The quest for work-life balance

In various conversations with the young professionals and female professionals, there seems to be one common topic that almost always get to the center of the conversation: How do you balance your life as a mother and as a leader?

That got me thinking a little deeper since I was also curious on how I can share and sprinkle some ideas to this important question. After much musing, I thought of distilling it into 2 parts: Definition & Systems

DEFINITION – Work-life balance redefined

Firstly, I would reframe the question slightly differently as “how do we (as a family) integrate and prioritize our family life and career”?

There are a few important aspects why the reframing is important:

  1. We (my husband and I) see the importance of running our family as an enterprise, as a form of partnership. That way, it is not a one-person’s job, but rather, it is our collective responsibilities to keep the family dynamic in harmony and at optimum-level. Also, any decision on career is holistic since it is interdependent.
  2. We recognize the importance of integration to ensure our values remain consistent for both worlds and we understand how one affects the other.
  3. We see the act of prioritization as a way to manage conflicting demands, given the dynamic nature of both worlds.

SYSTEMS – How does everything fit as a whole

When we see running the family as an enterprise, just like running a business, naturally we see the need to set-up effective systems so that most aspects can run concurrently to meet certain objectives, with clear roles & responsibilities and feedback mechanism.

Before I lost you with all these technical terms, let me simplify the definition further:

  1. System is a way how we plan and organize different components to meet certain objectives.
  2. Examples of different systems that we implement in our house:
  • Housework: do we delegate some, who does the chores and when
  • Logistics: how do we set up the logistics for our kids and ourselves; if we have to travel overseas, how do we set up the support system (keyword here is support)
  • Learning: what are the principles about learning (i.e we learn because we are curious and we love learning, not because of the pressure); how does each member be empowered to learn at their own pace, with others’ support
  • Family cultures: We have an annual family plan to review our values and goals for the year (see Family Business Plans), quarterly reflections, weekly family meeting and daily bedtime routine
  • Family values: How do we model our 8 family values on a daily basis; how do we make decision based on sets of guiding principles

As in any system set-up, the starting point will require a little bit more thought and momentum. However, that early investment generally pays off later, once it is stabilized. Sometimes, we even get prompted to further simplify our life further, after many years of practice (simple examples can be simplifying my closet, or the kids’ reading material. Or, can be as big as simplifying our asset management and financial loans). I also have accepted the fact that I won’t play such an active role in the parents group, but will continue to support where I can – that made my life much simpler.

Yes, systems may sound boring (they are!), but they work. Once we get these to work without much thinking, that gives a lot more freedom for others.

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

Have you been disappointed lately? I have. A lot. Especially this past week.

The streaks of disappointments prompted me to reflect a little bit more on what were the triggers and effectively learn how to get out of my disappointed mode. That curiosity led me to this equation that I discovered a while back through a book by Chip Conlay: Emotional Equations.

Disappointment = Expectations – Reality

As an analytical person, I love the wisdom in this equation (and it is a linear equation!) yet it speaks to my sensitive soul, as well. Why is that? I love it because it has only 1 degree of freedom and we have a direct control over that variable – it is our expectations.

The key in this one variable is that we know that we can tweak our expectations to minimize the disappointment. Here are the 3 examples of the scenarios that might demonstrate the simple, yet powerful variable.

1. At work: In several occasions, I was disappointed with my team member(s), so it is important that I step back and ask myself if my expectation for this person is reasonable. Did I question his / her intent, or his / her competency? Did I expect reciprocity when I extended help to someone? What did I expect for someone in a senior position to do – is that my own projection of a high (sometimes unreasonable) standard that I impose to myself? What would be a reasonable expectation, taking into account all context and the background?

2. Relationship: I have to admit that I stopped expecting my spouse to read my mind on the day I decided I would get married to him. So, I will be very upfront about expressing my needs or my dissatisfaction. It has removed most frictions that would have occurred otherwise.

3. Parenting: I might expect that our children to ‘behave’ all the time. If we, as a family, spend a little bit more time to define on what really matter to us (i.e for me, they are safety and our core values), can I then choose and prioritize those that are in the highest priorities and let go of the lower ones?

Also, since this is an equation, I love the way that I can “measure” the disappointment and mentally “rank” the disappointment based on a matrix. Those that have larger magnitude will probably need more attention and the smaller ones will be quickly acknowledged.

[Disclaimer: This disappointment equation analysis is post-facto, and I have to admit that while I was stuck in the web of disappointments, I did have an amygdala hi-jack and was not able to quantify appropriately. :)] But hey, it is fun to make it light and fun!

Family “Business” Plans. Have you thought of having one?

Some friends think we are taking the corporate culture back in our family life a little too far. We’d say, we are taking the best of both worlds (and having fun at the same time) 🙂

Why did we decide to create a family plan? For us, we just wanted to be conscious of the values we instil in our children and decide proactively on activities / programs to reinforce these agreed values. In my husband’s simple words: “If we do not decide on the children’s values, someone else will”.

