The challenge of work life balance in Rhode Island is a central theme for many people these days.  It took me 13 years to figure out what “work life balance” meant to me and get a handle on it.  Today, I can comfortably say that I have a major clue and my life is dramatically better for it.

I started my company in Rhode Island 22 years ago after spending what seemed to be a lifetime in corporate America.  I was obsessive, worked hard, and while I generally had a lot of fun, was almost always maxed out.  This manifested itself in many ways, including always being over committed, regularly being exhausted, and having a failed marriage to show for it as I left the corporate world.  This trend didn’t change as I became an entrepreneur – worked constantly, overextended and had no personal life.

However, until about five years ago, I had absolutely no balance in my life.  I was on the run from Monday to Friday, many times weekends, arriving home exhausted at the end of the day Friday.  I’d sleep a lot, spend time in front of my computer getting caught up on all the crap I didn’t get to during the week, and when I went out, I’d always be thinking of work.  The burnout cycle continued; every few months I’d completely crash from the effort (I remember a vacation to Canada with a friend where I slept too much – so much that my fishing buddy thought something was physically wrong with me.)  I drank too much, I struggled with my weight, and I felt physically drained.  I loved my work, but I couldn’t see beyond it.

As I discovered what balance meant to me, the rules evolved into a set of habits which – among others – include (1) Spend Time Away, (2) Segment Space, (3) Meditate, (4) Exercise and (5) Volunteer.  Following are examples of each:

  • Spend Time Away: I take a week long vacation each quarter where I completely disappear.  No cell phone, no email, no computer, no conference calls – my assistant knows how to find me in case of an emergency; otherwise I’m completely unavailable for the week. I find peace and solace in camping and fishing.  Being outside and close to nature keeps perspective for me.
  • Segment Space: At home, I only have a cell phone, and the only people who have that number are close family, close friends and clients.  I treat my house as a retreat from the world and while I do plenty of working at home, where I do this is separate and distinct from the rest of the house.
  • Meditate: I use the word meditate metaphorically – everyone should meditate their own way.  For me, I practice Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation twice a day.  Do whatever you want, but spend some of your time on yourself.
  • Exercise: Exercise is a great way to burn not only calories but to expel the stressors of the day.  My weekly goal is 3 to 5 times, 1.5 hours each session. I use the elliptical for cardio, followed by free weights and machines for 45 minutes.
  • Volunteer: Among other volunteer activities, I have been a Mentor with the RI mentoring Partnership for 15+ years.  Not only are you giving of your time and energy but the personal rewards make life all the more worth living.  By bringing a smile to child’s face with no reciprocal expectations, I find no other activity in life as rewarding.

The habits have created a structure for my life that not only encourages but reinforces a healthy work life balance.  My work, which used to overwhelm everything else I did, is still a central part of my life.  However, it is no longer my singular focus, nor is it the most important thing to me anymore.  The balance that I’ve discovered has helped me understand the value of other things, which has made my work and – more importantly – my life – much more rewarding.

Thomas Wharton is President of LIFOCUS, Inc, a human resources consulting firm in Rhode Island, providing Career & Transition CoachingOutplacement, Executive Coaching, Assessments andLeadership Development. Tom can be reached at 401.884.7959 • twharton@oiglobalpartners.com. • www.lifocus.com@careercoachTW