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Episode 141: Multiple Options for Better Balancing Your Life—Podcast Guests

Deb Zahn: Hi. I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. Now this is the first podcast of the new year, so I actually want to start it off by talking about something that is relevant to every single consultant. It doesn't matter who you are, and it doesn't matter what you do. And that is how you can bring more balance to your life, however it is you define that. And if you've been listening to my podcast, you know that I ask every single guest that. At this point, I've asked over 140 different people to tell me what it means to them and how they go about balancing their life, or at least trying to keep things in proportion so that they're not just having a thriving consulting business, but they're also having a good time doing it and enjoying other things that are meaningful in their lives.

What this episode is is actually a mashup. I picked a few folks who gave, I thought, really helpful answers and gave some really good options to consider for how you might be able to bring more balance to your life. We're going to go through what those different ones are, and then we're going to end with me, finally answering that question as well. My hope is, is in listening to this podcast and hearing how other consultants have done this and are doing this and what they're struggling with and what they're finding working, that you'll be able to pick out a few nuggets, a few gems that are going to be helpful to you so that as you head into this new year, you've got some new things in your toolkit to make your life and your business look the way you want it to look. So let's get started.

Crystal Kadakia: A couple of things. People are always like, "Wow, you've accomplished so much," but I'm really a very go slow to go fast type of person, so I don't spend my time on useless things, basically. I really watch myself and I try not to get hung up on things like continuous email checking or accepting every single meeting request just because people might expect me to. I draw boundaries. I do a lot of free speaking with my training company, especially this year, because we had our book launch last year, so it's a great way to get the book out. Well, I noticed that all these people were asking me for pre-meetings to do tech checks and stuff, and at some point I just started replying and I said, "Look, Zoom fatigue is real. For free events, I'm no longer doing these rehearsal meetings. I will be joining 15 minutes before the call."

Deb Zahn: Good for you.

Crystal Kadakia: We can do our tech check then. OK, so things like that. Relentlessly focusing on what's meaningful and what's important and then carving my energy to allow me to do those meaningful, important things. If I need a slow morning routine, which I do, I need to clean my house, make my chai, sit down, read something or watch something when I'm eating breakfast, then I start my work. I work really, my core hours are like 10 to three, and I'm amazing. I'll do immersive work stuff and then I'll go for a walk or I'll take a shower, and then I might come back and do more, but I might not. I might sit down and do dinner. So most of the time I'm working from 10 to three, and maybe an hour or two later, and it's not the number of hours I put in, it's what I'm putting those hours toward.

Deb Cullerton: You know what's interesting? You and I, we've joked and laughed and seriously talked over the years about how the universe will force you into things even when you're not good at it. You know this is not my strongest area. I certainly have my hobbies. I love my hobbies. I've had more COVID hobbies than the average person. I kind of float through them faster than the average person. I've had lots of them.

Deb Zahn: Once you master them, yes.

Deb Cullerton: I don't know about that, but I definitely have gone through the painting and the woodworking and the making bread, and you know what I mean? I've done it all. So I have that, but I would also say, having COVID and I don't wish it on anyone, but it really has changed my perspective on things because the fatigue is real. If anyone in your life has had it and they tell you that even months after they've had it, that they're still experiencing wild fatigue, they're not lying. I'm absolutely here to tell you and I'm the Energizer bunny, so people look at me and they go, "She goes, goes, goes. She's never tired." I am exhausted all the time now. So what it means is, balance has been thrust upon me. I have no choice now, and now I understand and I've also been graced with empathy for others that I never had.

If I'm totally honest and vulnerable here, I will tell you, I talk a good game when I say, "Oh, I know how you feel." I didn't. I just always have energy. I always have a lot of passion for what I do and I love to do it, but I really do get it now when people say, "I'm just, I'm exhausted. I need to pull out. I need to regain my energy and my balance." I now understand. The only difference for me is that I physically don't feel like I can do anymore, so it's stopping me. It's stopping me. It's making me a little bit more choosy about what really are the priorities and what really are not the priorities. What's the nice to haves and we have to walk our talk and live our game a little bit more.

Dee Maddox: I bring balance by doing fun stuff and giving back. I love people and working as a consultant is kind of great for me because it doesn't matter what background or what location or what age. I love children. I love adults. My husband says I collect mature people or senior citizens, so I don't discriminate. I love people, but I give back. When you're volunteering, the one thing about volunteering is you're there because you want to be, and you're not getting paid, but you have the luxury of picking where you want to be, and food insecurity is my secret passion. Food insecurity is just like a bullet. It doesn't have an address. It doesn't have any restrictions or obstacles. It can hit anyone anywhere, and this global pandemic has shown that. So volunteering is the way that I bring balance to my life because I work because I love what I do, and that's why I've chosen to stop being corporate and launch a consulting firm but choosing to volunteer and give back is just something that I feel good doing, and that makes me happy, so that brings me balance.

Sergio Matos: There's a lot of human contact involved in the work that I do because we're sharing really intimate stuff. When you ask people and you provide the safety for them to share their lived experience, it's amazing. The humanity, the courage, the resiliency, the desire, the hope, the faith that people have, and that's inspiring, and I get to do that at work, so that's pretty cool. But then also, like I said before, I have some hobbies and if I want to engage in those hobbies, I'm free to do that and I'm free to make up the work time at any other time. If I want to take a week off and go scuba diving, which I love to do, I can do that because I'm my boss. If I want to take a dance class at three o'clock in the afternoon, it's OK. I can do that.

Deb Zahn: That's right.

Sergio Matos: And I'll get back at six and I'll get back to work. So being a consultant for me, and I didn't know this when I became a consultant, I did not have a full appreciation for the extraordinary amount of freedom and fulfillment that it would provide. I'm really, really happy that even though I failed the first time that I gave it another shot because it really has shaped my life. It really has made me a happier person.

Carrie Bohlig: I think what's beautiful about taking a side hustle approach is that you can open a little bit more balance into your life. You're not working 70 hours getting out of the startup. I think that's, in a lot of ways, conducive for the more moderate entrepreneur who wants to have a little bit more semblance of balance in their life, but I would say you're going to have to work hard and that there's likely going to be more phases or moments of balance, but it's not going to be like, you go to the nine to five job and come home and you watch Netflix all night or go to the picnic or happy hours every night. It's just going to look a little bit different. Balance is going to look a little bit different than the average person.

My suggestion is don't compare the modern art museum to the impressionism museum. You're comparing two different things and if you can get yourself out of the comparison game and just define your normal. What feels like a balance to you is going to be different than someone who has no threshold for anything productive or a side hustle outside of work. Also, just being willing to run and gun a little bit, but then know your threshold to when you have to take a step back and have more time with your kids, or have more time out in nature, or take a vacation and don't do work. I think that's hard for business owners to do. We can attest and not being perfect at that and also, our thresholds have changed.

I developed an autoimmune illness after having my first child, so my thresholds changed, and I had to just honor that versus fight it. Also, that gave me good empathy towards other people who maybe weren't running as fast as I was previously. So own your own race and just embrace the moments and phases of balance and imbalance. Treat it like an adventure. That's what I've always done and just really honor your needs. My twenties, it was work hard, play hard. My thirties, I added self-care hard to the mix, and that's a very, very powerful thing to have on your radar and to make investments into, because again if it's more of a marathon approach, you're going to need energy and some spirit behind it to keep running the race.

Terrance Lee: I think for me, my balance comes from helping people. I really enjoy helping people. When I'm at work, my nine to five and everything, what I do in my engineering career, that's fun. I enjoy it, but what I really enjoy is with this whole introvert leader platform. When I have conversations with people in the DMs, when people reach out to me and they say, "Hey, I was having a really rough day and I watched one of your videos about public speaking and it made me feel better." I think I find my balance from trying to just provide value to people's lives and help people as much as I can. I think for me, that provides a lot of balance, and then, from an introvert perspective, one of the things that I love to do is just sit on the patio with a good book. If I have a good book and some alone time, that is just great for me, so that helps me with my balance as well.

Scott Love: I think for people that are in consulting, you're probably competitive, find a competitive hobby. Find something that has nothing to do with your job, and this is what Winston Churchill realized, Deb. He wrote a book called, Painting as a Pastime. He said, "You just can't sit there and say, I'm just not going to think about him," because your mind's still going to be active. He said, "Get your mind active on something that's sideways from what your core focus is, and that gives you healing." So that's why I paint. I used to do a lot of stand-up comedy because I love that. I like being on the stage. I like performing. I bring that to presentations, even virtual presentations, I've done this year with professionals. I keep it rated G in the business world.

Deb Zahn: But still funny.

Scott Love: PG-13 in the comedy clubs. People got booze and all that, but it's just realizing that you've got to manage your energy. Find out what is it that gives you healing. I also believe that you need to focus on helping other people where there's no personal benefit to you, such as joining Rotary International. I mentor a kid in D.C. We're involved in our parish. You got to find something where you're giving time, talent, energy to other people where there's no payback. There's no commission. There's no stiff. It's selfless. I really think that, that...That when you think of selflessness, that's what's attractive. That's what attracts us to other people, and I think there's just not enough of that in the world, and that service. That servant leadership. I think that's just missing in a lot of places and you become that kind person that's going to give you healing, and you're not even going to care about how does that make you look, but then people are going to be attracted to that, which is fantastic.

Jaimee Maree: One of the biggest things that I brought into my life a couple of years ago is actually taking myself out on dates. Look, lockdown's been a little bit hard on that, but I do home dates now, but I will do things, whether it's, if I can get to a restaurant, I will take myself out to a restaurant. I often take myself to wineries and I just take a book, have some wine, have some cheese. That's really what I do. I try and do so much self-care. Now, it's actually my biggest priority in my life to take that time to slow down because I do my best work with my team when I'm far more relaxed and-

Deb Zahn: Oh yeah.

Jaimee Maree: I live by the beach, which that's not so great at the moment. It's a bit cold, but I take myself out for walks and self-care is definitely the thing that I do.

Diogène Ntirandekura: I don't have a business plan. I have a life plan.

Deb Zahn: I love it.

Diogène Ntirandekura: There are six areas in my life, and I have tried a bit like you do this year with your mom time.

Deb Zahn: Yep.

Diogène Ntirandekura: I try to every week, look at seriously where have I been. How have I performed on all those six areas? The six areas are, first, is the love relationships. It's with my wife and my daughter. Then there are all my relatives, the rest of my family and my very, very best friends. Then there is health. Health on the mental side and health on the physical side, and then, business, and finance is the last one. I try to be sure at... Those six, I'm not perfect at all.

Deb Zahn: Of course.

Diogène Ntirandekura: But at least, by tracking, I know where I have to improve. I try to really do it consistently every week. For example, we are Fridays or Friday before ending my week. This week, I finished really on Friday. I will never look at it, but for sure, yes, I've become a dad. I got married a year ago just before COVID but having just become a dad with a little daughter and at home all the time, you balance between life and work. It's not something that you can find 50/50, but you have to choose your imbalances. Choose your non-negotiables and accept some imbalances.

Prina Shah: For me, Deb, balance means having a variety of work that challenges my brain, such as this session that I talked about, lots of learning as well. You have to constantly be learning, but then I always need time to switch off. For myself, I love my garden.

Deb Zahn: Nice.

Prina Shah: Lots of succulents, all sorts. Walking. I live in beautiful Western Australia. It's having proper time to switch off and being OK with that because a lot of the time also as consultants, we can guilt ourselves into anything and everything, and that's just so raw. Treating myself well and not guilting myself when I do have that time off, but it's about being organized as well then, to allow myself to have that time off. So that's the balance for me.

