Why I’m glad I got sick

Admittedly, this year has ended with a sputter rather than a bang. My tale of woe all began a few days before Halloween. I had tweaked my back and for three days I could barely move, hobbling around like I was a 95 year old man – the kind of old man that has a cane and waves it angrily at cars that drive too fast. As a result, I had to cancel and reschedule a bunch of work at the end of October, shifting it into the only three good weeks in November. Unbeknownst to me, that was the beginning of a chain reaction that sets up the purpose of this post. After three marathon weeks in November, I got sick. But not just any sick. No. I don’t do things half-way, folks. No, not me. I started off the week of Thanksgiving by getting the flu. After beginning to recover by mid-week, I started to feel my throat barking by Friday night. I figured, “here we go again. That damn flu still hasn’t fully left.” I was wrong. By Saturday morning I was so congested and my throat was so swollen, I had to sit upright to breathe. On Sunday, my seven year old was diagnosed with strep throat. Sure enough, that’s what dear old dad had contracted – a raging angry case of strep throat. So bad was my particular case that my ear drum had ruptured in that 48 hour period from all of the pressure. Today, nearly two and half weeks later, I’m still on the mend (with the help of some extra strong antibiotics).

And, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Lying in bed for countless days straight forced me to rethink some things. I came to the realization that over this entire year I had been pushing very hard to create the next big thing. Even though I didn’t realize it (or want to admit it), I was putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself. All the signs were there. Blood pressure, back issues, etc… But did I listen? Of course not.

Do any of us listen when we are driving towards something and we believe the only way is forward?

Being forced off the treadmill made me listen. Today, I’m in a different and better place than I was a month ago. Here’s what I came to realize:

  1. I need to take care of myself – this starts with prioritizing my health and healthy routines above everything else. If Hall of Famer’s do it, shouldn’t I. But it also means not overworking myself by filling my schedule completely full day after day. Just because I have capacity does not mean that I have to use it.
  2. I need to take the long view – I’m the king of trying to work magic in one calendar year (perhaps my greatest strength and weakness). For example, this past year I was going to grow my coaching practice, write a book, pilot a TV show and still keep all the rest of the balls in the air (existing coaching clients, consulting work, speaking engagements, teaching 500+ MBA’s, radio stuff, blogging, etc…). Umm, no. Patience, grasshopper. I need to focus on less and do it better. Incremental movements are key.
  3. I need to savor the moment – Over the past 6 months, My wife and I had been talking about moving from our current house to something a bit bigger. Our house is great, but after 14 years, we are getting close to outgrowing it. I would be kidding myself if this hasn’t been one more stressor in the back of my mind (racing to build up cash in order to make a move). Looking around at my home the last few weeks has me thinking to myself, “yeah, we probably will outgrow this soon. And, at that point, we’ll move. But today is not that day.” And that philosophy doesn’t apply just to my house. I’m going to sit back and savor where I’m at today in all aspects of my life. The day will come when I’ll be moving on to something else soon enough (home, family, opportunities, etc…). Doors will open. Doors will close. I don’t need to bang on the doors impatiently in the meantime.
  4. I need to set the right habits – Getting sick for that many days in a row had an unexpected outcome. It knocked me off of all of my routines. Of course it killed the good ones, but it also killed the bad routines. As an executive coach, I’m all about setting the right routines. And I also recognize that in the middle of craziness, it is hard to intentionally stop and change behaviors. It feels like there is too much at stake. I’ve been given the gift of a reset. From my eating to my exercise routines, from family time to my mental outlook, I’ve reset a bunch of stuff.

So, there you have it. For any hard charging, ambitious type, I highly recommend getting sick. It forced me to reevaluate, reflect and redesign my life for the better.

So, lick some door knobs. Go to a day care and ignore the hand sanitizer. Throw out the 5 second rule and eat anything you find laying around between the couch cushions.

You’ll thank me later.

