Establishing Work/life Balance − Advice From a Professional Juggler
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Episode 19 Transcript:
Chris Curran: Growth Igniters Radio, Episode 19: Establishing Work/life Balance − Advice From a Professional Juggler.
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated, enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth. On the web at www.businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, founding partner and CEO of Business Advancement, Incorporated. And looking right at me is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper.
Scott Harper: And enjoying the view, Pam − thanks. I’m glad to be here.
And if this is your first time listening out there, the purpose of Growth Igniters Radio is to spark new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas for leaders to take themselves and their companies to the next level of success. So Pam, what topic are we juggling today?
Pam Harper: Work-life balance. This is tricky for all of us who lead rapidly growing companies. For those of us with employees, customers, partners, outsource providers, or suppliers that are based in other parts of the world, it can be even more of a juggling act.
Scott Harper: That’s true.
Pam Harper: A balancing act − deciding when to start or stop for the day, whether to respond when someone calls your mobile number with an urgent and important issue, or resisting the urge to check email one last time can be a real challenge.
Scott Harper: It can be, indeed. Now that we’re connected all over the place and even planes have wi-fi, there is an increased scarcity of personal time. Especially on the plane, you used to be able to say, “Well, I’m out of contact.” Now, we’re almost always connected, if we choose to be so.
Pam Harper: That’s true. So we decided to get metaphorical with this issue. Our guest today is speaker and educator Jen Slaw, who uses the principles of juggling to illustrate points about establishing work/life balance. Jen designs custom keynotes and interactive training sessions for clients including Fortune 500 companies, associations, and nonprofit organizations, including TEDx. I saw her perform and speak with us an association meeting I attended. She’s amazing − my editorial.
Scott Harper: Yeah.
Pam Harper: She’s appeared on a variety of network TV programs, including Late Night with David Letterman. She holds three world records in juggling and has been referred to by the New York Times as an expert juggler for her work co-producing and performing in the off-Broadway show, Perfect Catch. Jen also serves as the Executive Director of the nonprofit organization Juggling Life, Incorporated, an organization with a mission to engage, inspire and emotionally heal ill and disadvantaged youth through unique juggling and circus arts programs. Jen, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Jen Slaw: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
Pam Harper: Before we get started on advice about work/life balance. Let’s talk briefly about your own story.
Jen Slaw: Sure.
Pam Harper: You refer to yourself as a “recovering structural engineer.” That makes me laugh − what prompted you to make such a big transition in your career?
Jen Slaw: Well, it’s a little bit of a long story. I majored in engineering and art in college. That’s one of the things I often talk about in terms of balance − is people look at me a little funny when I tell them that I double majored in art and engineering, two seemingly very different majors − but it’s something that I felt kept me balanced when I was in school. I always had these two separate interests. The arts and the more math and science. Growing up in elementary and high school, I was always very interested in math and science and decided to go into engineering.
I loved the structure of it, but as I graduated into the real world and started working as a structural engineer, I started to feel that I was limited, that I wasn’t really getting to exercise my creativity. Sitting in a cubicle every day, I started to feel… I missed the connection to other people. All along, I had been juggling, really juggling. I learned how to juggle back in middle school, in sixth grade. One of our teachers taught our class how to juggle as a lesson in focus and concentration.
Scott Harper: How neat!
Jen Slaw: Everybody in sixth grade − in the sixth grade class − had to learn how to juggle. Some of us − some people just learned the basic pattern. Some of us, like me, took a real interest and continued learning, practicing and really started to master all sorts of different patterns and tricks. It was a hobby for a while, although this teacher of mine, Jackie Erickson, put together a troupe of students and started taking us out to perform. We would go out on weekends and perform at festivals, fairs, and actually making a little bit of money on the side, performing juggling.
Right away, from early on, I had this taste for performing and interacting with people, and that sense of fulfillment − seeing the reaction of an audience member and how gratifying that could be. As I said, it was a hobby for a while − I kept doing it all through high school and college. And as I was getting less and less satisfied with the work I was doing as a structural engineer − I think I liked the idea of it more than the actual practice of it, the daily plugging numbers into equations, − I started to think that maybe there was something else I was meant to do.
I started to explore performing more, and gradually transitioned and left my engineering job to pursue a full time career as an entertainer and performer of juggling.
Scott Harper: Wow! That takes a lot of courage and focus. You recognized that you had an issue and you took action. Sometimes − for some of us − it’s hard to realize when our lives are out of balance. What are some of the signs that tell people that they need to improve the balance in their life and maybe re-balance their work, or even change what they’re doing?
