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What does the term work-life balance really mean? Surely work is part of life, and if so, how do you balance a part with the whole? Certainly, it isn’t good for work to dominate one’s life, but a balance in one’s life can’t only be about work.

So I really perked up when I recently saw an image similar to this one on a slide at a conference. I had just finished facilitating a 2 1/2 day workshop for the Chair of a holding group and the CEOs of his companies. At the end of the workshop, he did a session with his people, and used a slide with an image similar to this one. Although the chair was talking in another language, I was intrigued and, after the session, asked for some interpretation from one of the CEOs.

The point the Chair was making is that there are four aspects to an individual’s life: personal, family, social, and work. His feeling was that the most important of these is personal, for one needs to be grounded in self to be successful in any of the other aspects. If one is grounded in self, then one can make choices to appropriately balance out one’s complete life across personal, family, social and work commitments.

This makes so much sense to me, as life is all about choices. This is illustrated by this quote from Jack Welsh:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences”.

Surely, life is all about choices. We face a myriad of choices every day. The trouble is that we get so caught up in all of the little choices that we lose sight of the major life choices we need to make. The sum of all of the minor choices can preclude us from making the larger choices that are important to us and our lives.

It all comes down to discipline. How do we discipline ourselves to make the right choices for the life that we choose to lead? If we want to lose weight, we need the discipline to forego to-day’s dessert, not tomorrow’s. If we want to be fit, we need the discipline to exercise to-day, not tomorrow. If we want to be effective at work, we need the discipline to make effective choices to-day, not tomorrow. This all starts with self, for if we are in control of our personal lives, if we instill in ourselves that discipline, then we can make the appropriate choices in the other quadrants of our lives.

I do not believe that there is an optimal balance across these four quadrants. Each of us is unique. Each of us must make decisions that are consistent with our vision of self. And as our life situations change over time, the balance across the quadrants will also change.

The key to it all is confidence in self, and being true to one’s self. If we know what we want to accomplish in our lives, and make choices that are consistent with this vision, then the work-life balance debate becomes redundant. It is up to us to be disciplined enough to make the right choices today.