Trade work-life for balanced mastery that emphasizes accomplishment

Not being a Tony Robbins fan, my eyes lit up reading his quote, “If your business is your mission, then this idea of work-life balance is the biggest bullshit on the planet.” Ouch! Luckily, I’d already published my views on this superficial “bait-n-switch” enigma.

The work-life balance movement is like an airline that charges round-trip fare for a one-way trip — oops; someone forgot the second half of the deal. Robbins, his coal-stomping, helicopter coaching and trampoline speech intros aside, makes a knife-fight point by calling out a puzzling industry that promises candy but sneaks you a piece of coal.

I taught my combination of balanced with mastery at Stanford University. Learning high-achievement tools with balance always went over well — the classes filled. The nice, polite director of the work-life balance program asked for time during my course to tell Stanford attendees about her program. These were people who worked for the university, signed up for balanced mastery yet, didn’t know or perceive of a benefit from Stanford’s own work-life balance program. I gave the nice lady all the time she needed. It wasn’t enough — here’s why.

The goal of most organizations is to grab, shake and tame their mission. It’s not to help you balance your life. The danger of this sugar-coated movement is that it fools people into thinking that balance alone will solve all their problems. As if giving a simple, paternal nod to employees balancing their lives will increase profitability and maybe even win the Baldrige Award or a Nobel Prize. Not happening! In Western society, work-life balance starts with work.

The challenge with the work-life balance movement is that it is perceived to address only the personal-leisure-balance side of the equation. It leaves out accomplishment, achievement and most of all, mastery. In my view, the opportunity is to study achievement (throughout history) and apply best practices. In this way balance is intertwined with accomplishment.

Here’s how balanced mastery can save your career, your legacy and your life:

1. Pick your top five priorities. Even startups benefit from a list of life priorities. Pick them, fertilize them and honor them.

2. Work high-octane hours. Stop the bragging about how much you work — great leaders consider that a failure.  Instead, work when your brain is at its peak of creativity and productivity. Winston Churchill hinted that focused and productive efforts last no more than four hours a day.

3. Study achievement and mastery. Read a book a month. Include accounts of the great masters and high achievers of history. Balanced mastery has two parts. The second is often overlooked but sorely required for a full and productive life.

4. Moderation reigns. Reduce stress and burnout by learning to rarely overdo the physical, mental and emotional heavy lifting in your life. Plan for long-term success by recalling the phrase, “Habits first — results later.” It doesn’t take Hercules to build a habit.

5. Avoid regrets in personal, family and human matters. Make the call; send the message; write the letter. Be a fully functioning person by maintaining your humanity.

It seems like another world away when the woman sitting next to me slowly revealed that she was chief counsel for a major, worldwide gas company newly headquartered in Northern California. You’d think it was a simpler time — pre dot-com and 9/11 fiascos.  She said, “Rick, today I earn 10 times what I made just after law school — and still can’t seem to make life work!” Early on, I noticed that addressing this point of equilibrium was missing from the work-life movement. I address it with balanced mastery.

Life, not just work, should be your mission. Once I reluctantly listened to Mr. Tony’s popular tapes on quick money and fast success and recognized the theories of famous psychologists — problem was, he never gave credit or their names.

Rick Griggs is the inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool and founder of the Griggs Mastery Academy for professional development. He can be reached at or 970.690.7327.


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