66. Work Life Balance: Boundaries and Business Leadership, Part 2

work life balance

Everybody is searching for the ever-elusive work-life balance. I think what we really need are clear work and life boundaries. In the second part of my Boundaries and Business series, I engage in a conversation with Sarah Stokes, sharing our experiences, reflections, and insights on work-life balance, including a discussion of myths and misconceptions about it.

Work-life balance isn’t a perfect 50/50 split, and it looks different for each person. We emphasize the importance of deciding your own balance based on your values and priorities. Additionally, we explore the negative effects of busyness and highlight the significance of being intentional and purposeful in allocating time and energy. Recognizing that a healthy leader makes a healthy business, we stress the critical need for self-care among leaders.

Learn more about Sarah HERE.

Main Episode Takeaways

  • We are searching for work-life balance: What we really need is work and life boundaries.
  • Work life balance is individualized.  
  • You get to decide your schedule for your life and for your business.  
  • We don’t have to hustle for our worth because we are inherently valuable.
  • Busyness is a sign of a boundaries problem.

Want to learn more about boundaries?

– Boundaries Awareness quiz HERE
Take my Boundaries 101 Course
– Do you want to overcome your hurdles of people pleasing? Book a free call with Mary!

66. Work Life Balance: Boundaries and Business Leadership, Part 2

Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. I am here with Sarah Stokes and we are discussing boundaries and business leadership. This is part two of a series and we are focusing on work life balance. Welcome, Sarah. 

Sarah: Thank you so much, Mary. I’m so excited to dig in on this one. It’s like my favorite. 

Mary: You know, I’m so excited too. And I feel like we’re, you’re the perfect match for this conversation. So let’s talk a little bit about work life balance. When people say work life balance, what are you thinking here about that? 

Sarah: I, well, I’ve had a different relationship over the years of work life balance in my entrepreneurial journey. I used to think, Oh, it’s a myth. Right? No such thing. And depending on how like salty I was in that season of entrepreneurship, I’m like, ah, not a thing. Burnout, you know, went through that. Then I swung the pendulum the other way and extreme self care and like, Oh geez, I better show up in my business. So now I just look at it as something that needs me to wrap myself in compassion when we even bring it up. What does it mean for me? Well, I like to use the term alignment for myself, which means my values line up with my actions in my life. So that’s what work life balance means to me. It means I’m living in my values. I am living the life that I say I want to live, and that’s going to mean something, you know, different from day to day, but with a lot of boundaries, right? So it, it’s really a life of alignment for me is work life balance, and it’ll look different in different seasons. How about you? 

Mary: Yes. When I hear work life balance, what I think about is someone who is walking on a balance beam that they have kind of things related to their life on one hand and things related to their work on the other hand, and that they are trying to balance these things, that there’s this kind of assumption that we should be walking perfectly on a balanced beam, carrying these two heavy things, and in the context of business leadership it, it could be like in your life, you are carrying things like your health and your self care and your family relationships and your personal friendships and, all the things, right? Your home, all the things that are related to life and then in your work you’re carrying things like, you know, the business, the service or the products that you’re providing and the marketing and the, I don’t know, billing and like all the things right? And so you have something that requires a little more attention at different times and seasons, right? Like maybe you have a business launch and that’s requiring a lot of, of your time and energy. And so you kind of sway over this way on the work side and then maybe you, someone gets COVID, right? We were recently sick. And when you or someone in your family gets sick, and then you have to spend some time kind of nurturing your health and, and focusing on that. And then it’s kind of this back and forth and you shoulding on yourself that you should be walking perfectly. And I just think it’s BS. 

So when I hear work life balance, I say, work life balance is BS. What you actually need is boundaries. Any boundaries in your work and boundaries in your life. And to put down those two heavy things that are so exhausting to try to balance perfectly all the time, and just give yourself permission to stand on the ground, to be intentional about how you’re spending your time and your energy and your focus. And we don’t have to should on ourselves that it should be 50 50 all the time, right? That it’s okay to have a time in a season where you’re focusing on family and a time in a season where you’re focusing on building a business and a time in a season where you’re focusing on physical health or mental health or spiritual health. And there’s okay to have a time in a season where you’re focusing on launching this new product or service. And it’s okay to have a time and a season when you’re educating and a time and a season when you’re building wealth and, you know, all the things. That work life balance it’s not this like elusive, perfect situation that we all have to strive to have perfectly. I don’t think that’s what it is. I think that it is an awareness of how you want to focus your time and your energy and being intentional about committing to the things that we’re committing to. 