Danielle McGinnis: I want to make sure, always make sure that I have family time in place. For me, my husband is also self-employed, so sometimes our schedules don't always go together nicely. But personally, I've instituted start and stop times for my business every day. Like you said, I set up systems within my business and I set up systems within my client's businesses to ensure that I can work within those start and stop times, and I do have spiritual activities that I partake in twice a week.

Deb Zahn: All right. You have heard a lot of folks give their take on what it is that they do to bring balance to their life, and I realize that I've never really answered this question myself. I've given you bits and pieces and certainly talked about some of my struggles, certainly talked about some of my tactics, but I've never really had to answer this question. And that seems grossly unfair, particularly because I've asked over 140 other people to tell me what their take is. So I'm actually going to answer this, and there was a lot of things that folks said about how it is that they try and bring more balance to their lives that resonate with me and are things that I do, but I want to give a couple of other things that haven't been said or fully said, that I think might be for you to consider.

If I were answering the question, "Hey Deb, how do you bring balance to your life, however, it is you define that?" The first thing I would say is, "I need to recognize when I'm the problem." When I used to work in employment and I thought, oh my gosh, my boss is so mean. They're overworking me. I have too much to do. And all kinds of reasons that had nothing to do with me about why I work so much. And I was neglecting other areas of my life pretty significantly, and the reality is, is when I became a consultant and suddenly there wasn't anybody hanging over my shoulder saying, "Deb, work, work, work, work, work," and pushing me to work weekends and pushing me to work into the night, and yet that was still happening. I had to recognize that I was doing quite a bit to contribute to this.

Now I was not the only problem. There were certainly things within my work world. There are certainly things within my consulting life that create the conditions where that can happen or make that happen, but I was a huge contributor to it, and that was this really sobering thought and realization that I had. The types of things that I need to do to have that radical self-honesty, to be able to step back and look at a situation and ask myself what is actually causing this and what is actually contributing to this and include myself in the mix. The only way that I can come up with good solutions is if I am very, very honest and clear about what's actually causing it and what's contributing to it, including when it's me. Usually when it's me, it's because I have not set appropriate boundaries or I had boundaries and for some reason, I violated those or allowed those to be violated, or I didn't set up appropriate systems and triggers to make sure that those boundaries were actually going to stick.

If you've been listening to my podcast, you've heard me say before, I have an electronic scheduling system. I use Calendly, and I've set up rules within it about the days that I'm actually available. That's really helpful because that means that somebody just can't schedule on those days and that's an important boundary. The reason that I have that boundary is because I know it helps me get good work done, do excellent work, do what I need to do, and have a life more in balance. There's things like that. If I'm doing something to actually ignore that system, let people schedule, or I'm doing something else where I'm actually not setting a boundary, that's important for me to recognize, and that's important for me to do something about that. It's also taking a look at when I need to say, "No." I talk about saying, "No," and saying, "No," I have to look at it with a little more nuance than, do I or don't I want to take on additional work?

I also have come to realize, and it took me a good long time as a consultant to realize that this was important, that I also have to look at the type of work because there's some type of work that even if I really enjoy it, depletes me. I'm an introvert. I know this. There is work that I do that is very extroverted. If all of the projects that I'm taking on, look like that, then I'm going to have much less energy and I'm going to be far more exhausted and it's going to be much harder to enjoy other aspects of my life. I need to make sure that I have the appropriate mix of the work that I'm doing. Maybe I'm doing things that involve facilitating groups and doing all kinds of things that are really enjoyable to me, but deplete me, and I'm mixing that up with some where I'm sitting quietly and I'm writing something that's really helpful for my client, which is more of an introverted activity and actually helps recharge me a bit. I have to be able to look at what it is I say, "yes" or "no" to in a nuanced enough way so that it's not just about the amount of work, but it's also about the type of work.

