The company CEO quits his job to be a full-time Dad.
A prominent PR firm executive give everything up for a life of travel and photography.
This 30-year old is valued at millions of dollars and is now retiring.
Five things all successful people do to start their day.
These are the headlines that catch the attention of working professionals like us who are trying to look for tips, tricks, secrets and short-cuts to having the good life. For many, corporate work has become a chronic disease. It persists on controlling at least 8 hours of your day (if you’re lucky) as you adult your way through life. What you can and cannot do in that life depends on the compensation that your industry has decided you deserve based on what you can and should do.
This all sounds like an uneducated simplification of the complicated existence of economy, but that’s what all of this is to the hard and hardly working individual working up, around, and behind the corporate ladder punching numbers, negotiating deals or cleaning the floor. So it is not surprising that we are re-living our own version of the mid-60’s liberal movement that’s all about self-discovery and living in the now. The hippies of our parents became the hipsters of today. The baby boomers and angry Gen X’s gave birth to the seemingly incomprehensible Millennial. But compared to the let it all go and live for peace motto from half a century ago, our contemporary version is the constant search for work-life balance.
To escape this rudely labelled cycle, many have turned to freelancing. I’ve observed that freelancing has become a more familiar concept to many professionals in my circle in the past 5 years though globally, it has surged into an acceptable means of living for the past two decades. It is usually used as an additional source of income or as a welcome alternative to entrepreneurial activities. I’ve managed to do the same for 2 ½ years and it has given me a semblance of freedom and control over my time, energy and worth. I have interviewed a few full-time freelancers and by turning their backs to the corporate ladder, they are able to be truly there for their family. They spend real quality time with family and themselves while working conveniently in their own homes. The ideal work-life balance scenario.
Instead of constantly trying to define your own work-life balance, aim for fulfillment simply for what it is through short-term goals made by your own conscious and practical choices. This way of living has guided me to truly live each day in the past year and a half. This is not exclusive to part-time and freelance workers like me. In fact, I’ve been itching to get back to the corporate world and I will still strongly stand by this mind set when that happens. When I said that my non-full-time work status gives me a “freedom and control over my time, energy and worth,” I had to qualify it with “semblance.” Simply because the system dictates the scope of how far I can go with what I have even as a freelancer; the same system that puts every other entity in the economy in check. However, within this scope, I can define where I go, what I have and who I am, and I believe this is something we can do no matter what job status we hold. In the spirit of living in the now, it matters to be fulfilled by our actions as soon as possible and nothing can be more ASAP in the corporate lingo as end of day.
"...aim for fulfillment simply for what it is through short-term goals made by your own conscious and practical choices."
The goal is simple: To live in the now – to be truly present in every day by finding satisfaction and reward in both work and in life, without having to consider either as penance and escape.
The concept is simple: Treat fulfillment for what it is and give yourself the satisfaction of feeling it soon enough to appreciate it - every day and every month.
The practice is simple: Set a basis for fulfillment – a goal or two – as milestones for work and in matters you value in life. Do this daily and set different ones monthly.
Sounds trivial, doesn’t it? But its impact is revolutionary to your well-being as it is simple. There are four self-dependent cornerstone to achieving genuine fulfillment this way:
(1) Set at least one work goal and one life goal daily and monthly,
(2) Stay sensitive to the interplay between your hours and energy,
(3) Make decisions based on practical and realistic terms, and
(4) Own up to your decisions – recognizing that while you move within the system’s dome, you are making these conscious choices for yourself.
(1) Set at least one goal for work and for yourself. It can be as complex as launching a new event at work and booking your next trip. It can be as simple as generating at least 25 new leads at work and reading about 3 chapters of your new book. It can even be contributing to a long-term goal like reaching 50% of that new certification course and paying total of three months in your life insurance plan. I found that two to three goals daily is a feasible agenda, anything beyond that is just setting yourself up for failure. Monthly goals are something you work yourself up to like trying something new and forming new habits and practices that help us be better at work and in life – completing a certification, attending a training and applying learnings, fixing your projects’ documentation, growing a plant, baking the perfect cupcake, house cleaning, learning how to code, starting a new sport, etc. This first step is a no-brainer and after a while, it will turn into a habit. Deciding on which goals to set and determining the mix of work and personal goals out of three can be quickly adopted after some practice on the next two steps.
(2) Time is infinite but an individual’s productive hours are not. Time is a resource companies monetize because it is a valuable input to production. While you are expected to produce revenue-generating work, you should also expect to produce personally-valuable output.
Know when your productive and idle (but still functioning) hours are.
