THE INC. LIFE

The Trait That Made You Successful Might Also Be Preventing You From Having Work-Life Balance

The detrimental effects of trying to be a work-life superhero and thinking you can do everything.

Share on
BY James Sudakow - 10 Jan 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There's a lot written about what makes people successful, from mindset to daily habits to shared traits successful leaders have.

From a work-life balance perspective, though, what are the potential down sides of the traits that have made us so successful?

The side effect of being able to carry a huge load

I remember early in my career, I was out to climb the proverbial corporate ladder. I was also a young guy who was an aspiring musician.

I wasn't yet married with kids, so for me work-life balance consisted of churning hard by day in my corporate job and then playing shows, doing studio recording, and anything and everything I could in my world of music. That was the "life" part of the work-life equation.

Sleep sometimes happened, but it seemed to be more incidental than anything else because I wasn't about to compromise either. I was young and just found a way to do it all.

On one occasion, I flew to Dallas from Los Angeles early one morning for a full day client meeting, hustled back to the Dallas airport to make a late afternoon flight back to Los Angeles so I could drive out to Hollywood to play a late night show with one of my bands after which I hastily packed up my musical equipment and hurried back to the airport to make a return flight in the early hours of the morning back to Dallas (while working on the plane to finalize my part of a presentation due the next day) so I could be back by mid-morning the next day when our client meeting continued.

It sounds like a ludicrous maneuver in hindsight but was actually more of a standard operating procedure for me those days. I was going to do it all. And I did.

The machine

Ironically, that same client would send complimentary e-mails to the partner in the firm to whom I reported saying things like, "Sudakow is a machine" or "this guy can carry a tone of work on his shoulders..." without knowing of my ridiculous escapades on the music front on top of everything I was doing for the client.

I'm older now, am married raising four kids, and run my own consulting practice that I started almost 10 years ago. I am still a machine but now wonder if that is for better or for worse as it relates to my humble quest for work-life balance these days.

I've got a business to run, and my wife and kids have now replaced music as the love of my life. When push comes to shove around work and life, though, my solution has still been to simply pile it all on my shoulders and do it all.

  • Big client strategic planning meeting? Check.
  • Two-year old swimming lessons? Check.
  • Soccer game for our 16-year old? Check.
  • Work out at the gym? Check. Maybe. OK check. Can't let this one slide.
  • Respond to all work e-mails? Check.
  • Put that big presentation together for my client meeting on Monday? Check.
  • Help my wife with the new baby? Check

The trap of the superhero syndrome

On the surface, I have work-life balance. The business is doing well. All family things are getting done.

Most of the time, though, the collateral damage has been to myself. For a good period of time, I couldn't say that I had been enjoying any of it because I had been more focused on trying to do all of it.

Was that ability to find a way to figure out how to do everything - that trait that made me successful - the very thing that had been causing me to nearly kill myself in the name of work-life balance? Ironically, it may have been the thing that was standing in the way of achieving real work-life balance.

If you get it all done and are totally exhausted by the time you're done, have you really achieved any balance at all?

Turning off the thing that made you successful, and Focusing on Three Critical Things.

Trying to reign in the thing that made you successful in the first place seems like a counter-intuitive thing to do.

On my work-life balance journey, I've come to the realization that work-life balance requires the ability to prioritize, to truly check-out when you say you will, to not respond to everything, to not be there for everyone all of the time, and to accept the implications and trade-offs associated with those decisions (the really hard part).

As I finished 2017 and have moved into 2018, I've committed to being less of a superhero. I choose the most important three things on the work and life fronts, and that's all I do.

Admittedly, it doesn't feel quite as good on the ego since I can't claim victory on nearly as many things every day. Ironically, though, my business is still running, and things are still going great with the family. And maybe the bigger point is that I am feeling better balance so far.

If that balance is the goal for you, too, try becoming less of a superhero in 2018, too.