Jen Slaw: Sure. I think stress is such a big one. I think a lot of us … All of us are under a lot of stress. As you know, the more stress we’re under − this can really start to have a detrimental effect on our health, on our attention span, on our ability to focus, as you said, and concentrate. Looking for those little signs of, “Are we having trouble focusing? Are we not feeling fulfilled and satisfied in the work that we’re doing?” Watching for those little signs and being aware of them [is important for] starting to pay attention that maybe we need to make a change.
Pam Harper: If we could do that, what could we and the people in our organizations get if we were all better at establishing work/life balance?
Jen Slaw: Sure. As you know, when we’re balanced, we feel more creative. We can collaborate more effectively. It’s so important, as you said in this world of connection, that we’re communicating effectively with the people around us − the people that we work with as well as our families. When we do feel more balanced, we’re more centered and we’re better able to communicate with the people we work with and live with. We’re also able to be open to new innovative and creative ideas, which is again, so important. I’ll offer some tips for your listeners [on this in a little bit]. It’s so important to look at ways of connecting the different pieces of our lives. This takes creative thinking and divergent thinking − looking at different ways to connect those different pieces of our lives: work, life, family, health. When we feel more balanced and less stressed, we’re able to do that more creatively.
Scott Harper: Jen, when you started, you were juggling and you decided that you wanted to do this more. How did you connect the dots between juggling − real juggling, throwing things up in the air and catching them − and juggling of the metaphorical kind − managing all the different diverse pieces of our lives. How did you bring that together?
Jen Slaw: As I said, I was working as a structural engineer, butI had this passion for performing. I gradually left my engineering job. I actually − as you said, it’s not an easy thing to do − I actually went part-time for about a year, and had a transition period where I was working 20 hours at the engineering office and also teaching with the Big Apple Circus in the afternoon and pursuing more performing events.
After about a year of doing that, I completely left my engineering job and was spending 100% of my time performing and teaching juggling. I did this for several years; along the way, I got involved with this charity called, “Juggling Life,” which you had mentioned at the beginning. Juggling Life’s mission is to engage and inspire youth. I got involved with the charity and was invited to speak at a TEDx conference in Princeton to talk about the work the charity’s doing − to talk about how we use this simple tool, this simple thing of learning to juggle to help open up possibility for some of these children. The fact that they can learn this thing that they thought was impossible just opens up a whole new world of what might be possible in their lives. I found this very rewarding, very inspiring, working with these kids. I was invited to speak about it at TEDx.
When I did that, I started to make those connections. Wow! There’s really more here than just going on stage and performing and bringing a smile to people. Of course, that’s important, but there are life lessons here that I can use to help contribute [to people’s lives]. I started to put together some programs; I found a group of entertainers who were also doing similar things and were working to take their skills as entertainers and translate those into messages that could be appropriate for business and for life, and started to craft those programs and build my business that way.
Pam Harper: What it sounds like is what you’ve discovered is that you have to be able to look at work/life balance as not just something that’s a nice to do, but really it’s a must-do, in order to operate at your peak performance. Really, for you, it was to live a truly meaningful life.
Jen Slaw: Definitely.
Pam Harper: And that’s a good place for us to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Jen Slaw − professional juggler and owner of Jen Slaw Speaks, and Executive Director of the nonprofit Juggling Life, Incorporate −, about her B.A.L.L. formula for creating life balance. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement, Incorporated. We enable successful companies to accelerate to their next level of innovation and growth. If you like what you’re hearing, spread the good word! Go to www.growthignitersradio.com, select Episode 19, and use the Share links for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, at the top right of the page to tell your social media communities all about us.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. We’re talking with professional juggler and speaker Jen Slaw, Executive Director of Juggling Life, Incorporated, and Owner of Jen Slaw Speaks, about how to establish and maintain work/life balance. Jen, how can people find you?
Jen Slaw: They can find me online at www.jenslawspeaks.com.
Pam Harper: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit more about that formula that you’ve discovered for balancing work and life. I believe you called it the “B.A.L.L. formula?”
Jen Slaw: Yes. As I mentioned, I look at balance as not just a 50/50 split of work and life and these nice even little packages; that’s just unrealistic and impractical. I look at balance, as we talked about, as a juggling act. It’s dynamic. It’s fluid. It’s about finding the right pattern of connection in our lives. As you know, things are always moving and shifting; it’s important to maintain flexibility and be able to adjust as we go along.