Prescription – How to get work/life balance

Work/life balance is one of those elusive mysteries that we seem to constantly be chasing regardless of our particular season of life. And like unicorns, leprechauns and mermaids, there are legends of those who have actually found it, but for most of us, those stories are simply that – stories. Consider this prescription as your guide to finding work/life balance for you.


It would be premature to give any treatment plan without first assessing and diagnosing one’s current condition. To that end, work/life balance can easily been grouped into three assessment categories:

  • Your work life
  • Your family life / personal relationships
  • Your physical health

What you need to ask yourself is very simple: how are you doing in each category? Can you give yourself an “A+” in each domain of your life or is something currently suffering? Balance is essentially trying hard not to fail any “classes” in life. An “F” in any of those big domains above means you might want to get some help and put forth some extra “study time.” If you simply aren’t sure, consider this quiz.

Regardless how your self-assessment turns out, just promise me that you are being honest with yourself and not trying to pretend that things are o.k. when they really aren’t. Gut-level honesty is at the heart of any real change. Consider this post as a tough wakeup call.

Treatment Plans

There are two treatment plan options for you to choose from in order to restore work/life balance. The first option is less invasive, but may not get to the heart of the problem. The second option guarantees solving the problem, but recovery may be a long road. In the end, it’s your choice which path you prefer.

Option 1: Modifying Your Lifestyle

You may say to yourself, “things aren’t really that bad. And I don’t really want to quit my job or make any major life changes. I just want things to get a little better.” If this is you, this first option is your best strategy. This option is about reprioritizing what is important to you and setting up healthy boundaries to protect those important things in your life. Whether it’s time with your children (or significant other) or simply time to exercise and take of your physical health, setting boundaries is critical. To effectively execute on this treatment plan, you need to do the following:

  1. Prioritize what is important to you and set boundaries (ex: times of the day you are unavailable for e-mail / work commitments).
  2. Be prepared to say “No” when asked to break down those boundaries. You have to defend those walls against any attackers. Saying “no” effectively can stave off any advances (for more, read here).
  3. Continuously manage expectations. In order to avoid the subtle creep of responsibilities and expectations, you’ll have to constantly check in and clarify what your “boss” / others need and want of you. Unspoken expectations and avoiding clarifying conversations are the beginning of the end to work/life balance

Option 2: Surgery

Option 2 is much more invasive and intrusive. This is the right option if this is what you are saying to yourself, “my life is so out of balance that I just don’t see an easy way out AND I don’t think I can take any more of this.” In other words, the price you are paying for your out of balance is so high (lost relationships, failing health, sliding career), that you need to hit the reset button. This option entails reclaiming big chunks of time immediately to reclaim balance. This often entails quitting or significantly reducing one’s work load to get everything else back in order. While a more extreme option, for many it is the right one. And if you choose this path, consider this guideline on how to quit your job the right way.

In the end, work/life balance is simple in concept. It is about prioritizing what is important to you and then allocating time to those priorities that are not being fed accordingly. In other words, if your health is important to you and you see it slipping, watching one more episode of Modern Family isn’t going to help you reclaim much balance. You’ll need to sacrifice some activities in order to get you the time you need to address the areas that are out of balance.

The good news is that I know you can do it. It may be scary, it may feel uneasy, it may even feel safer to stay in a place of pain and unbalance for fear that change will make things worse. What I can tell you is that deep down you know what you need to do. Take that first step, and I promise you won’t regret it. And just in case you need an extra hand, you know where to find me.


How to say “No”

One of the biggest hurdles to work/life balance is the inability to set proper boundaries. Simply put, it is our inability to tell others “no” that is often the culprit behind our unbalanced and out of control lives. To make matters worse, the lines between work and life have gotten so significantly blurred (right now you are probably reading this post on your mobile office – your cell phone) we can be working anywhere and at anytime. It is a rare manager that proactively sets that boundary for us by telling us when and where to draw the line. Whether we like it or not, the burden is on us to take control. Saying “no” is the first step.

Why is saying “No” so hard?

