Balance versus Presence: A refresh

I wrote a blog several months ago when I was just starting out on my writing journey. In this piece, I share my experiences about the juggling and compromises that are required when running a business and caring for a young family. This could apply to any one of us due to situations that occur throughout our lives. There are many times that we have to make choices when none of them are easy.

I thought that I would re-publish this blog, as today I received a weekly newsletter from Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility. Susan, unlike myself, is a professional and seasoned author and presenter. She has a special way with words that I can only aspire to. So I was excited to read her newsletter, about these choices, how difficult they can be, and some of her reflections on how we can reconcile these situations. With pleasure, I share. Please subscribe to her newsletter or follow her on Linkedin or other social media if this resonates with you.


Dear friend

Imagine, if you will, an exceedingly common dilemma: You’re in charge of a big project at work and things are down to the wire. Your bosses are laying the pressure on thick, your client is throwing you last-minute curveballs, and the team you manage has a thousand questions, each of which requires your immediate attention.

Things need to get done tonight, which, unfortunately, is the same night as your child’s championship soccer match (or ballet recital or science fair, as the case may be). What do you do?

As you’ve no doubt experienced, sometimes our goals conflict with one another.

Life seems to force us into choosing whether we want to be good parents or competent employees, spiritual seekers or worldly achievers, politically pure or pragmatically effective. It appears that circumstances have forced us into an either/or position, insisting that we can’t have both.

But what if the choice is not really between one goal and the other?

What if the choice is between being fully committed to both rather than conflicted and torn?

It’s a fact of life that we can’t be in two places at once. This means all of us will inevitably be forced to make hard decisions. But this doesn’t mean that the relevant values—say, concern for your family and concern for your job—are inherently at odds.

The key is to fully attend to the things that matter to you when you’re attending to them.

You can bring your desire to be a productive worker to your desk each day, and cut back on Candy Crush and water cooler gossip. You can bring your love for your children to the time you spend with them, and resist the urge to check your phone for messages from the office or to mentally agonize over an upcoming presentation.

When juggling multiple goals, emotional agility can be your greatest asset.

Try not to get caught up in rigid thinking. Loving your family doesn’t necessarily mean leaving work at 5:00 p.m. every day, just as caring about your job doesn’t always mean being the last one at your desk.

Get creative. If you must miss that big soccer game, then dial up your kid after the final whistle, listen diligently while they give you the play-by-play, and let them know you just bought tickets for a professional match you can enjoy together next week.

Or conversely, if you decide to slip out of the office, perhaps you can call in a favor from a colleague, asking them to handle any emergencies for the few hours you’re away and to leave a pot of coffee on to help you burn the midnight oil.

Finally, come to terms with the fact that this won’t always (or even often) be easy. Choice comes with sacrifice and forecloses opportunities. But it’s also the only way forward. Wallowing in work guilt when you’re at home or family guilt when you’re at the office won’t just make you miserable. It will also make you a less attentive parent and a less effective professional.

Wishing you well,

P.S. If you watched my TED Talk and want to take the next step, pick up a copy of Emotional Agility or take my free Emotional Agility quiz.


Original Blog From Ambition to Fulfillment: Published March 2021

Of all the leadership, business, and management constructs, the mantra of work/ life balance is the one that I have the most personal conflict with. My own experiences and biases certainly come into play with this discord.

Work-life balance came into everyday vernacular in the 1980s and evolved to the concept that we are so familiar with, due to the “always-on” work culture that has developed as a result of technology. There has also been the growing acknowledgment of different gender roles and the notion of women having it all. To this end, there are millions of books and articles written on how to achieve this seemingly elusive goal.

Frankly, I am not sure that there is any “balance” at all when you are starting or running a small business and certainly no notion of “having it all” when juggling demands of work and home-life.

This week, I read a short article that presented the idea of work/ life balance is bullshit. The author writes that there is only full presence or absence of it. He says that it is a lot healthier to stop chasing a work-life balance and instead to chase moments of extreme presence.

As, I sit and reflect on my career, my business, and my family, I am thinking that this definition suits me better.

Particularly, in the early years of the business, when the children were little, there was not much balance in it. There were times of requirement for extreme presence in the business and times for high levels of presence at home. To achieve a level of physical, emotional, and intellectual presence, in both of these pursuits required honest and empathetic conversations with my husband and children about what needed to be done and why. There was a degree of bargaining and agreed on compromises. There were also moments of no compromise.

Good levels of communication, empathy along with developed time management skills, helped me to maintain the presence, where it was required at the time. This meant that I was not at every school assembly; athletics or swimming carnival or music performance. I did not stay up late making cupcakes for the class for the birthday of one of our children. Perhaps by today’s standards, I may have been defined as a “Bad Mother”.

I was always available and there for our children and my husband when it mattered. I attended special awards, graduations, and end-of-the-year music performances. I went to watch them play sport on Saturday mornings. We always had dinner as a family.  My husband and I would do enjoyable things together, such as watching rugby or live music performances. We would have a family holiday a couple of times a year.  When I was there, I was fully present.

I learned that to be fully present at home or at work, that I needed to be flexible with my time. I would work after the kids went to bed and on Sunday afternoons while dad took them to the park or swimming.  Life was busy.

Over the years, I have watched many personal relationships of owners of allied health businesses fail. I suspect that this is because there was either lack of physical or more importantly emotional presence. Or perhaps, lack of clear and empathetic communication about the “whys” of lack of presence.

Likewise, I have witnessed many business partnerships fail. Whilst the factors for this are likely to be diverse and complex, I wonder if this might also be contributed to by the lack of presence or disparity between the amount or quality of presence in the business, between partners.

The idea of balance in any relationship is almost impossible to achieve.  Full presence requires recognition of what is most important at the time along with effective levels of communication, empathy, and compromise.

For me, time to pursue my own interests did not exist for many years. It was not the most important thing. My joy and reward came from spending time with my kids and husband along with the privilege of having a profession and business, that provided me with a social, intellectual, and creative outlet.

I wonder, whether things would have been any better or different, had I read some of those books on work/ life balance?

I now have the time and the full presence to be able to pursue the things that interest and excite me.

I have made no sacrifices and I have no regrets. There is only gratitude for the opportunity.

Dianna Howell Cmgr MIML MAPA

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