For example, you reach the office at 8AM, a fairly early start but mostly because you want to avoid heavier traffic. However, you’ve noticed that actual work starts only at 9AM because you spend about an hour going through Facebook and catching up on morning talk in the pantry. That means you need that hour to “warm-up” to the day. You can use that hour at work to read a few pages of that book, browse through travel options for the next long weekend. go through the articles you’ve saved in Pocket for months or work-out in the gym that’s walking distance from the office. That gives you one goal down as early as 9AM. If you’re most productive hours at work are before lunch, I suggest you set a goal that involves tasks you intend to do at then. If you know that by the time you go home, you’ll be too spent to make anything of note, then set a milder personal goal like watching Netflix, updating your blog, spending some time in a new café to IG it.
Your energy also changes depending on the day of the week.
If Tuesdays and Thursdays are your undeniably productive days at work, then set more complex work goals on these days. If you find that you do the same things every day, then make it a point to set goals that will change it up. Like research on external training for you that you can propose to your line manager, go through your intranet for learning materials, volunteer to coordinate the team’s next outing or even have a 0% error output – whichever applies to your type of work and the direction you want to take in your career.
Be honest with how much you want to push yourself that day and if you want to rest.
We all push ourselves to a certain extent everyday but you can set the limit as to how much because there’s more to the day than the time you log-in for work. Remember, our goal here is to experience every day actively, not passively. This implies that if this coming week is all about long work hours because of a crucial presentation, set half a day or another full day simply to rest and complete personal goals.
Despite what social researchers say about successful people starting their day really early, exercising and doing work-related activities already, it is not the same for everyone. While we can change our habits, there is merit to understanding what works for us so we recognize our accomplishments and gain a sense of fulfillment more.
(3) Making practical and realistic decisions follows understanding the interplay between your time and energy. Ambition and creativity help us grab opportunities for a better footing in career and life, but the path towards something better has to be realistic. This means we need to work within available and positively expected resources in setting daily and monthly goals. If this month is all about closing the books at work, then it simply makes sense not to aim to be sent to a week-long training. If this week is all about catching up to quotas, then don’t tell yourself you need to fix all admin documents today. If this week is all about ensuring projects are well-monitored, then put yourself up for more reading materials related to improving your work. If you’re due to pay for your car’s insurance and new mortgage, don’t set yourself for a new travel goal the same month. If relatives are coming over to visit this month, don’t expect to finish a book as quickly because you’re likely not to have a lot of time to do that. Keep in mind that being realistic is working within your means and resources to achieve goals that lead to better things. Being practical is ensuring the goals you set are achievable considering your available time and energy.
(4) Finally, start owning up to your decisions. Simply put, if you “warm-up” for the day going through Facebook instead of accomplishing a personal goal, that is your choice. If you put so much hours in that report and did not have enough time or energy to read a book, it is your choice to put your best in that report. We can argue that the system limits the choices we make. Of course we need some idle time because we can’t be expected to be “ready” in the morning. Of course we need to finish that report no matter what because it’s our job. But have you ever considered that we have given up so much decision and blame to the system? Let’s put each of our examples to the test. If we browse Facebook or pantry talk at 8AM to “warm-up” for the day because we didn’t have enough focus to finish a book or plan the day out, then it is our conscious decision to do so. We cannot completely blame the workload, our employers and our clients for losing time to accomplish our personal goals. If we put in extended hours to finish a report that we lose time and energy to even read a book, it is because we want to put our best in our output, to be among the best at work, to make-up to our recent blunder or to get that promotion we want. Because of that, we cannot completely blame our workload for not being able to put enough time for that book.
Like what I said, the system has set the parameters but we make our decisions on where to go, what we have and who we are. It is here that deciding whether to push ourselves and understanding how much we can do so. This last part is understandably the most difficult because we are hardly in control of most things at work or the world around us for that matter. But that’s the point, we can be in control of our decisions and we should be accountable for them. Once you’ve mastered this, your sense of fulfillment on the simple and complex things will be a sense of accomplishment for the series of choices and actions you’ve done, and not something that was granted to you.
There are three hidden lessons in our discussion. Planning is critical. Planning sounds contradictory to living in the now but the truth is that it plays a big role in ensuring that you go for what you set to accomplish. Setting long-term goals is not out of the question. It is, in fact, necessary so you can set more purposeful short-term goals. The Corporate World is not the enemy. It gives many of us a means of living the lives we want and aim for and gives us the means to strive for our dreams.
What changed when you started gaining fulfillment this way? How else do you make work and personal goals for you? I’m absolutely excited to know your thoughts on this.