So why is saying “no” so hard? Saying “no” can be one of the most difficult and challenging statements to ever pass through our lips. This simple statement is difficult for two significant reasons:

Reason #1 – We are afraid of disappointing others. We just can’t bare the look in our boss’ eye when we have to tell him / her that we simply can’t do what they are asking. For that matter, we can’t stand that same look in our spouse’s eyes, our parents’ eyes, our friends’ eyes, our children’s eyes, our pets’ eyes, etc…

Reason #2 – We are afraid of rejection. We can’t stomach the idea that the person asking us may never ask us for anything else. What if they have no use for us in the future and choose to never speak to us again? While it sounds absurd, this fear deep down inside each of us is very real.

When to say “No”

While each of those fears may be very real, there come significant times when we must face those fears head-on and say “no” anyway. Specifically, any of the following are reasons to say “no” to the request before you.

  • You are already “full” – you are at capacity and any slightest thing will push you over the edge. Those of you who remember the TV sitcom Seinfeld from the early 1990’s might remember the episode with George’s wallet bursting with everything imaginable. You, like George’s wallet, can’t take even the smallest scrap of extra work without coming apart at the seams.
  • The probability of failure is high – you can objectively step back and say to yourself, “why are they asking me? Don’t they know that I am not likely to do as good of a job as someone else?” This isn’t about low-self confidence. This is an honest assessment of what you are and aren’t good at. Sometimes the fact that we are good at putting out the fires blinds people to what we are actually good at. “Here Brandon, there is an IT server issue and we need your help.” I know myself well enough to say, without a doubt, a resounding “NO” to that request.
  • You don’t want to go down the career path associated with saying “yes” – perhaps saying “yes” will take you further down a career path you don’t want to go down. Yeah, you could solve that IT infrastructure problem, but they are never going to see you as the new client services manager until you eventually say “no” to your former duties.

While all of these situations seem obvious and fair on the surface, the real challenge comes when “leadership” comes to you (and only you) and says to you, “but you are the only one. And we need you today more than ever. Help us Obi Wan Kenobi, you are our only hope (o.k. I added the last part).” That is a very tough situation to say “no” to. Here’s how you take on saying “no” the right way.

Don’t make excuses

The most common way we say “no” is also the worst way possible. It often comprises of saying “no” and then following that statement with a long laundry list of all of the many reasons why we can’t do the thing we are being asked to do. For Example:

Boss: “Brandon, can you take on this new promising client in Anchorage, Alaska? We need you to fly out tomorrow.”

Brandon: “No, I’m sorry. I won’t be able to take that on. I’m already fully committed with my other work responsibilities. On top of that, my youngest is home following a tonsillectomy and I really need to be there, my in-laws are coming in town to stay with us for the next 3 months, my daughter has a dance recital on Thursday night, I’m having elective open-heart surgery on Friday, etc…”

Two unfortunate outcomes accompany this all-too-common approach. First, the boss stops listening after the first or second excuse. Second, we inadvertently set up a dynamic of inviting the boss to find fault in our logic. In essence we are saying, “Here are my arguments. If you can find fault in them, you win and I’ll do whatever you ask.” Not exactly the outcome we are looking for.

Saying “No” the right way

The best approach to saying “no” is simple. The opening 20% of the conversation should be “no” and a brief “why.” The remaining 80% of the conversation should consist of alternate solutions to help your boss (or whoever is asking) solve the problem without you. After all, when it comes right down to it, the person asking you for help has a fire on his or her hands. Their number one priority is to put the fire out. Ideally, the boss would like you to be the one to put out the fire and take on the problem. However, if you can find an alternate solution to the problem, you may not only benefit from helping your boss to solve the problem but also maintain your ground by successfully saying “no.” Consider the following revised conversation:

Boss: “Brandon, can you take on this new promising client in Anchorage, Alaska? We need you to fly out tomorrow.”

Brandon: “No, I’m sorry. I won’t be able to take that on. I’m already fully committed with my other work responsibilities and anything additional that I add could spell disaster for the other sensitive projects I’m managing. However, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about other possible people or solutions to your problem. For example, Susan has been looking for an opportunity just like this. Have you considered her? There may also be some virtual approaches which might also work…”

In the end, one of the keys to maintaining successful work/life balance is know when and how to say “no.” Master that, and I promise you’ll get the best of both worlds – maintaining your reputation AND maintaining your sanity. And for those of you who haven’t seen George Costanza lose his mind when when his wallet reaches its limit, enjoy!


