Off Balance: A book review by Bob Morris

Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction
Matthew Kelly
Hudson Street Press/The Penguin Group (2011)

A paradox for our times: One’s career and personal life are separate…and inseparable

The work-life balance is an issue that has fascinated me for decades. Hence my interest in this book in which Matthew Kelly claims that, in fact, the work-life balance is a “myth” that people must “get beyond” to achieve their personal and professional satisfaction.” As he observes in the Introduction, “While the work-life balance discussion was introduced with the very best if intentions – namely, to help people deal with mounting pressures surrounding both personal and professional life in the modern world – in many ways the idea never had a chance because the term itself was fatally flawed.” Kelly believes that individual destiny and organizational destiny are “intertwined.” Yes, you can consider work life from personal life separately but they cannot be separated. What to do? Kelley wrote this book in response to that question.

These are a few of several dozen key points that caught my eye:

o  “I have come to the conclusion that people don’t really need or want balance.” Rather, they need and want “a satisfying experience of life.” (Page x)

o  “The crisis of the modern world is a crisis of ideas. Ideas shape our lives and the world. Thought determines action. It would not be too soon for us to learn that ideas have very real consequences.” (19)

o  “If it is to be sustained, our satisfaction has to be something that transcends external circumstances. It cannot be something that we put in the hands of things that are completely beyond our control.” (47)

o  “Continuous change is now an accepted part of life and business. The waves of change are constantly crashing on the shore of our lives, but it is a well-defined value structure that allows us to thrive in the midst of the change. It us the unchanging that allows us to make sense of the change.” (79)

o  “There are five facets to the process [of increasing the level of personal and professional satisfaction that we experience in our lives]: (1) Assessment, (2) Priorities, (3) Core Habits, (4) Weekly Strategy Session, and (5) Quarterly Review. All of these are interconnected and play either a macro or micro role within the overall process. To neglect one is to tamper with the system, which always leads the system to break down.” (107)

o  “The most important part of any system is accountability…I have noticed that most people can do something for a few days, or a few weeks, but over time they tend to slip back into old self-destructive ways. That’s why we need doctors, managers, parents, leaders, role models, and mentors.” (134)

The Personal and Professional Satisfaction System that Kelly explains and strongly recommends – indeed any system – can only provide a framework (albeit one that is to some extent self-correcting) and its effectiveness depends almost entirely by the person who adopts it and then applies it. Viewed as a journey, the process of increasing one’s level of personal and professional satisfaction is not automatic. Although the ultimate destination is certain, efforts to get there will encounter doubts, distractions, ambiguities, resistance (at least some of it self-generated), and temporary setbacks. The “balance” to which Kelly frequently refers evokes the image of a spinning gyroscope rather than an up-and-down see saw (or teeter totter) because its steady rotation is maintained amidst changes in location. A sturdy moral “compass” and a well-defined value structure ensure both proper balance and steady progress.

Years ago, Stephen Covey observed that people spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is [begin italics] important [end italics]. I agree and so does Matthew Kelley. “To lay your head on your pillow at night, knowing that who you are and what you do make sense…now, that is satisfaction.” We are also well-advised to recall advice from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

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1 Comment

  1. Dan on September 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Matthew Kelly’s book claims to be “research based.” He includes no bibliography documenting this alleged research. Floyd Consulting and the Life Coaching lack any type of solid research foundation in general. In short, anyone can call himself/herself a life coach, write a book and give out pseudo-scientific advice.

    As one small example, on page 89 of his book entitled “Off Balance”, Kelly instructs his readers to avoid scheduling people for back to back appointments who
    drain your energy. Most people don’t have that luxury. What if your doctor suddenly decided that you are one of those people who drain his energy. He simply looks at you and says, “Sorry you’re sick today but you drain my energy. I’ll have to reschedule you for a better time when my physician’s assistant is in.”

    It’s probably not a good idea to encourage this author. He’s only a “best-selling” author because he conned his
    church audience to buy one of his books all on the same day to make it look like everyone wants to read his books.

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