and spiritual life. It puts pressure on you to quantify how you spend your time. No, it’s about what’s right for each individual. For me, that comes from physical activities and time alone to think freely. For others, it means socializing with friends and family. And for others, it might mean cooking or gardening or meditating. Forget formulas. Forget patterns. I think it’s about living a life with varied experiences and activities. Each expands the mind and frees one from getting locked in to a monolithic existence.

Call it what you will. All I know is that without these other activities, I would be useless as an entrepreneur.

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