Leadership for a Lifetime: Balance

ID-100109460Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for students post-high school isn’t how to avoid all the potential pitfalls of independent living. For many, it can be learning to say NO to too many good things!

  • In college, for example (or in their new environment), there are so many new opportunities to spend their time: New friends. New classes. Intramurals. Games. Parties. Clubs. Service opportunities. And what if they “go Greek?”—another entirely different set of possibilities! It all means that they have to be choosy—and realistic. After all, too much of a good thing… is never a good thing!

In our work with Parenting for the Launch, our book for parents of teens, we share that many kids today are too busy and have no margin… an issue that’s often parent-driven. We can be unwittingly burning out our kids with countless activities to build their resumes and position for college scholarships, etc.. Huge demands from athletics are also taking their toll.

“Burnout” is the state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when we feel overwhelmed and unable to meet the demands of all our responsibilities, activities, and relationships. When we’re burned out, we may feel exhausted, emotional, irritable, and out of control. The resulting stress impairs our sleep, health, and ability to perform at our best.

The reality is that no one can do it all, much less do it well. We all have to find that sweet spot of equilibrium that provides a proper allocation of time and attention to family, friends, work/school, career, and personal and spiritual growth. That sweet spot is “balance,” and it doesn’t happen by accident. Without a clear plan and commitment to maintaining balance, it’s easy to become overcommitted and out of control.

We need to help our children build margin as eagerly as we help them build resumes. Here are five tips to help them maintain balance in life:

  1. Be self aware. What are the signs that you’re out of balance? When it happens, ask yourself, “Is there too much on my plate?” We’re not talking about what you had for dinner last night—rather, what’s on your “plate” of activities, responsibilities, and relationships? Is it manageable?
  2. Identify your priorities. Time management, distractions, new responsibilities, variable schedules, and the like are all new facts of life post-high school. Plus, in today’s technology-laden world, the temptation to play video games or surf social media instead of studying can be huge. Develop a purposeful list of priorities. If you’re visual, write them down and keep them within view. What’s important to you? Grades? Fitness? New friends? Clubs? Spiritual life? What matters most?
  3. Be intentional. Remember that time is precious and you must use it wisely. Make a realistic evaluation of how you are allocating your time and energy, and consider the value and the time requirements of any new commitment before saying “yes.” Also, skimping on exercise, sleep, and quiet time are not the way to deal with overcommitment and will only exacerbate the burnout.
  4. Learn to say “no.Although it may feel uncomfortable to say “no” to fun things and delightful people, each time you say “yes,” you are implying it’s a priority. Those who are “people pleasers” or high achievers may particularly struggle with saying “no.” Encourage them to value the peace that comes from balance and the opportunities for spontaneity when there is margin.
  5. Avoid all consuming work. Everyone lives between two ends of a spectrum. On one end are our relationships. On the other end are our performance arenas like school, career, and wealth building. In this competitive world, people often overinvest in the performance areas and underinvest in their relationships, with devastating consequences. Truly successful people recognize the importance of relationships and reflect this in their priorities and time management.

Maintaining balance is a hallmark of successful people. If you are a parent or educator of a high schooler, teach them the value of margin and to spend their time on what matters most. It’s a leadership lesson that will last a lifetime!

photo: freedigitalphotos.net, by Jeroen van Oostrom

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