How does one create a family plan and making it work? More importantly, how can one make it such a joyful exercise – something that everyone especially our kids will remember and embody the values? Some tips that have worked for us:

1. Decide which values you want to be as a family

  • Do you want your children to be an independent-thinker? Would you be proud if he/she demonstrate his/her highest integrity? How about entrepreneurial mindset? We love the traditional ones: respect, gratitude, honesty, balancing now vs future. The options are endless, as long as both you and your partner feel strongly about the values that resonate with you as a family. (Hint: What would be the values that made you feel good 20 years from now.)

2. Make it age-appropriate and fun.

  • When our kids were really small (ranging from 3 – 11 years old), we just had a simple 15-minute ‘family meeting’ by the playground (yes, they cannot sit still)! Put some pictures, tell stories, and examples on how each child can model these values (for example: Honesty: “I know mommy and daddy will not be angry at me when I tell the truth, so I will tell them the truth no matter what”). These had kept us honest, too.
  • This year, after 6 years of this annual ritual, we had a ‘longer’ meeting. I purposely planned a weekend getaway, spent time playing and we held our family plan over supper. We even added a little bit more reflections as part of our gratitude exercise to prime the session. Everyone had a ‘template’ of the values and they can scribble on what they think they will want to do / be to embody these values. Each child (and parent) did his /her own style of expressing the vision. What came out of that is a revelation that our children find this exercise a good family-bonding activity – that’s a bonus.

3. Follow up and schedule the activities.

  • I cannot stress enough that “a plan is a plan until we do something about it.” One habit that I found has been super-helpful in executing any plan is to put them in a calendar and schedule it. Or, any trigger that can help us in getting the habit programmed, after all, we are all humans and we regress. (Read Charles Duhigg book on building habit, it helps). We put an A3 printed Family Plan in our kitchen (at the smallest kid’s eye level) so we see it everyday.

Is it a difficult thing to do? No.

Is it difficult to start? Yes.

So, let’s start, and let’s not wait for it to be perfect.

P/s: Our ritual changes every year, even though we have been doing it since 2011. For me, I took this family plan as part of my “Create Memory” project of 2018.

New Year Resolution in ONE Word.

F25DE1A5-665C-46F9-81B4-6F45146B326BImagine. Just one word on how you want to live and experience the year.

Do not be fooled by its simplicity. In its simplicity, therein lies the power – the power of clarity.

So, I thought this is an interesting experiment – choosing one word to represent the year. Over Roti Canai and Teh Tarik with my family, we brainstormed what would our word be and what it would mean to each and everyone of us.

Mine was Discover. My husband’s was Support. Our kids chose their own word that resonated with them. Our family came up with our theme for the year – Together.

Fast-forward a year and it’s January 2018. Little did I realize the power of clarity and intention. My year of Discovery has been truly eye-opening and full of discovery – of course, nothing short of bumps and surprises.

What did I discover in 2017 – Year of Discovery?

  1. I discovered the ability to love myself – This is by far the biggest discovery. Ever. I am still a novice but continuing to strengthen this heart and compassion muscle every day. Thanks to the Feminine Power (FP) Mastery Program by Claire Zammit, I have been able to learn a system on accessing that old ability and very grateful for the experience and for the supportive community. I can go on and on with this experience – which I will probably outline in a different section later. In short, the key principles are to be able to reconnect with my child Self and to forgive myself. Through the practices, I learnt to accept myself in totality – the good, the bad and the ugly. Only then, I can accept others in the same light. Warning: This took lots of courage (and heartaches!). But the outcome is well worth it.
  2. I discovered that I don’t have to go and do it all alone – This is the second AHA for me. Being conditioned in a competitive environment (I am an A-type and an athlete), I used to believe that the ‘race’ is all a solo sport. Only when I questioned this belief, do I see that I had mirrored this false belief in so many different facets of my life. With that shift, I am continued to be amazed at how I found help in seemingly hopeless situations. This is work-in-progress. I regress from time to time 🙂 I do want to acknowledge that it helps so much to start cultivating the deep relationship with people who have the same mindset and shared goals. For this, I am so grateful to have wonderful friends and family who are in the same wavelength and supporting each other in this journey. In short, find your tribe.
  3. I discovered that I can bounce back – This is the most satisfying skill I discovered. However, I would not be able to achieve this without cultivating the self-love (see #1). When I faced adversity (especially at work these days), I would catch myself now, questioning “What can I learn from this experience?”. This has kept me focused on the solutions – and I feel that this is the most loving act I could do to myself.
  4. I discovered that if I amplify others, I naturally will amplify my Self – This is a completely new concept as I journeyed through the FP Mastery program. This just takes away the habit of dimming my light or dimming others’ light – it is not a zero-sum game. We are all unique and we all can amplify each others’ light by standing up tall together.

So what is your word for 2018?

Mine is to Create, hence the creation of this blog. Enjoy!