New Balance


A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.

William Shedd

“Balance!”, we used to say to employees. “It’s all about balance.” We believed ourselves to have been enlightened in those days. We were starting up new companies by attracting smart, eager and mission-conscious employees. We thought we represented evolved thinking about work culture. We had been influenced by Tom Peters and others who preached that newly emerging companies were going to succeed largely because of a dramatic shift in thinking about work environment. The old organizational style had to go. The old way’s view of “the employee” as a controllable resource, useful only as a human commodity had to be replaced by the new view that people want and would respond to challenge, learning and critical business information. We had to create “Best Places to Work” if we were to ride the wave of new emerging business success.

Part of the process was a more engaging method of orienting new employees into our growing head count. We paid serious attention to making critical entry moments into memorable experiences. We wanted new joiners to get comfortable with constant change (an oxymoron?) and fast-paced decision making. “You never have to recover from a good start” (thanks to the world-class competitive sailor Buddy Melges) was our message.

Another message was important. It was a challenging one to deliver. We, ourselves, struggled with its meaning. “Keep a healthy balance between your work life and your personal life”, we said. Find a good middle ground so you don’t become a workaholic. But, you’re going to be expected to devote a great deal of yourself – sometimes all of yourself – to the success of the business.

Our mistake was we thought work-personal balance was comprised of two separate entities.

I often listened to employees who sought help for a sometimes overwhelming sense of imbalance between the demands of their jobs and the other parts of their lives. My mental model (for myself, as well) was to aid them in striking a balance between two distinct things.

I now know is there is no difference.

Our Healing Leaders practice was born of a desire to support leaders in critical times. Our mission called us to develop mature, enlightened leaders through self-awareness, resourceful responsiveness and authentic presence. In their work with us, leaders sometimes came to understand that their best insights come while seeking to connect their family of origin stories to their work stories. It’s hard work. I honor their commitment to understanding that where they come from – how roles and behaviors work and worked in their families of origin – is the single greatest influence on how they lead today. The connections are profoundly important and together – and only together – become a single entity.

Any distinction between work and family life “balance” is a distinction without difference.

Stress triggers emotional responses while suppressing the rational processing most needed for navigating through the events which trigger toxic responses. The origins (check the family tree), sources (review the family roles) and triggers (“what just happened?!”) combine to override calm and rational processing with fear, uncertainty and doubt. How we react to stress-trigger events becomes predictable no matter where we are….at work, home or anywhere else. The mental model, which suggests work life is separate from personal life, falls apart.

Achieving rational and calm balance is a process requiring the opposite of compartmentalization. A “whole view” of understanding how all facets of our lives, including our past experiences and family role wiring, produces the self-knowledge necessary to break the stress-response circuit.

Peace and Courage,

Howard Hansen

1 thought on “New Balance”

  1. Amen! Amen! I say!

    As someone who has worked from home for six years, I can attest to the necessity of integration. It is not easy, but required. Two thoughts surrounding this:

    1. In spite of the fact that most social media gurus recommend two identities one for work, one for person, I have found I just cannot do it. In fact, my blog has a tag line attesting to this fact.

    2. There is an unintended consequence/benefit to the integration. Once it has occurred, it is impossible to revert back. I now cannot imagine having to go to an office everyday. I just could not, nay, would not do it.

Leave a Reply