Yes, I come at it from the perspective of a juggler. I look at the ball, which is the basic building block of juggling − one single ball. I’ve broken it out into four tips [B.A.L.L.] that I think might help your listeners.
We can start with the “B.” That’s for “Break It Down.” When we have a lot to do, when we feel overwhelmed, it sounds simple, but it can be a very powerful thing to just start breaking down the tasks we have to do down and start learning to focus on one thing at a time, even though there’s a lot going on.
Pam Harper: That’s tricky, because let’s think about this − I’ve got six things right now that I have to focus on, all at once, and they’re all urgent and they’re all important. How do we do that “focus on one thing at a time” [when everything’s important]?
Jen Slaw: I think it becomes important to really look at prioritizing. We do have a lot of very important things; we have a lot. You may have five balls that you have to keep going in the air at once. But even when you’re juggling, there’s that split second when one ball is in the air at a time. It’s important to be able to focus on one thing at a time. I like to try to prioritize things and really look at, “Okay, what are the most important things” − not necessarily urgent, because of a lot of these urgent things, are not necessarily important, like all the email and all the social media notifications. Looking at how to prioritize our day [starts with identifying] which activities, which pieces, are most important. What percentage of our time do we need to spend on those? How can we adjust our schedule accordingly to match those priorities?
Pam Harper: That makes a lot of sense. Is it also true that when you’re juggling, that you can only focus on one ball at a time?
Jen Slaw: When you’re juggling, yes − especially when you’re juggling three balls. When I’m juggling three balls, and, here − I know you guys can’t see me, but you can probably hear this − I have some juggling balls that have a little rhythm to them. [sound of objects being caught] − I’m juggling. There’s really only one ball in the air at a time. You’re always looking up. It’s about focus. You’re always looking up at that particular ball that’s in the air. You’re maintaining that flexibility to make adjustments. All of the balls are connected, though.
It’s really important to look at the connections between the different pieces. If we’re juggling work, family, our health, I like to look at, “How can we creatively connect those and strengthen the connections between the different pieces to maintain a more cohesive pattern.” Things like, “Can you work out with a child or a spouse?” You’re now connecting your family and your health. Can you go to lunch with a colleague so you’re eating a healthy lunch and you’re having a meeting with a business partner. Looking at different ways, just creative ways that we can connect the pieces of our lives to, again, feel that we’re focusing on our purpose and feel that we have a more cohesive pattern.
Scott Harper: Okay. You’re breaking things down into their component pieces and focusing. What’s the second element of the formula?
Jen Slaw: The second tip, “A” − ask for help. This one’s a really important one. Seek support from those around you, whether it’s family, friends, co-workers. How can you delegate? We all have so much to do. How can we delegate some of that to other people? Also, can we find a mentor or an advisor to help us prioritize? Someone who has been through a similar situation, or who has been in a similar working environment and can help us identify which tasks really are the most important, which are just urgent and maybe could be set aside for later. Again, finding someone to help advise you − really building that network of support and corroboration.
Scott Harper: Getting that perspective…
Pam Harper: That’s so true. We make so many assumptions about who will and who won’t help us. Your point about asking is on the spot.
Jen Slaw: It’s something, I think, as a lot of us overachievers who are so busy in business and life − we want to do everything. Even for myself, I have that art background. I like editing my own videos, I like doing my own graphic design, but it gets to a point where you can’t do everything. I’ve learned how to delegate; my web designer now designs my website. My graphic designer designs my promo materials. I can spend more time on important things like networking or going to events and meeting potential clients −things like that. It’s difficult to do; it’s a constant struggle and battle, but it’s really important.
Pam Harper: We hear you. We’re there…
Scott Harper: She’s staring right at me.
Jen Slaw: Okay. Onto to the next one?
Pam Harper: Yes.
Jen Slaw: L: Learn from the drops. Okay, this is a good one. In juggling, jugglers know that we can’t learn to juggle, we can’t learn a new trick without dropping the ball. It’s a sign of progress, that we’re making progress, and if we can learn something from the drop, what went wrong, we can make an adjustment for the next attempt. It’s really important in life, to notbe afraid to take that risk. Maybe the risk is asking someone for help, to take that risk. If it doesn’t go right the first try, it’s really looking at it and analyzing the situation, “Was this not the right person? Was I not clear in how I delegated?” Determining how to make adjustments for the next attempt.
Pam Harper: We always have to be learning.
