Following is a guest post by Eric C. Sinoway, the co-founder & president of Axcess Worldwide, a partnership development company based in New York, and the he author of Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work.
A friend and business partner of mine, Warren Adams, tells me that he wakes up each morning and asks himself this question: “Who am I going to disappoint today?” The founder of PlanetAll, a social networking site that predates Facebook (sold to Amazon.com) and a serial entrepreneur, Warren expresses a sentiment that is familiar to many of us. In today’s hyper-connected, competitive world, it seems as if it’s a constant struggle to meet the expectations that others have of us. From our spouses to our kids, our employees to our business partners, there are simply more people looking to us for guidance and engagement than we have the time or energy to provide. Warren’s simple question captures a common reality – like it or not, we are frequently going to disappoint someone; the only real issue is who.
In my book, Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom to Inspire Your Life’s Work, iconic Harvard Professor Howard Stevenson and I present an approach to manage the dilemma Warren describes. Our approach is to proactively decide what “grade” we are striving to achieve at a particular moment in time in each of what we call the “Seven Selves.” These “Selves” together comprise the roles that most of us play in our lives:
1. Family Self (as parent, child, sibling, in-law, etc.)
2. Social/Community Self (friendships and communal engagement)
3. Spiritual Self (in terms of religion or philosophy or emotional outlook)
4. Physical Self (your physical health and well-being)
5. Material Self (the immediate environment in which you live and the things you have around you)
6. Avocational Self (hobbies and non-professional activities)
7. Career Self (from both short and long term perspectives)
When we were students in school, it may have been feasible to achieve a high grade in every class. Unfortunately, school was a fake construct where, with a reasonable amount of hard work, it was possible to get “the best” grade in every course. But in the real world, it is simply impossible to get an “A+” on each of those seven selves at the same time. For most of us, there just isn’t enough time or energy to perform at the absolute top of our game – to be, for example, an “A+ parent,” “A+ boss or employee,” “A+ member of our community” – all at the same time. The key, therefore, is to strive for a reasonable average grade in each area over time.
Even decades after their last semester as a student, tunnel-vision high achievers who are accustomed to excelling in every single thing in which they engage have a hard time accepting that it is simply impossible to do so in the real world as careers progress and life complicates. They burn out – emotionally, physically, and intellectually – by trying to achieve an A+ in everything at once. Or, perhaps as bad, they allow others around them to burn out, or allow relationships to fall apart, or ventures to fail.
The reason is that in not facing up to reality, they (or we) choose not to choose: by not choosing which areas in our lives we’re willing to earn lower grades, we risk ending up disappointing – or failing – the wrong people at the wrong time. In short, we’re reactive to the crisis of the moment – to the disappointed spouse, frustrated colleague, or health issue that just can’t wait to be addressed any longer – instead of proactively evaluating our personal and professional responsibilities comprehensively and explicitly deciding where it is that we will push for an “A” vs. accept a lower grade at this particular moment in time.
Take a minute to think and choose how you’re investing your limited time and energy. Doing so will result in a more balanced life and a better average grade over the long term.
What do you think? When you look at the categories what GPA do you give yourself? Are you satisfied with how you are doing?