I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I define myself as a person. What parts of my life define who I am and if I’m asked what would I consider the most important things to communicate about who I am? What I’ve found is that by taking a good long look at all of the components of my life I have been able to create a better framework for how I face daily challenges and big decisions.
We all have many functions that we serve in our lives. We are employees, leaders, parents, children, friends, spouses, and partners to many people around us. Many people get stuck with their focus on a singular dimension of those roles and make their decisions only with that element in mind. People can become work obsessed focusing on their role as an employee, they can neglect their day-to-day work activities in favour of leading and delegating, they can ignore their own needs for balance and happiness and define themselves as a parent, or they can ignore their own needs in favour of the needs of their friends or spouses.
When we take a singular view of our lives and define ourselves by only one element of the roles we play we virtually guarantee that we will either fail to be fulfilled in our own needs or fail to serve those around us in the other roles that we are counted on to play. A work obsessed person will likely be a less effective parent or spouse, someone who defines themselves as a parent may short-change themselves in their enjoyment of their job or their other relationships.
The key to defining yourself is to look through each lens and identify the things that are most important to us and then put them all together and make the trade-offs necessary to maximize our happiness and the happiness of those that depend on us.
For many years I focused myself on only one or two elements of the roles I play in my life. When I started in earnest in my career I put a singular focus on professional development and work and found that my friendships and partner relationship suffered. Rather than tweaking and balancing my focus I pivoted, shifting my singular focus to my partner and later my children. The result was that my work and career suffered badly (ultimately resulting in a 7 month job search), my outside relationships with friends and family dwindled, and ultimately my overall happiness dropped.
Over the past couple of years as things have changed in my life I have found a new balance which has allowed me to make hard decisions about where to focus my energy and I attribute it to looking more carefully through all of the lenses rather than focusing on one or another.
I would now consider the following elements to who I am:
I am the father to two incredible young girls who rely on me to bring them stability, calm and loving guidance, a role model for their life, and protection from the things that scare them. I would consider this one of my most important roles in my life, but at the same time I won’t defer all decisions to the benefit of my children – my role in their life is critical, but it does not define who I am or what is most important to me.
I enjoy a strong personal relationship which I find rewarding, empowering, and supportive. I am responsible to make my partner feel valued, special, and appreciated for all of the personal support and happiness I receive in return. My relationship brings me a great deal of happiness and is very important to my future plans, but again it does not define me completely on its own.
I have the incredible luck to work with a dynamic and capable team of individuals on my team who challenge me daily to ensure that I am supporting them and their own individual needs in a way that is relevant to them. That may include managing roadblocks to their day-to-day work, identifying new opportunities which will provide them experience and visibility that will further their own careers, and often simply being there to listen as they work through issues in their day or life. My service to the the people that work for me is also critical to defining who I am, but again I won’t trade off completely my other needs in order to give them what they need.
I am lucky to work with a driven group of peers and an understanding and empowering leader who inspire me daily to work to improve the value I bring to the team and the organization that I am a part of. My individual success in the organization is important to me, but I have found that by looking through the other lenses that it is but a component of what is important overall which has made me much more willing to accept a pace of growth that aligns with my other priorities and the needs of the organization.
- Family Member
After balancing my priorities I have a new found appreciation for the support and relationships I enjoy with my family. While I spent many years in virtual isolation from them, I have rediscovered the support and love that they bring to my life. While I will likely never be the most attentive son/brother that they could hope to have because of other priorities in my life, at least I hope to be recognized as being present and available to support and enjoy the happiness that a strong functioning family network can bring.
This is one area where I have found that my needs are often fulfilled through other roles such as working with my team at work or through my other relationships, but I still believe that I have an important role to play with my close circle of friends as well. While I may not see or speak with all of them with the regularity I might have in high school or university I can always be called upon when someone needs to talk or needs support. I count a few very close friends in my inner circle all who recognize this (and many of whom also would place their friend status lower on their priorities) all of whom accept and return this same level of support.
There are probably a few other lenses I could look through to further refine how I consider my happiness but I would say that these are the key lenses I work to balance today. Often day-to-day decisions and even the big life changing decisions we face require us to trade off the needs of one lens for another, but if we at least take the time to consider all of the roles we play and what balance will maximize our happiness we have the opportunity to face those difficult trade-offs and deal with the resulting challenges head-on.
Life is meant to be lived across all boundaries and for us to be truly successful in our service to others that depend on us we also need to focus on our own satisfaction and happiness. People who can’t find happiness within themselves are rarely great friends, parents, employees or leaders. I don’t believe happiness comes from the outside in those roles we play, but rather that the happiness we make for ourselves drives our ultimate success when we are playing those roles.
Have you considered all of the elements of your life and roles you play in your own happiness? Are there lenses which I’ve missed that are more relevant to your own life? How do you find your own balance and prioritize your happiness across these lenses?
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.