Jen Slaw: Exactly. It’s a constant process. Again, like I said, a constant flexibility. I do an activity in some of my workshops because I believe learning is really escalated when we can experience something physically. We balance peacock feathers. It’s really interesting to watch people balance the peacock feathers and really internalize that you can’t balance this object on your hand unless you are constantly moving your hand, making little adjustments, while maintaining focus with your eyes on the top of the feather. You’re super-focused, laser-focused on the top, but you’re constantly making those little adjustments to keep the balance.
Scott Harper: That’s a good point. You can’t be afraid of failure, as you say.
Jen Slaw: Realizing that sometimes mistakes can lead us to creative solutions that we never would have considered in the first place.
Pam Harper: Absolutely.
Scott Harper: Absolutely. And the second “L?”
Jen Slaw: L for “Let it go.” This has a few different meanings. Sometimes, we just need to get something done. We need to let go of perfectionism. Sometimes, done is better than perfect. We need to move onto the next task. It also again, goes back to that delegating and being able to let go of some of the tasks that we’re holding onto. Delegating them onto others who can then exercise their strengths and passions to help you in your life and business.
I mean, just from my experience myself, delegation, has been a huge one. Just learning how to let go of some things, give someone else, as I said, an opportunity to exercise their passion and interest. Let something go so that you have more time to devote to the important tasks that only you can do. Only I can go out and give a talk and be juggling. It’s important for me to be able to designate the time that I need to generate content, to practice my speech, and that sort of thing while delegating other tasks to other people.
Pam Harper: That’s great. We’re going to make sure that Jen has a video available on the resource page so that we can all see her juggling. It’s phenomenal.
Just to sum up this section then − when you keep in mind the B.A.L.L. principles, for establishing work/life balance, it gives you something to focus on to make sure that everything is operating as it should.
Scott Harper: That it keeps moving.
Pam Harper: Absolutely.
Jen Slaw: It’s a good checklist. It’s something easy to remember. You can put it on a little post-it note and put it up on your bulletin board. You can check in and see, “Am I doing these things?”
Pam Harper: It sounds good.
Well, we’re going to take another quick break. When we come back, we’ll continue our conversation with Jen Slaw, Executive Director of Juggling Life and professional speaker, about actionable steps you can take to get on the ball with establishing work/life balance. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: Is listening to Growth Igniters Radio giving you new insights, inspiration and immediately useful ideas you can use to take your company to its new level of success? If so, imagine how much more you can your company could get from a highly customized in-person Growth Igniters Event as part of your next company’s offsite. Go to www.growthignitersradio.com. Click “Contact Us” at the bottom of the page. We’ll get back to you to discuss how we might best help you achieve your most important goals.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, we’ve been talking with Jen Slaw, Executive Director of the nonprofit organization, Juggling Life, Incorporated, and owner of Jen Slaw Speaks. She’s a professional juggler and speaker. She speaks on establishing work/life balance. Jen, how can people get in touch with you?
Jen Slaw: They can visit my website at jenslawspeaks.com. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pam Harper: Great. Now, we’re in the third segment where we like to get down to specifics. [Let’s talk about] some immediate things, as soon as people are done listening, that they can do to increase their work/life balance in this case. I know we’ve talked about the B.A.L.L. principles − the formula. What is the first thing that people can do to put this into action for themselves?
Jen Slaw: One thing that I think is extremely important is to find some time in our day to refresh, re-energize, take a moment for ourselves, because this is something that as busy professionals, we often forget. Even if it’s just five or ten minutes, it can really be important to give us that time to tap into our own passions, to tap into our purpose, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and, again, really tap into that creativity, so that moving forward throughout our day, we can put those strategies into place.
Whether it’s a little meditation in the morning, whether it’s some exercise, something − just some time for yourself. Not jumping right on the computer to check email first thing in the morning, but making it time to really look at what is your priority for the day, not necessarily other people’s priority or agenda for the day.
Scott Harper: Here you’re talking about more tuning in instead of turning out.
Jen Slaw: Exactly.
Scott Harper: “We’re doing something to tune into our inner rhythm.” Is that what you’re saying?
Jen Slaw: Yes. I like to actually … I actually like to juggle in the morning. I juggle three balls, and actually close my eyes. I do it over the bed because you will drop when you’re closing your eyes. It’s a very meditative practice; juggling can be very meditative because it’s repetitive. You can get into the zone. You may not be thinking about anything necessarily in particular. It gives you that moment for yourself, as you said, to tune in, re-energize, and refresh.
Scott Harper: I’m a struggling amateur juggler myself; I drop the balls all the time. Whether we’re juggling real objects or pieces of our lives − there are habits. Habits can get in the way of keeping everything in the air. How do we break old habits to get better results?