And then, I have to be willing to just stop and say, "Look, I can't. I can't do it anymore. I need to recharge. I need to take a time outO" or maybe I'm looking at the rest of my life, and I'm like, you know what? I'm just going to let that go. It might be important to me, but it's not more important to me than something else, so I'm going to let it go. That could mean I say to my husband, who is not a cook by any stretch of the imagination, I very much enjoy cooking for my family, so it is usually me, but I have to sometimes say, "Honey, we're having waffles tonight and you're making them," and I can't do that every night. It's unhealthy for a lot of reasons, but sometimes it's OK to say that or say, "Look, we're just going to get takeout because it's going to be easier for us to do that," and allow myself to do that and allow myself to do it without putting a lot of guilt on myself.

That's actually the other thing that I want to talk about, and Prina Shah touched upon this a bit in terms of not guilting ourselves when we're actually trying to take care of ourselves. I'm a big fan of not should-ing on myself and should-ing all over myself and saying, "You have to do this. You have to that." And if you're, take out time out for self-care, you take time out for other things, then it's bad, it's wrong, and here's all the reasons why, and I can very easily do that. But one thing that I noticed, and I especially noticed it over the last couple particularly difficult years is, I can use darn near anything as a stick to beat myself with because I will also should on myself when it comes to self-care. And that's the one thing I wanted to add to this conversation is that it's really easy to say, "OK, I have to balance, and balance has to look like this, and if it doesn't look like this, I'm doing something wrong, and if I'm not able to do this self-care activity, then it's bad, I'm wrong, etc., etc." And all ways that we construct a case against ourselves for not doing something that we feel like we should do.

A quick example of that is, I love to write in a journal, and I actually have journals dating back to when I was 15 years old. They are cringe-worthy to look at, but I have them and I love to do it. It is something that I do for self-care. And there was a long period of time, particularly when I started consulting and I became an entrepreneur and started this business where I said, "This is my morning routine. My morning routine will include eating a healthy breakfast, exercising, and writing in my journal." It got to a point, particularly when the pandemic just started dragging on and on, and there were lots of worries and concerns and my days got a little more hectic and a little busier that I was still forcing myself to journal even though it didn't feel nurturing. It didn't feel like self-care at all, but because I had put it in the self-care category and because I had decided this is part of my morning routine, I was making myself do it and it wasn't helping me in any way. It ended up just being another thing on my to-do list and what I really needed to do was to take things off of my to-do list.

Now if it had felt nurturing and I got rid of it and replaced it with something that wasn't nurturing or to make space for something that wasn't nurturing, that would've been a problem, but it was no longer feeling that way, and I knew that I will eventually return to it. There's a time for everything, but this was not the time for me to be doing that for a whole host of reasons. So I stopped doing it and it was surprisingly difficult for me to allow myself the space to not do this quote-unquote self-care activity. And yet, when I gave it up and I let it go, I felt like I could breathe in my mornings again, and it was OK, and I was doing other things that were much more nurturing and it was wonderful. One of the things that I always encourage folks, in addition to recognizing when you're the problem, but very specifically, is to recognize what is truly recharging you. What is truly nurturing you. What truly feels meaningful to you and not just default to something that may be at one point in time was, but for whatever reason, it's not now.

There is a Buddhist story that I really love, which is essentially, and hopefully I'm not going to butcher this, is essentially that, if you use a raft across a river, that is useful, but if you pick up the raft and then carry it with you on land, it becomes a burden. And that has always been a really meaningful little Buddhist snippet to me because I have to recognize when the utility of something no longer exists and the utility turns into a burden. And then, I have to make a different choice. I have to choose to put the raft down and now, pick up something that's actually going to help me in the circumstances that I'm now in. That's what I would add.

There's a whole bunch of other things that I do to try and bring greater balance to my life, but those are the two that I wanted to share with you because nobody else has fully mentioned them, but also I think they're great options to consider as you head into your new year, and as you make decisions where you're able to make decisions and you apply your own agency to make decisions about what you want your new year to look like and what you want your life to look like. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode. Hopefully, you heard at least one or two things that have gotten you noodling on what it is that you ultimately want to do, and you're walking away with something that you can make your own and help you on your journey in your consulting business and in your life.

Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.

And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it, share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode. Bye-bye.

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