The Year’s Most Inspiring Read
I’m listening to the audiobook version of Matthew Kelly’s Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction, and it’s probably the most inspiring title I’ve read (or listened to) so far this year.
Why? Because the author doesn’t just talk about how you can change your life, pursue your dreams, blah, blah, blah. He actually did it…and he changed his life in a way that makes sense to me. He talks about changing his whole life, taking into account both the personal and professional, which he says are integrally intertwined.
I like the idea of running away to a Caribbean island as much as the next gal, but the truth is that I’m probably not ever going to decide the benefits of island living outweigh the costs. In fact, I don’t even think changing addresses is worth the cost, at least not for the next few years–even though I’m a country girl at heart and have never felt quite settled in our suburban environment.
But, like Kelly, I’ve identified my priorities, and family is one of the top items on the list. So as long as it’s best for my family to stay where we are, here we’ll stay.
I’ve also identified creative writing as a top priority…and that one is easier to let slide. Kelly’s book gave me “mental ammunition” in my daily battle to prioritize my writing time.
The Balance Myth
Having examined the issue extensively, I have come to the conclusion that people don’t really need or want balance. As an idea, balance sounds desirable, but…if you delve a little further and get people talking about what that balance looks like, you will discover that what they want has very little to do with balance. – Matthew Kelly, Off Balance
I think that the reason the book resonates with me so much is that Kelly starts off by challenging the idea that balance is the goal. Instead, he says, people want satisfying lives.
Writing this, it sounds like a no-brainer. I mean, of course we all want satisfying lives. Everyone knows that, right? I think the power of the book lies in the fact that instead of dwelling on the difficulties of balancing work and family and friends and health and…well, everything…Kelly skips right on past the challenges to ask: what makes a life satisfying?
He focuses on identifying what works rather than chasing after the phantom of somehow balancing work and the rest of life. It’s not that balance doesn’t matter–you don’t want one area of your life to blossom at the expense of others. The problem is that by seeking “balance,” it’s easy to get distracted by the wrong questions.
For me, writing produces immense satisfaction.Unless I feel like it’s encroaching on other priorities (such as spending time with my aforementioned family!) The book prompted me to ask questions such as, what type of writing gives me a feeling of satisfaction? Does when I write influence satisfaction?
I’m going to walk you through the process, because I love what I discovered!
What type of writing produces a feeling of satisfaction?
Like many freelancers, I’m a jack-of-all-trades in the writing arena. My work can generally be broken down into a few categories, though:
- Writing I do because I’m passionate about it (primarily fiction)
- Writing I do to earn money (primarily nonfiction, especially medical writing)
- And writing that falls somewhere between the two (eg, writing nonfiction for children)
Do all of these produce satisfaction, I asked myself? The answer surprised me. I knew that writing nonfiction for adults was the least satisfying of the three, but had resigned myself to continuing. Bills to pay, mouths to feed, and so on.
Writing fiction, I knew, was immensely satisfying–and the least likely to generate income, at least in the short term. And so it kept getting shoved aside by other projects, leaving me immensely UN-satisfied.
Writing nonfiction for kids? It turns out that I thrive creating interesting nonfiction for young readers. I love discovering cool facts to share with kids. I love knowing that the books I write are as factually accurate as it’s possible to make them. I take great pride in making sure they contain only the clearest, most accurate information. This type of writing doesn’t pay a ton, but it does pay. It’s also (usually) much lower pressure work than the “adult” nonfiction projects I take on.
Am I more likely to gain “writing-related satisfaction” at a particular time of day?
Again, my answer surprised me. It turns out that if I drag my butt out of bed and write early in the morning, before anyone else is up, I tend to have a much more productive and inspired writing session. I come up with more ideas and am better able to solve plot problems.
It also turns out that this is primarily true for fiction writing, rather than nonfiction.
What can I do with this information?
This exercise gave me several important pieces of intelligence:
- Writing fiction = BIG boost to my satisfaction meter, but I was letting it slide because I felt like I “had to” earn money
- Writing nonfiction for kids = another boost to my satisfaction meter
- This kind of work frees up time and energy for writing fiction (yay!)
- This kind of work won’t make me rich, but it will help pay the bills
- Writing early in the AM is more satisfying than writing later in the day
- Could I could get more bang for the buck, so to speak, by spending an hour on fiction at 5:30 AM than by spending 2 hours later in the day? It was worth a try
- I also noticed that when my “satisfaction meter” is red-lined, I’m a pretty crappy mom and spouse. Hmm…that means
- Prioritizing writing satisfaction in my life makes me a better mom and wife, which aligns with my FAMILY priority
Inspired by what I’d learned, I implemented one small change last Monday: re-committing to getting up early to write. I’ve been at my desk at 5:30 every weekday since…and yes, I’m getting the hoped-for boost in writing satisfaction. I’ve got some more changes planned for the upcoming weeks.
More Things to Like
Off Balance has a self-assessment to help you evaluate where you are on the personal and professional satisfaction continuum. In a way, the first step in the pursuit of a satisfying life is to get in touch with your dissatisfaction. The assessment questions help the reader to pinpoint exactly what is or isn’t working. It also provides a way to “measure” satisfaction in key life areas.
The key to making changes, Kelly says, is to get strategic about it:
- Identify places where you need to change
- Measure your satisfaction in that area–because if you don’t measure, how can you tell if your day-to-day efforts are making a difference?
- Target one or two areas to work on
The book also provides some of the standard information about how to develop new habits and create life change. Its difference lies in he way he organizes everything around this concept of personal and professional life satisfaction. For example, Kelly focuses on the idea of energy as a benchmark for what is and isn’t working.
If [personal and professional satisfaction] is something you are ultimately responsible for creating for yourself, then your level of energy is of paramount importance in this quest. In fact, there may be nothing that has a greater impact…. – Matthew Kelly, Off Balance
To improve life satisfaction, he argues, add more energy-increasing experiences to your day. Decrease the number of energy-zappers. He also talks about different types of energy…but I suppose I can’t give away the entire book here. Go buy it. You know you want to!
What do you think–what makes your life more (or less) satisfying overall? Want to join me in committing to ONE SMALL CHANGE for the upcoming week? I’m excited to see what will happen, and I hope you are, too!
PS: If you’re interested in learning more about Matthew Kelly’s Off Balance, he offers several free videos and other resources on his website.