Jen Slaw: It really comes down to constant practice.
Scott Harper: Okay…
Jen Slaw: With juggling, it helps, again, to have an outside eye, sometimes. This is where I think another really important action step that your listeners can take is to find that mentor or coach. Talk to someone, who can help … A colleague − reach out to someone. Have a conversation with them about being an advisor, being a coach, because sometimes that outside eye can see things that you’re not necessarily seeing.
In juggling, sometimes this happens through video. If I videotape myself, I can see, “Oh, my left hand is throwing a lot higher than my right hand.” Something that I didn’t realize until I looked at it on video or until a coach looked at it and tells me. It’s really important to get that feedback. Then, it comes down to making the adjustments and really consistently practicing. It’s not something that you put in place and it happens and you move forward and you don’t have to work anymore because it’s really about that consistent practice that’s ultimately going to lead to results.
Pam Harper: We’re tuning into ourselves. We’re getting practice. We’re getting feedback for ourselves. What else could we do to put these principles into real live action?
Jen Slaw: I think another really important thing that we touched on is schedule and prioritizing. One thing that I find helps me is breaking it down. Here’s where the math-loving engineer comes out in me − looking at percentages. Okay, I have a lot of things to do today. I need to generate content for my blog; I need to put a proposal together; I need to respond to email; I need to keep up with social media. On a scale of percentages, how important are each of those things?
Making an actual list and really designating − what are the most important things that I need to spend time on? Looking at your day, how many hours do you have in the day when you can be working on these tasks? Breaking it down. If it’s 30% of my time I want to be spending on this, how many minutes is that? Really, trying to stick to a consistent schedule. Of course, this is easier said than done, but if you can outline it for yourself, and really get something down on paper, I’ve found that’s extremely helpful.
Pam Harper: It’s accepting the idea that we don’t live in these compartmentalized types of areas, like, this is all work; this is the only kind of work I’m going to do right now. Everything has to be, to some extent, integrated …
Jen Slaw: Yeah.
Pam Harper: … between our lives, and even within our work day to say that there are different things that we’re going to do.
Scott Harper: And move back and forth with it.
Jen Slaw: Exactly. It’s integrated, and it’s also about sometimes …It’s about compromise. Some days, you have to spend more time on one thing and another task may get compromised a little bit. Hopefully, over the course of the week, or the month, it evens out. There’s a great quote from Oprah Winfrey, “You can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.” I think that kind of sums it up.
Scott Harper: That’s a good one.
Jen Slaw: I think that sums up the constant struggle.
Pam Harper: That’s true. If we were to try to get ourselves more balanced and we did all of these things, how long should we give ourselves before we can really start seeing some real results, with habits being what they are? How patient do we have to be?
Jen Slaw: Hard to say. I get this question a lot. When teaching juggling workshop, participants ask me, “Well, how long will it take for me to learn this?” The truth is, it really differs for everyone. It’s such an individual thing when learning juggling. Actual juggling, it really depends on your innate hand/eye coordination, how much time you’re willing to put into practice, how able you are to really focus and concentrate on what you’re doing, tuning out the other distractions around you.
I think the same is true in life. If you can really focus, set up a schedule for yourself where you can consistently practice. I think you’ll start to see results … You can start to see results in a few days. Of course, it’s more of a long term, life challenge to be consistently putting these tips into practice.
Pam Harper: It’s a discipline like every other.
Jen, do you have any last thoughts for us on establishing work/life balance?
Jen Slaw: I would say it’s not easy, but it’s worth doing. As we talked about in the beginning, when we feel more balanced, we can be open to new ideas. We can start to re-define what’s possible for ourselves, for our families, and for the organizations we work with. As we talked about stress can really affect our lives and it can affect our productivity, our performance. We end up being more forgetful, less organized, and have difficulty making decisions and concentrating. So important to embrace the challenge and really try to find balance in your life.
Pam Harper: Jen, thank you so much for being our guest today. If you out there have any questions related to today’s episode, or any episode, go to “Open a Conversation With Us” at the bottom of the episode 19 page. To find out who our guest will be next Wednesday, go to www.growthignitersradio.com and look in the side bar for a schedule of upcoming episodes over the next few weeks.
Scott Harper: Thanks for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, and especially to check out the links to the video of Jen Slaw juggling. They’re really worth it. Go to growthignitersradio.com, and select episode 19. You can also share on social media and open a conversation with us.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question:
Scott Harper: What do I have to start doing differently to create more balance and meaning in all the parts of my life?