Sarah: Absolutely. Yeah. Because what wears us out? It’s living out of alignment, living out of our values. So if your number one value is your family, and you’re on that balance beam and you’re leaning way over on work, no wonder you feel exhausted and sad and disappointed because your number one value is family. Right? And so it’s all like, I believe it’s personal to us. Work life balance for you is going to look way different than work life balance for me. And then you have the seasonal shifts and the day to day rhythms of our life. And so to know yourself, I like to talk about leading ourselves first, and you lead yourself when you know yourself and we learn about ourselves our whole lives, right? There’s I think an ongoing learning, but if we don’t know what we want from life, how can we strike that mythical work life balance or feel good in our day to day? And so I feel like we got to lead ourselves first, otherwise we’ll people please and we’ll overgive. And you and I both work in those spaces, right? With people, pleasers and over givers. And hi, my name is Sarah and I’m both right? But if we don’t know what we actually want, then how could we ever feel good in our day to day or in our seasons of life? It’s just going to be a uphill climb instead of a flow. 

Mary: Yes. So I think the first question that listeners could be asking themselves when it comes to work life balance is how much of my time, energy resources, how much of me do I want to dedicate to work? And how much of me, my time, energy, resources, how much of me do I want to focus on my life? And whatever the answer is, listeners, it’s okay. If it really is 50 50 for you, that’s okay. If this is a season of your life where you’re wanting to really focus on building a business, that’s okay. There’s no shame or shoulds around that. If this is a season of your life that maybe you want to focus on something else. I remember, something personal. That’s okay. If you need to take some time to get yourself healthy. I remember a time when I had a baby and feeling like it was the time to focus on nurturing this relationship with this new child and healing my body from the c section and connecting kind of this new member of our family with the other members of our family and and that’s okay. Right? If that’s what it is. So there are times when you want to be out of balance and it’s probably not sustainable to continue to want to do things a hundred percent and a hundred percent. I think that’s the problem when we don’t have boundaries is when we’re doing things from a place of shoulds, from have tos, from obligation, from judgment of ourselves, from this idea that things should be perfectly balanced all the time and that I should be a hundred percent in on this and a hundred percent on that at the same time. 

Sarah: What a trap. What a trap, right? Be a hundred percent perfect in home life and a hundred percent perfect in business. That doesn’t add up. Right? That doesn’t, the math does not math on that. Okay. So if, this is where I love where our work intersects and I am learning boundaries from Mary, just full disclosure, because I know it’s an area of growth for me and boundaries are so good for our business and so important to our leadership. So when we think about how much is right, okay, there is no right. And yet we are so conditioned to think there’s a right way, right? We’ve been fed every kind of planner, every kind of, you know, work week. And here’s the fun thing is not only have I done this in my own life, but I have helped many women do this. It is, what do you want from your day? When are you at your best? When do you know you’re checked out of your business and when do you want to spend time with your family? And you start with you. You are the number one asset of your business as the leader. And so you think about when am I at my best? 

So I’ll give you my life example. Easy. I went from literally working seven days a week. Burning out, trying to be Pinterest mom and rockstar business lady, all at once, all, all the things, like if there was a gold star to chase, I chased it. If there was a should to should on myself, I shoulded it right. And I went and I did some introspection and I realized from a place of recovering from burnout, Hey, I’m actually at my best Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in my business. I do not do well without Fridays as a day off where my husband says, let’s go to lunch. That fills our marriage cup. Thursday is my day to re like refuel my cup. I do my healing, my learning. I get coached on Thursdays. Saturday and Sunday, it’s family, right? Whether I’m coaching my daughter’s basketball team or whether we’re just hanging out, hibernating. 

I didn’t think it was possible until I proved it again and again, and then helped clients do it. You can make whatever schedule you want work in your business. You decide, and then you engineer it. So you’ve heard of reverse engineering, right? So everybody’s like, how could I possibly make what I want to make revenue wise in three days a week? And I have women who have done it. And they’re like, I can’t even believe it because there is no right schedule. It’s a schedule we make right. And you show up differently in three days. And I’m not saying that’s the prescription by no means hear me wrong, but you show up differently when you’re intentional and you have boundaries around it. I don’t mess around on Wednesday when I know Thursday and Friday and Saturday and Sunday, I am done. I am so focused and intentional on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, because I’ve chosen that and I’ve made boundaries around it. Now I’m done at three, right? I drop everything to go get my kids and I am done. And then if I want to pick up my laptop, I do. But the way we show up when we decide and then have boundaries around it, so different. So you can make it work. You can have that business you want and have the schedule you want to. In fact, I’d argue they go hand in hand. 

