Published 5/19/2019 in The Maryland Daily Record
For many of us, regaining the life we want is more a matter of gaining and less a sense that we ever intentionally carved out the space we imagined for each of the priorities in our lives.
This has never been truer than for working parents. As children grow and their needs evolve, each of us is faced with ongoing daily, even hourly choices that require us to be in two places at once, often forgoing the place we really want to be over where we feel we need to be.
This unending dilemma of prioritization often pains us with feelings of guilt, anger, frustration and ultimately, sheer exhaustion.
I spoke with an attorney whom I greatly admire about this feeling of being overwhelmed. She articulated for me the very essence of what I had not been able to pinpoint until that conversation. The nature of our work, like many of our colleagues, is such that our clients’ lives are meaningfully more complex, requiring more in-depth support, advice, and guidance.
Counted among the most trusted professionals in their lives, we are at the helm or at least at the center of the ongoing activities that are affected by the complex nature of their lives. That role requires us to be fully present. It’s not necessarily a physical presence, because the impact of technology has, in some ways, made the demands of physical proximity more palatable. However, the presence of our minds and the nature of our advice, the wisdom that’s often gained only from a full career of experience, requires even more time for thought and reflection.
This is what she feels is the essence of why so many of us are finding it increasingly more challenging to carve out space for our own lives.
Where did the lulls go?
The conversation with this attorney answered the questions I’ve been asking: Why does it feel like everyone is so overwhelmed and busier than ever? What happened to the lulls throughout the year that once afforded us time to recharge?
She believes there is a void, a shortage of those who can be thought partners with their clients. There is a meaningful gap in the soft skills required to really ask the questions at the heart of client needs, as compared to the technical skills to do task-driven work.
She believes that we need to develop more thinkers who are also doers. This is turning out to be easier said than done.
Colleagues who can be thought partners for our clients also need to be more efficient in our specific areas of expertise. The greatest asset, in this view, is simply time. When I reflect on all the training that I have invested in throughout my career, one specific aspect of how I structure my professional life today centers around carefully evaluating the fit between the client needs and the services that we provide.
This may not seem to have an obvious impact on time management. But I have found that working within a dedicated niche with like-minded clients does ultimately make for more productive working relationships. And that, in turn, ultimately allows me to better manage my time.
How is this implemented in a real way? We look at the criteria of who is a good fit to become a client. At the most basic level, with the given that our work expertise must be a fit with the client’s needs, we also focus heavily on the fit in communication style and expectations – both ours and those of our clients.
From the onset when determining if we can meet the needs of a prospective client, I am careful to set realistic expectations about my availability for clients.
If someone expects 24/7 access or a strict 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-through-Friday, sit-by-the-phone approach, I know we will be met with equal frustration. I don’t work that way. This means that clients who work well with me are people who have fluid schedules; each day is a bit different. These are people who have busy lives overall and are also not typically available at the same time every day. These are people who value the hours of dinner time through kid’s bedtimes and may also get back online to wrap up their day before they shut down for the night.
Considering the responsibilities that we are all balancing, the path to regaining our lives lies well within our grasp. Once we rely more on those around us and ourselves to stick to the plan, developing colleagues to share the thinking on behalf of clients along with our own sense of what works best for us, a better balancing act is sure to follow — at least I am one who is holding out hope that this is true.
—Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth