Happy new year.
It’s that time. You dust off the journals neglected in the end-of-the-year rush. You locate the gym membership card and wonder if it will still scan since it’s been a few months – or maybe a few years, given the concern about being around people. And you create New Year’s resolutions.
Or maybe you don’t.
Have you come up with your 2023 word yet?
Resolutions seem so old school. Instead, pick one word to summarize your intentions and hopes for the new year. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years, and it’s worked well.
My yearly word sets the foundation for where I want to focus. It acts as the root of all the intentions I write in my new year journaling.
My word for 2023: balance.
But it may not be the balance you think.
When you think “balance,” an image of a scale with two equal weights providing perfect symmetry may come to mind. So, when saying things like “work-life balance,” “resource balance,” or even our “balance sheet,” you believe it’s about adding or removing the force of one to equalize everything.
Now, that’s not wrong. It’s the first definition in the dictionary – “an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.” But the second definition fits my intention for the year – a “condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” (The emphasis is mine.)
Striking the right balance
Finding the correct proportions for my work is my focus for 2023. But the question is, “Proportions of what?”
I’m not looking to make a calculated decision on the amount of work I do in one area so that I can focus on some new innovative project. Yes, I’ll reconfigure my activities (as we all do), but that’s just determining the weights that fill my containers of time.
That’s not my focus this year. My focus is on balancing the meaning of each of those weights.
I’ll ask myself about my balance of satisfaction in how I do those activities, so I can build my life in the way that feels the most rewarding.
Let me explain.
Whenever I told my grandfather I was unhappy at my job or frustrated developing a skill, he would ask: “What are you building?” Then he would tell me this story:
A man happens upon three stonecutters. He stops and asks what they’re doing. The first stonecutter pauses and says, “I’m cutting stones. I’m doing my job. I’m making a living.” The second stonecutter never stops hammering as he says breathlessly, “I’m cutting and polishing the best-crafted stones in the entire country.” The third stonecutter takes a moment, points to the horizon, and smiles, “I am happy. I’m building a cathedral that will one day stand there.”
Most know they don’t want to be the first stonecutter. Most people want more than simply “doing the job” or “making a living.”
However, it can be easy to get lost as the second stonecutter. You fool yourself into thinking you’re working toward something worthwhile – the equivalent of beautifully polished stones. That was both 2021 and 2022 for me.
Worthwhile or worthwhile?
There are years when you end up with a lot of what seems like quality work and perhaps a full bank account to show for it. But you constantly pushed, forced, and sweated your way to that destination. You’re a living embodiment of the mantra I hate: “No pain, no gain.”
You believe the pushing is worth your while. You’ve got the best-crafted stones. You’ve balanced your activities optimally to get there. But, maybe, if you listen just a bit more closely, you realize it’s “worthwhile” with a little “w.”
There was nothing bigger in your mind. There’s no satisfaction in contributing to the larger picture you hope to see painted, even if it may be painted over after you’re long gone.
When you’re in this mode, you may move from job to job, taking your commitment to excellence and frustration with you. It doesn’t matter if you “quiet quit” and give yourself that side hustle that embodies the opportunity you think you want. Instead, you push and push, still feeling frustrated and like it’s not enough.
Which stonecutter will you be?
Last month, I talked with the CEO of a content marketing technology startup. He was as frustrated as he’d ever been. A former journalist, he now runs a venture-based company looking to grow quickly. He wasn’t frustrated by the usual startup challenge of feeding the growth engine. He knew he could create a company that made money. He was frustrated that he didn’t know how to change the industry.
He said, “Increasingly, I see myself separate from my business, polishing some separate jewel instead of feeding my passion. We are now wholly focused on building things that will sell or satisfy growth rather than the things we think are meaningful.”
I told him the story of the three stonecutters and asked, “What are you building?”
I asked if he might consider adapting some of the same aspects of his new job that he was less comfortable with. I asked him if he might rebalance the meaning of his business so he didn’t see himself as separate from it. I asked him if he might ask his team to consider why they are cutting stones. I said, “It’s not just balancing which activities you’re doing; it’s rebalancing why and how you do them.”
I asked him to consider the same question I’ve asked myself: How do I allow for the right mindset to create more satisfaction?
People (including me) often try to force solutions. They think, “If I just push harder, sell more instead of writing more thought leadership, or say no to more things then I’ll get better results.”
I’ve found that things can “get better” even when I still do #allthethings. Approaching them with a different intention allows me to rebalance their meaning in my work.
That’s what I want to remember by making balance my word for 2023.
What’s your word for 2023? Let me know in the comments. I hope whatever you choose gives you the satisfaction of knowing you’re building cathedrals.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute