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Life-Fit by Design

This blog was posted earlier today on educationismylife.com – for everyone passionate about education. For more information about this blog site contact @ajjuliani

I recently had a phone conversation with @djschon, Director of Professional Learning for School Administrators of Iowa @sai_iowa.  During our chat, Dana made mention of a term I had not heard of before when she referenced how administrators manage their time between their professional responsibilities at work and their personal life obligations.  The term she used was Life-Fit.  “What do you mean by that Dana?” I asked.  “Well, it’s looking at how we as leaders reduce stress by creating an ebb and flow that works for us,” she said.  “Often times the word “balance” carries a negative connotation in that it suggests that the goal is to find a 50-50 split between work and life and if we are not meeting that goal then we must be doing something wrong.” (Yost 2004).
I was so intrigued by what Dana shared with me that I asked if she could send me any information she had on the topic of Balance vs. Life-Fit (Schon 2012). She provided me with the following bullet points below:
Balance:
1.       It is most frequently discussed in the negative
2.       Keeps us focused on the problem rather than the solution
3.       Assumes we are all the same
4.       Infers there is a “right” answer
5.       Leads us to judge
6.       Results in unproductive guilt
7.       Leaves no room for periods where there is more work and less life and vice versa
8.       Ignores the constantly changing reality of work and life
Life-Fit:
1.       Honors our unique situations throughout various points in our lives
2.       Leads us to inspire
3.       Recognizes multiple options based upon each person’s current circumstance
4.       Acknowledges the ebb and flow of life’s events
5.       Values flexibility
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with many school leaders and watch how they struggle to “balance” their passion for their work with their commitment to family and personal well-being.  More often than not, I have watched caring and effective leaders be consumed by guilt because they were not able to meet a deadline, attend a school activity, give more personal attention to a struggling teacher/family, or help a colleague supervise a school event.  We feel guilty when we are not able to meet the needs of our school community regardless of the number of hours we put in and for some reason still believe “we should have done something more or should have been there.”  We must recognize and accept that there will always be more work to do, more deadlines to meet, another situation to resolve, and that our email inbox if it ever does reach zero will only remain at zero for a few minutes.  Yet, we still feel a great need to produce and an even greater burden of frustration and guilt when we fall short.  Maybe it is not about what we should do, but what we can do?
Finding a life-fit gives us permission to do what works for us; without judgment or guilt.  Life-fit looks different for everyone depending where you are in life. Life-fit looks different for a first year administrator who is single than it does for someone who is married and has three small children.  Life-fit looks different for a leader whose children are grown and now has more time to devote to other peoples’ children.  Life-fit looks different for an administrator whose spouse also works full time and whose work requires a lot of travel as opposed to someone whose spouse is a stay at home dad or mom.  Life-fit honors our unique situations throughout various points in our lives.  Finding a life –fit allows us to be forgiving of ourselves for ourselves and recognizes there are ebbs and flows to life’s events. 
So what are some things we can do starting today to help us support our life-fit so we can be at our best to serve others?
1.       Be purposeful in scheduling down time
2.       Drop activities that zap your time and energy
3.       Set aside time weekly to do something you truly enjoy doing and honor it
4.       What can you delegate to someone else to do?
5.       Trust that others will follow through on your expectations
6.       Exercise and eat healthy
Our work is never finished, but it is how we manage our work that determines our effectiveness as leaders.  Our challenge begins when the work day starts to blend with our personal day and the lines become blurred on how to manage our needs with the needs of our school community. As lead principal, I must understand and value that life fits differently for each of my staff members and their success will be depend on the support and flexibility I provide for  them to manage their responsibilities both at school and at home. 
“Happiness is a place between too little and too much.” – Finnish Proverb
Yost, C. W. (2004). Work + life: Finding the fit that’s right for you. New York: Penguin Group
Schon, (2012). In Pursuit of the Right Fit, SAI Report – Linking Leadership and Learning Report.
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