Time to be honest with yourself

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This is not a post for the lazy reader. If you are looking for something light, sweet and fluffy you may need to sample something else off of my proverbial menu. This post is designed to pack a punch. Fair warning, you could finish this post feeling anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to standing in the middle of an existential crisis.

“Why so serious?” you might ask. Simple. If we are committed to achieving work/life balance in our lives we have to be willing to look at ourselves in the mirror. We have to confront the gap between what we say is important vs. what we do. Not a comfortable gap to look at.

The Mirror

As I alluded to, the first step is to identify what’s important to you in your life. Look at the following list and rank order each item based on how important that particular category is to you at this point in your life. If something is not applicable to you at this time, simply prioritize it last.

  • Work (ranging from “needing to work” to “loving my vocation”)
  • Intimate relationship w/ significant other (spouse, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc…)
  • Time with your extended family (parents, siblings, relatives, etc…)
  • Time with your children (or grandchildren)
  • Time with friends
  • Pets
  • Exercise
  • Spiritual life
  • Travel (ranging from vacations to incorporating travel into your everyday life)
  • Downtime (time for yourself to do very little. Ex: watching a movie, reading a book, taking a nap, etc…)
  • Hobbies / Interests (things NOT included in the items above. Ex: woodwork, “foodie,” collecting Hummel figurines, etc…)
  • Sleep
  • Other (anything I left out that is particularly important to you)

Got your list? Good. Now comes the tough part. Start over and re-rank your list based on how much time you spend on each item annually (or any other period of time you prefer). Be gut-level honest with yourself. The more honest you are with yourself, the more likely you are to see reality. While painful, we can work with reality.

Got your new list? Put them side by side and look at the similarities, but more importantly the differences. Notice:

  1. Work is likely #1 on your “time spent” list. No shocker there. Unless you are working part-time, are seeking employment, are retired or don’t consider your job “work,” work will be far and above all of the other items simply because of the sheer volume of time we spend working. However, if work is more than 2x all of the other items combined (excluding sleep), it may be gobbling up too much time. Work may be the problem.
  2. At least one item on your lists will likely have a significant gap (i.e. you placed it high on your list of priorities but it ended up at or near the bottom of your “time spent” list).

Rob’s Story

This happened to Rob. He said his grandkids were the most important thing in his life. He filled out his list and ranked his grandkids (and his kids for that matter) #1. Rob looked at me with this big smug smile, feeling quite proud of himself as a noble and good grandpa for ranking grandkids #1. Then came Rob’s second list. Naturally, worked popped up #1 on the second list. Rob still had a few more years to go until retirement. Then came his spouse and her wishes. Unfortunately, Rob’s relationship with his spouse was not healthy. To avoid her historic temper tantrums, Rob gave his spouse whatever she wanted. Next came Rob’s pets – his three dogs. After that came Rob’s health. After all of those demands pulling on him, he needed time for himself so he ran several times a week and focused on reading one book a month. Then came Rob’s lifelong friends. He would visit them about once a quarter to “get away.” In the end, Rob saw his grandkids about once a year for a day or two. He spoke with them maybe 3 or 4 times a year over the phone. Confronted with the stark reality, Rob’s smile vanished.

Are you like Rob? Are you kidding yourself? Saying something is important to you is different than showing something is important to you with time and effort. It’s just as true with work just as it’s true with our health. And trust me, if you want others to know you love them, words just aren’t going to do the trick. Show them with time and effort.

Work/life balance is first and foremost about choices and tradeoffs. My goal is to move you towards balance one step at a time. As a good mentor of mine used to say, “change is hard. What is the easiest way to get there.” Look at the item on your lists with the biggest gap between “importance” and “time” and ask yourself:

“What’s that gap costing me in my life?”

