I’m no artist, but sometimes a simple drawing does wonders in my coaching conversations. Here’s one drawing I use all the time:
Sideways eight? Yes, but in math circles, it’s known as the sign for infinity. Perhaps you remember that from high school math.
I’m not asking clients to do calculus, though. I’m trying to give them a picture of the connectedness between personal life and work life. My personal life—with all its tentacles, demands, and energy—is in one circle. My work life—with all its texture, pressure, and ambition—is in the other circle. Generally, they are different constructs and ecosystems.
I’ll draw this symbol on a whiteboard, napkin, or iPad, and then we’ll begin to talk about the interconnection between my personal and work life. This is especially true for the leaders I have been working with for the last few decades (CEOs, business owners, entrepreneurs).
Your Circles Are Connected
This is the main point: Personal life and work life are unmistakably connected.
All of us feel this connection on some level. A rough morning at home, perhaps an argument with a spouse or kid, makes it difficult to focus at work. A great day at work usually brings you home with some more energy. And if you happen to be in denial, just ask your family and co-workers whether this is true.
Sure, some people compartmentalize, and the connection is not as obvious on a daily level, but it’s still there. God made us holistic individuals. Faith should impact work. Joy, stress, integrity, all of these things affect every aspect of our lives, and so the lines between personal and work can get blurry. We can compartmentalize at times, but not forever. Eventually, health in one area feeds the other, whereas lack of health in one drags it all down.
I’ve thought and written a lot about the concept of stewardship, and it shows up in these conversations too. Stewardship is the ultimate driver of both personal development and performance. If you consider who you are and what you have—including abilities and opportunities—as a gift that ultimately belongs to a Creator, then you’ll want to cultivate both the personal and the work sides of life.
Your Circles (Should) Grow Concurrently
Imagine a weightlifter who only works out one bicep. He goes to the gym every morning at 6:00 a.m., sticks in his Bluetooth headphones, puts on his workout playlist, grabs a fifty-pound weight in his right hand, and starts some curls. Right hand only. Day after day for years.
Sounds crazy, huh? It is. If this guy is a professional, he would show up at a lift meet, sign up for the bench press, and then strain at the bar because he’s only able to push up one side of it.
A ton of leaders live this way, though. They focus on either growth on the personal side of things or on the work side of things—to the detriment of the other.
Maybe you’ve been there. Perhaps you spent years chasing ambition at all costs, neglecting family or spirituality, or cutting ethical corners to get there. Or perhaps you were simply good at your job, so you were offered a promotion or had a work opportunity that was a little oversized for you. That happens all the time. A hard worker can suddenly find their work circle blown up, only to reveal the immediate need now to grow as a person to meet the challenge. It is very common to see overachievers soar up the career ladder with bigger and bigger opportunities raining down on them. But it’s also common for them to look into the mirror and, in a moment of transparency, admit they are in way over their head. Not so much with the knowledge connected to the work, but with the level of leadership needed for the new opportunity.
Of course, many other people go the other way. They spend years growing on the personal side—reading lots of books on personal growth, investing all their time outside of the 9-to-5 in personal matters but never growing any professional skill sets or seeking to have an impact on the world through their work. People of faith often make this mistake (It’s people who focus exclusively on personal growth and never ask the questions “What for?” or “For whom?”
People on this side forget that personal growth should also increase impact. You don’t just grow strong to look in the mirror; you grow strong to lift stuff. The author Gustave Flaubert said, “Be steady and well-ordered in your life so you can be fierce and original in your work.”
As you grow in one area, more opportunities will come your way in that area. Work success leads to a promotion. Personal growth leads to passion to invest in friends and family members outside of work or gives insights for more needed growth. The assignments in life and work often keep getting bigger. Make sure you’re growing the other circle alongside it.
Concluding Questions and Insights
How’s your connectedness? Which one do you lean toward? Here are three summary insights for the road and three questions to self-assess and push you forward.
- It’s very common to emphasize one side of the life-work circle over the other.
- Growth should happen in tandem. As you grow on one side, you should use that growth to fuel growth on the other. The assignments keep getting bigger.
- Think in terms of stewardship. Stewardship is the driver of both personal development and work performance.
- What opportunities do you love to pursue? What opportunities have you pursued over the past twelve to eighteen months? (This shows which side of the circle you naturally emphasize.)
- Where is your personal development feeding your work?
- Where is your work revealing the gaps in your personal development, and how will you work to fill those gaps?