Mary: Yes, I agree. And I think the takeaway that I’m hearing from that share is that you get to decide. That’s the beautiful part of entrepreneurship is that you get to decide. So for leaders in business you have a lot more like flexibility around your decision making, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. What I see is people like myself and many of us who we leave a traditional job because we’re working long hours on tasks that were not really what we thought they were going to be and we don’t feel like we have freedom and creativity to do what we’re passionate about. And then like to get away from a jerk boss. And then we work 24 seven on a bunch of tasks we never wanted to do and don’t really lean into our freedom or creativity and become our own jerk boss.

Sarah: Totally. Yeah. 

Mary: It’s so ironic. Yep. Yep. And when I see that happening, I think that a couple of things come to mind. One is we have to stop trying to hustle for our worth. You know, you’re already valuable. You don’t have to prove yourself by creating a business that’s other people consider valuable. And once you understand that you’re already valuable, then you really can lean into this agency of, I get to decide. I get to decide what hours I work. I get to decide who I help and how I help them and what services or products I offer. And I get to make so many of these decisions and I get to decide my boundaries around them. So sometimes I’ll tell people like, what kind of boss do you want to be for yourself? What kind of leader do you want to be for your team? What kind of leader do you want to be for your home and your family? Right, but if you were gonna write a contract with yourself, what would you include in your employment contract? 

Like what hours do you work and what hours do you not work? I like the question of when do you not work actually even better than when you do work. Because sometimes what I hear is like well I tend to like, you know, get up and work, you know. Sometimes I’ll get up early, get things done before the rest of the people, or sometimes I work, you know, I’ll stay late, and it’s like, okay, what if you’re working early and staying late, are you wanting to work 12 to 14 hour days or are you just not being intentional about that? Right? So when do you work? When do you not work? And then other questions like what services do you offer? What services do you not offer? Because sometimes we end up providing services that we didn’t set out to do. I’ve done that before. Oh, sure. Or people are like, Oh, I really need help with this. Can you help me with that? I’m like, yeah, I can do that. But I knew it wasn’t really what I was called to do. Not really what I was led to do. I just knew I could. Right? And that doesn’t always work out the best. People ask, like, you get frustrated because you’re not reaching your goals, right? And it’s like, okay, well, maybe, like what are you paying yourself? First of all, you have to pay yourself something. You need to make sure you have a a consistent income and what’s your compensation policy? What are your non financial rewards for doing this job? Yeah. Right. Hmm. What would you put in a contract for an employee and how can you treat yourself as the kind of boss that you want to be?

Sarah: Well, and how many of us would bend over backwards to make sure that team member was okay. Meanwhile, right? Limping along with, you know, I, I get dramatic just for the effect, right? Like you could have a broken leg, but let’s make sure they’re okay. It’s like, no, no, no, no, no. If that’s how you want your culture to be, then the leader gets to also enjoy the benefits of that culture. Whatever you want for your team members, you get to have the benefits of that too, because that’s actually congruent, you know, versus the overgiving.

Mary: And I do think there’s something to be said about leading by example. So I’ve heard from many people before, like they, that my company talks about work life balance, but it’s the leaders that I see showing up early and staying late, right? Or it’s the leaders that are asking me to do things that are beyond the scope of my employment. Right? And people notice that for sure. So what kind of leader do we want to be and how can we lead by example? 

Sarah: And you know, I smile. I have an unpopular opinion, Mary. I work with female entrepreneurs. And when I hear us take the like servant leadership or leaders eat last, or I’m like, that was not written for the nurturing, biologically hardwired person, right? That was written for somebody who it doesn’t occur to them to put someone else first. So when I hear lead by example, we use it as a weapon against ourselves. Like, well, I actually want my team to like show up and hit the goals. But that for me, it looks like what I’ve been like conditioned to do, which is hustle, work harder, lead by example. Right? If you have a team that you want mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, well, what does that look like for you? And it’s probably not what we’ve been fed in the traditional leadership books. Nothing wrong with them. I love them. I read them too. 