“How can I start to close the gap?”

Change is hard. If you are afraid to make change, check out this post on overcoming fear. Most importantly, I KNOW you can do it. You have everything you need inside of you. You just have to reach deep down, find that ounce of courage and take one step at a time. Before you know it, you will look around and realize you’ve arrived in that wonderful, comfortable and peaceful place we call balance.


Signs you’ve lost work/life balance

Have you lost work/life balance? Maybe you never had it in the first place. Fortunately, there are some telltale signs that you’ve teetered over the edge. Review the following list and make a mental tally on how many of these apply to you. Hint: If you say “YES” to 5 or more you are probably out of balance whether you realize it or not.

Work Signs You’ve Lost Balance

• You work more hours than your boss

• You always get the best parking spot at work because you are the first one there

• You know the members of the night cleaning crew by name

• You consistently get recognized for your “rigor” and /or others have referred to you as a “machine”

• You have been asked by co-workers “when do you sleep?” and you realize they aren’t kidding

• You talk to your friends and family in work-speak

• You are known by name at the airport and / or the hotels you stay at (extra points if you consider those nice folks who work at the airport and hotels your “friends”)

• You schedule appointments to talk to your friends and family on Outlook, etc… (extra points if you schedule appointments to speak with your spouse)

Family Signs You’ve Lost Balance

• You often greet your children with “you’ve gotten so big since the last time I saw you” (just be sure not to say that to your spouse)

• You’ve worked on holidays during the past year

• You get visibly nervous when you have no cell phone reception

• You didn’t take a vacation over the past year (extra points if you are proud of that)

• It’s been over a year since you’ve seen any of your best friends

• You’ve forgotten at least one important birthday over the last year

• It’s been over 6 months since you were on a date (or had a date-night with your spouse)

Health Signs You’ve Lost Balance

• You typically eat your meals while you work (extra points if you have forgotten to eat a meal at least once over the past month)

• You are at or near your heaviest weight

• You can’t remember the last time you exercised

• You have eaten lunch from a vending machine more than once over the past month (extra points if you bragged about it)

• You sleep less than 6 hours each night on average (extra points if you sleep less than 5 hours a night on average)

• You feel either anxious or depressed more than 50% of the time

• You feel apathetic about most things in your life

There you have it. Signs you’ve lost work/life balance. If you still aren’t sure, when in doubt just ask those closest to you. They’ll tell you the truth if you have the courage to hear the answer. Sometimes, it takes that slap in the face to wake us up to the reality that this isn’t the life we wanted after all.


“I don’t have work/life balance”

Ah, work/life balance… We all want it and very few of us actually have it. To make matters worse, the strain of the economy has forced most of us to “do more with less.”  Many of us are underpaid and overworked. In the end, our work/life balance ultimately pays the price. And depending on what is out of balance, we may end up seriously and permanently hurting aspects of our lives that mean everything to us. From our most valued relationships to our physical health, work/life unbalance has definite costs.


This month, we’re talking about work/life balance. We’ll be covering the following as I help you think about how to get and keep your life in balance:

  • What are the signs I’m out of balance?
  • Where do I start if I want to get balance back?
  • How do I set boundaries and say NO?
  • Your prescription for getting and keeping work/life balance


Before you strap yourselves in, know that it could be a bumpy and uncomfortable ride. A few caveats about work/life balance:

1. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Work/life balance differs from individual to individual

2. It’s always changing. You may find balance, and then something in your life changes and “bam!,” you are out of balance. From getting married to having children and then seeing them leave you with an empty nest, seasons change and so does balance.

3. Some professions are more difficult to get balanced than others. If you are an investment banker, traveling consultant, high-paid attorney, a young resident physician, (insert your profession here), etc… balance does not exist in the traditional sense. It’s really a question of what is unbalance costing you and for how long are you willing to pay the price?

So before you strap in, ask yourself: “what’s out of balance and how am I going to start to get balance back?”  It’s gonna be bumpy but with some effort and intentionality, we may just land smoothly and a little more balanced in the end.