Those who are successful we have termed “Middlaners.” There are several basic rules to becoming a “Middlaner.” But first, our definition: A Middlaner is one who is deliberately living a reasonable and appropriately balanced lifestyle. Such a lifestyle includes a moving fulcrum between professional and personal activities, but always stays within well-defined limits. We contrast this with a “Careerist.” A Careerist is one who puts professional activities first and foremost. If and when time and energy is left over, it is allocated to family, relationships, personal development, and spiritual reflection.
If, upon serious reflection, you think you want to become a Middlaner, here are a few basic rules.
Change Your Success Paradigm
Perhaps the most difficult rule is this first one. Success, for most of us, is defined in terms of position, power, financial compensation, and wealth. The Middlaner’s success is driven by three equally important dimensions.
First, there is the dimension of personal growth and spiritual development. We subscribe to James Hillman’s treatise that our most important life task is to find and develop our inner gift. Much like an acorn, we have the potential to develop into something very special. We must search for this and follow our “soul’s code” during our lifetime.
Second is the dimension of relationships. We put the highest importance on family and other personal relationships. Family responsibilities come first for a Middlaner, and no family member is short-changed in favor of financial or career rewards. We believe you can always find another position, but you only have one family. That family is precious and must be treated as such.
The third dimension is the dimension of work. People thrive on productive work and the opportunity to achieve. For this reason, Middlaners fight for the opportunity to use their God-given talents and to contribute to their employers in the highest and best way possible. They take on limited assignments, but they do them exceptionally well. They also look for ways to use both their creative and analytical skills. In short, they do everything possible to align their work with their sense of purpose. The litmus test constantly applied is: “Do I have my heart in this work?”
Know the Price and Be Prepared to Pay It
Many negative consequences are inevitable if one chooses to forgo the careerist’s track. First, it is unlikely that you will be able to remain in the central and powerful positions in your organization. Say good-bye to the Inner Circle. Second, you will be treated with suspicion by all those who measure commitment and value by time spent in the office (input) and not by actual contributions (output). Finally, when you are successful in capturing more control of your time and energy, and when you visibly show your inner peace and your harmonious family and personal relationships, there will be a major backlash from envious co-workers. Be prepared for this. Respect others’ motivations, recognizing that they are based on their need to reaffirm their own personal decisions and priorities.
Know Your Friends and Enemies
By adopting the Middlaner’s approach to understanding and managing the pressures for and against better balance, you will become aware of the “friends” of balance and begin to use them daily. You will also become more successful at identifying the “enemies” of balance and reducing or eliminating them. Doctor’s warnings and troubled marriages are useful indicators that balance should become a higher priority – now.
We have found that there are three distinct sources of pressure to remain a careerist and forego the satisfactions of Middlaning.
First, personal dynamics such as work addiction, perfectionism, anxiety, guilt, and fear keep people from attending to their personal lives. Second, organizational pressures do the same thing. Often, the organization sees you as an expensive asset that should be utilized to the maximum. In some cases, a burn and churn approach to people is deliberately employed. The third source of pressure against balance relates to finances. Uncertainty about present and future financial circumstances keeps many people on the path of maximizing their income instead of replacing financial worry with financial planning.
Identify and Manage Your Own Pressures
Personal sabotaging thoughts can be replaced with compassionate behavior. Rather than constantly giving in to work addiction tendencies and compulsive careerist responses (Rubin), you can become aware of the self-sabotaging behaviors we all engage in from time to time and replace these with alternative responses that keep your life in better balance.
Work assignments and your role in organizations can be renegotiated along the lines of these classic questions…
- What role could you play so that you contribute creatively in a way that has your heart in it?
- When and where could you do your work so that you can best contribute in that arena and still meet your personal and family obligations?
- How could your work be done differently so that the process leaves you more time and energy for other important things in your life?
In today’s world of changing organizations, information technology, and virtual organizations, new opportunities abound for redefining your role in your present organization. If, however, you are in a workaholic organization, you will no doubt be forced to choose whether to stay and fit in, or leave and pursue your new way of living and working. (A workaholic organization is one to which only workaholics need apply.)
Financial pressures can be understood first by separating income statement issues from balance sheet issues. We have found that often great strides can be made when a person deliberately makes the effort to increase personal income by repositioning himself or herself in higher value-added categories of work. Likewise, understanding and managing expenses can significantly reduce pressures and free you to decline promotions and extra assignments, and reduce the temptation to seek a second income.
Balance sheet items such as homes, college and retirement funds, and accumulated wealth also take on a more realistic dimension when approached analytically rather than emotionally. The key seems to lie in our earlier definition of a Middlaner as one who wishes to achieve a reasonable and appropriate level of success.
A final thought, borrowed from Your Money or Your Life: You are trading your life energy for dollars, and you have a finite amount of life energy left. The moral of this concept is to be sure that you distinguish between your wants and needs, and that you are careful with every dollar you’ve traded time and energy to earn. We advocate using professional assistance when developing realistic plans for wealth accumulation and estate building, always remembering that, after a certain minimum, Uncle Sam will be there to collect two out of every three dollars left when your program is complete.
We hope these rules for achieving better balance in your life will help you to understand the wisdom of your natural instinct toward greater personal balance. Many people are making a reasonable and appropriate professional life an important objective for themselves and their families, and some are making dramatic progress in this direction.
1. LaBier, D. Modern Madness: The Emotional Fallout of Success. Addison-Wesley. 1986.
2. Hillman, J. The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. Random House. 1996.
3. Rubin, T. Compassion and Self-Hate.
4. Dominguez, J. & Robin, V. Your Money of Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. Penguin. 1992.