Drawing Lines: Balancing Personal and Professional Identities

Drawing Lines: Balancing Personal and Professional Identities

I'm the type of person who works the way an athlete trains. Periods of high-intensity practice are following by fierce competition and concluded with rest. This format is that of many knowledge workers.

Here are the relations:

High-intensity practice:

Training the skills to complete a job. Writing copy of all kinds, design, building, setting automations. The training period for knowledge work is "doing the things" and they're done with the knowledge that time is limited, and competitors are doing just the same. Building skills, applying knowledge, and creating assets of any kind are part of this high-intensity practice.

Fierce Competition:

These are the make or break periods of what we work on. A business, a job, a campaign, or a goal we are trying to achieve. Where the practicing periods are setting up, competition is in the open. Going to market, making sales, marketing, etc. The things and skills I build are lead-up to launching and moving forward.

Rest:

In my opinion this is the most important part of the process. Rest gives us the energy to do more and rejuvenates the body and mind. In knowledge work, rest is akin to reading, conversations about our work, and understanding. Reflection is key to good rest like watching game-tape is key for competitors.

Many people I know operate the same way, though not everyone has learned about the value of rest. What's amazing about this format is that we can create a whole "season" of training, competing, and rest in a single week.

As we reflect on each week, the progress we make is improved with each iteration. Those little improvements come through in the following week. Improvement follows.

This approach is a blueprint, but I'm more focused on making sure people realize that reflection is key. There is no substitute for an amazing relationship with yourself, and that's what reflection can be used for.

It's so easy for young, hard-working people to lose sight of the rest of life when work is such a big part of their day-to-day. We are the sum of the people around us and our habits. If every day is about our work, what else can we say is part of our lives? Especially in a year where being social is different.

Work and life are seen as opposing forces that we have to "balance" or "integrate" and it's becoming confusing. What really matters is how we see ourselves.

This letter is about what I consider the foundation of any business person: the relationship with oneself.

Work-Life Balance:

My thoughts on work-life balance are mixed. Six years ago I'd have told you it's a joke. The classic hustle story I bought into came out in the wrong way. In some ways, though, I still take some issues with work-life balance as it is. Most people attribute work-life balance to simply "working less" and not necessarily living more.

I appreciate the premise of this balance but take issue with how people use it as a speaking point. Some will ride this idea's popularity into lower productivity for the same pay. My belief is that everybody has their own level of energy and individual performance.

Balance is a nice idea that seems unfitting in this situation. While not everyone has the freedom to pursue their dreams (a conversation for another time), many have all the freedom and privilege they need and more.

Still, it's seen as work vs life, and not just life. I take issue with that. It's all just life. People should put away any notion that work and life are two opposing forces.

Work-Life Integration:

I see this as a shift out of work-life balance that's net-positive. The premise that work and life are integrated makes sense. They're no longer opposing forces under this premise, and I like that.

The differences for me are in the idea that if they're the same, then why are they being used as two separate words connected together? Why not just "life"? Are we not at a point where that's acceptable vernacular? Possibly.

More likely; however, is the argument that work-life integration is a way for business people to talk about their work-life balance without seeming "soft." I think you get what I mean. It's a term that helps people signal they work hard, but without being insensitive to other people's need for balance.

Professional Identity When It's Confusing:

So if you seek balance, you're "soft," but if you don't, then you're unproductive or missing out on life? How are we supposed to "win" here? I think a bigger perspective can help with this. It's about productivity.

I think if we demonstrate tremendous achievement, we can get around any negative sentiments around how other people view how we choose to live life. Balanced, not balanced at all, whatever. Achievement with outcomes beats all of this.

But the reason isn't that personal achievement shuts people up. In some cases it does. People just can't talk shit to someone further "ahead" playing the same game. They could, but it would be invalid. That judgement is just projected insecurity. No, there's more to it.

The real reason it helps is this: achievement makes people more confident. Confident enough to stop caring about what other people think. That's what makes the idea of how we ought to pursue our careers or our lives simple. Stop caring. What other people think doesn't matter, but reaching this understanding is not easy.

So getting out of this confusion is about

Remaining Well-Rounded:

Too many people pursue their careers without considering what they really care about. Reflection at the end of every competition isn't just about performance. Taking time to consider if what we're doing is actually making us happy is well worth the time. It's essential.

We pursue careers for 50+ years, that's most of life. The amount of time and attention towards making sure we like what we're doing should be just as great. The challenge I see, in the context of these identities, is this: at what point do we start considering "doing what we love" as the natural part of life, not what we reserve for when we've already "made it?"

I don't have the answer. I'm still not there myself actually. But I'm starting to reach that point. Taking time to write what's on my mind has been a tremendous part of this process. I feel very strongly that everyone benefits by taking time to reflect, whether with audio, video, or the written word.

So What Do We Do?:

Not everyone can up and leave their job to "pursue their dreams" right now. This year especially has been tough. But what we can do is devote a little more time to the things that make us feel fulfilled (even if other people might think they're dumb).

20 years ago playing video games was for kids. Now professional esports players make six figures. Some join the industry as managers, coaches, promoters, advertisers and more. The gaming industry has become so much more than "just for kids" and I consider how many of my friends stopped playing games and "moved on."

What if they didn't move on and kept doing what they loved anyway? We used to see those people as crazy. Now working too hard is crazy (wtf). That's what happens when life and work are separate, opposing forces.

It's important to take the time to pause and reflect. Taking time to appreciate what we do, express gratitude, and actually enjoy what we're doing can also help. Not every change has to be major, minor changes can help too.

You give up what you enjoy to work. It's all nonsense. For all of the pain it's caused, 2020 has been a year of showing people how giving up what they once loved maybe wasn't worth it.

What's Next?

There is no next, yet. I'm not here to write "10 tips for a better career" in this medium and through these letters.

What I will say; however, is that business is about relationships and the most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. It took me so many years to understand this, and now that (I think) I finally do, that's my message to all of you.

Drawing lines isn't about crafting identities, it's about cementing your relationship with yourself. Achievement comes after. "Brand" and positioning come after too. While it's true that how you approach balance might affect how people see you, your own confidence is how you can deal with it best.

Remind yourself that operating like an athlete can make you that much more productive. Reflection and iteration are key. As that productivity per hour grows, so too will your confidence. From there, you'll feel more comfortable to live the life you want, regardless of what people think.

All the best to you.