When we weaponize it against ourselves as a leader is when it becomes an issue. And we think, okay, leading by example, looks like what I thought about in the eighties playbooks. Okay. Those don’t work anymore. They just don’t. The demands on us are so high. I don’t think the stakes have ever been higher in terms of like the demands on time and attention because of the digital world we live in. We are never disconnected unless we intentionally disconnect. So our bandwidth now is just at a premium. And so I’m like, Oh, lead by example, I hear so many people turn that against themselves. And turn it into a weapon and I’m like lead by example now in 2024 and beyond is a wholeness picture, right? That wholehearted living that, that living in what’s true for you is the new wave I believe of business leadership. Where it’s not one size fits all it, it just isn’t. 

So I know I got off on a tangent there, but I, I hear it so often where it’s weaponized and then they think they have to suffer and sacrifice as leader. And it’s like, Ooh, a healthy leader is a healthy business. And that means something different to all of us, but it, it is something worth boundarying up and, and making it happen. And I think your work is so key there because it’s scary to set a boundary after a decision. Scary to uphold a boundary after you decide.

Mary: Yes. And when I say lead by example, in terms of work life balance, right? I think that leading by example is not putting other people’s needs above yours. Leading by example is not a way that we can should on ourselves about what we, you know, should be doing and not doing or judge ourselves for that. In terms of work life balance, it’s making it okay for work life balance to be a priority and part of the culture of the team that you’re leading, right? And so leading by example with work life balance is having your own work life balance, whatever that is for you and being open so that it gives permission, eVen if it’s not spoken, it gives permission for people on your team to also have work life balance be part of their framework. Right? So if a leader says, you know, I’m recovering from an ACL surgery and I’m going to be at physical therapy every morning at 8am and so just know I’ll be coming into the office, you know, at this time, Tuesdays and Thursdays for this next quarter, right? What does that example set for their team? 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah. Is so like loving and kind and like you said, it gives them evidence that it’s okay to tend to yourself as well. I have a client who is a total rock star, 30 years in business. And she said her particular last busy season was the hardest on her ever. She came up seeing leaders who say, you know, it was the old school, like never cry, never show weakness, never anything. Right? So she subscribed to that for a long time, but it wasn’t working for her physically, mentally, emotionally. So we talked about it and she made a plan where she’s like, I know I’ve got team members on the brink. They can’t take it anymore. And I understand completely, but she wasn’t letting on that. It was hard for her. She made a decision to go into her team meeting and share that this was the hardest tax season in 30 years that she had had. And they were like, Oh my gosh, it’s so comforting to know we’re not alone. And her being willing to lead by example with vulnerability to that, she wasn’t feeling the work life balance and they were like, Oh good. We thought you were super woman. And that we were not doing it right. And so she just created the connection and they made a plan for how everybody could get through it with some sort of like harmony in their life. And it, she said it was a game changer for her. Her being willing to own that actually she was not in balance, there wasn’t work life balance and that it was really hard for her, gave her team like that camaraderie too, that they thought she just had it together and they didn’t mean while she was suffering in silence and that it wasn’t the culture she wanted to build of true teamwork.

So it also allows other people to step up and help you as leader, which is so foreign for so many of us who think we have to do it all ourselves. So it gives an opportunity to your people to rally around you too, when you say, Hey, I’m out of balance here. I’m out of whack. This isn’t working for me. And that lets them say, you know what? Can I help you? Because how many times do we not even see help that’s out there. 

Mary: Leaders, we need help too. 

Sarah: It turns out we do. It’s weird. We’re human. We didn’t get that memo, but we are humans with needs. Yeah. Yep. 

Mary: Yep. Yep. One word that you said that’s kind of standing out to me that I think is probably worth diving into kind of as we wrap up this topic is busy, busyness. I see busyness kind of being paraded around as this badge of honor sometimes. And what really is going on when we’re busy? What does that actually mean? And what do we do about it? What are your thoughts about what is busyness?

Sarah: I had to break up with my busy badge back in 2015. I literally loved it. I loved being the busiest person in the room. It was total gold star on my shirt, right? Like big gold star, and it didn’t work. It turns out it’s not sustainable to be the busiest person all the time. It wasn’t who I wanted to be. And as I look back more objectively with a little more distance between me and my busy badge, I now realize there was a lot of dopamine chasing there. I work with a lot of neuro spicy neuromagical clients, there’s a dopamine relationship. We get a little bit addicted to the, shall we say we can derive some certainty that we must be doing something if we’re busy, right? That we must be okay. If there’s action, it must be all right. Well, we want to be in our zone of genius, what at top 20%, whatever you want to apply here. 

