John M. Yeager, Ed.D, MAPP, is Director of the Center for Character Excellence at The Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana. John consults with Dave Shearon, and Sherri Fisher at www.FlourishingSchools.com, an organization that integrates best practices in education with cutting edge Positive Psychology research. He co-authored the recently published book, Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth. Full bio.
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What do you want more of? This is an important question in positive psychology circles. For me, the answer is more and better integration in my life. I find myself trying to balance a continual series of trade-offs between work and home. I want change, but behavior change is a finicky phenomenon.
Sometimes, life presents conditions for a perfect storm of epiphany. The confluence of two recent events nudged me closer to cracking the “code of life integration.”
First, a Book, Total Leadership
In early June, I was browsing at the bookstore and found Total Leadership by Stewart Friedman. The first paragraph asked: What if you could improve your performance in the areas that seem to be most at odds with each other – work and life beyond work – at the same time? Wow, what a novel thought! I snatched up the book and began the read.Friedman cautions that total leadership–a life of authenticity, integrity, and creativity–is not about trade-offs or juggling acts. Total leadership emerges through the integration of four life domains:
- home and family
The key to integration is found in our strengths and the things that matter most to us. Strengths and values form the foundation of the four domains. They are the architecture of our home life, our work, interactions within our communities, and how we take care of ourselves.
Friedman suggests that people compare their ideals and values versus daily reality as a percentage of total time and energy. How important is each domain to you? An example is: 30% home and family, 30% work, 20% community, and 20% self. Now, reflect on what is actually happening and ask, what is the percentage of focus and energy you put into each domain? I was startled by the conflict between my ideal and my reality. How could I get them into better alignment?
As a next step, Friedman recommends drawing a graphic representation of the four domains, similar to a Venn Diagram, that illustrate the relationships between home and family, work, community, and self. He asks readers to
- consider the size of each circle in relation to the percentage
- notice whether the circles overlap or are distinct from one another
Graphically seeing the relationships is very informative. Friedman notes that with this exercise, “it’s not a matter of how much attention you’re devoting to the different parts of your life but, rather, how the interests you are serving in one domain relate to your interests in the other domains. Are you being the person you want to be, no matter where you are in life?”
Second, a Death in the Family
As I worked through the book and considered these questions, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with advanced cancer, which she succumbed to a month later. Her final month of life and her passing shook my wife, daughter, and me to the core. She was such a vibrant woman throughout life, and a courageous one during her illness. We lost someone more precious than words can even describe.
Am I being the person I want to be?
Her diagnosis was the nudge for me. That moment was a consciousness-raising experience, one that clarified my response to Friedman’s question: “Am I being the person I want to be, no matter where I am in life?” Without pause, my top strengths of teamwork, gratitude, kindness and spirituality came alive in the act of care-giving for my wife, daughter, and extended family.
We traveled to my mother-in-law’s funeral in New Hampshire, then returned to Indiana and all the domains of daily life. Faculty meetings were beginning again at my school. Of course, I was tired from intense care-giving, but realized I could shift and continue to build my strengths and care-giving skills to teaching and mentoring in my work domain. This integration has had unanticipated benefits. My fitness workouts have been more frequent, I am eating better, and my time in mindful meditation is more pronounced. My domains are now overlapping, and my cup runneth over!
Freidman, S.D. (2008). Total Leadership: Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life. Boston: Harvard Business Press.
Images: Hollow heart made of jigsaw puzzle pieces courtesy of Horia Vorlan