Busy doesn’t actually move the needle in your business. It makes you tired and what we can do is take a big step back and say, does busy actually benefit my business? Does busy have me just hustling for my worth like you said. Does busy have me just people pleasing, so I say yes to every committee. What is the relationship with busy for you? Is it a dopamine hit? Is it, are we numbing with busyness so we don’t have to feel feelings? Hi, my name is Sarah and I don’t like telling people no. And so I will choose to be resentful at myself versus that five second discomfort of saying thank you, but I don’t have the bandwidth right now. Right? So I’m learning, I’m learning and I’m getting better all the time. But as a leader in your business, you do need to examine what is busy actually doing here. Shall we say just what’s my payoff? And if that payoff is something that actually doesn’t serve you in the long run, let’s examine it, do the work, hire Mary, et cetera.

Mary: Thank you. Yeah. I do say often that busyness is a symptom of a boundaries problem.

Sarah: Bingo. Yeah. Bingo. 

Mary: Yeah. So I invite people to try on the idea that we have exactly the right amount of time for all the things that we need. I have the right amount of time, I have the right amount of resources, I have the right amount of energy for the things that I need. And so if we run around telling ourselves we don’t have any time for that, what happens is we don’t actually get the results that we want. Because we feel rushed and we feel unfocused and we feel exhausted and kind of secretly like a martyr in our world. And all of that is completely optional. There’s this whole other way of thinking and living and being and working that busyness doesn’t include. And it’s just about deciding, this is how much time I want to spend on this. This is the result that I want to achieve. I’m going to make a commitment and then I’m going to keep that commitment to myself. And I build confidence over time as I keep that commitment to myself. And busyness is just an optional kind of side approach if you want to try it, but it doesn’t really work long term. 

Sarah: Right? And you asked, what kind of leader do you want to be? And so you can, when you’re weighing those opportunities, cause they come at us all day, right? The opportunity to be more busy. We have decisions all day of busy or less busy. So what kind of leader do you want to be? And then you ask yourself, does this opportunity to be busy, take me closer to or further away from the kind of leader I want to be. Right. And that’s a filter that will help you all day.

Mary: And busy leaders, unfortunately, the unintended consequence of busy leadership is that our teams view us as unapproachable. And they also occupy themselves as busy but nobody’s getting the results that they want. So let’s stop that. That’s not, that’s not helping. That’s just optional. 

Sarah: And then you probably throw five more meetings on top of it to try and solve for that. 

Mary: Well, I love meetings. I actually really love meetings as long as we have a clear purpose, we’re working towards our outcome, we’ve got a measurement of success, right? Like as long as they are getting results, then I love meetings, but nobody has time just to sit around in a meeting to feel like we’ve got something on our calendar.

Sarah: No, we don’t. We don’t. Yeah. 

Mary: All right. Well, let’s wrap up here. To folks who are listening and want to kind of think a little bit more about work life balance, what would you say to them?

Sarah: I like to start with your values. What are your top three values? Basically how you want to live your life, right? What do you want to focus on in your life and use it as the filter for your decisions on what is my life and business calling for me to do and be today? And that usually brings pretty peaceful clarity in a hurry, but when we are trying to engineer for other people’s needs and other people’s feelings all the time, we lose sight of who it is, we’re here to be as a leader. So yeah, you’re going to have non negotiables. Your kids get your focus. Of course they do. Your fur babies get your focus, right? Your, you will eat today. Hopefully you’ll drink some water, but when we think about the rest of how we balance and choose and decide, I like to just go back to those top three values. How do you want to show up in this life? Right? Your life is happening now. So how do you want to show up today? And, and give yourself wild, radical permission to do it the way that your values right lead the way. 

Mary: Awesome. Awesome. And I think the message that I want to end with is that you’re already valuable. So not just your values, but your value as a human, you’re already valuable. So no need to hustle for your worth anymore. You get to decide how you spend your time and how you spend your energy and your resources and I invite you to be thoughtful and purposeful about how you’re spending your energy and that busyness is completely optional, that you don’t have to be busy and that effective leadership is going to be more successful when we’re not busy and we’re not perceived as busy. So I just invite you all to try that on for a little while. So thanks so much for being here.