Improve the Fit Between Your Strengths and Your Life
Every one of us lives three lives simultaneously: public life, personal life, and private life. Your sense of happiness depends on the level of harmony among these lives.
Your private life is your thoughts and beliefs. It’s the smallest unit of all three lives, yet it determines the level of satisfaction you feel toward your other two lives. Your personal life is your circle of family and close friends. They are the pillars of your universe. When your private life fails to align with your personal life, you may experience resentment, anger, and likely physical pain. Your public life is where you interact with people outside of your personal life. It could be your job, social groups, religious organizations, and of course, social media. Most of us try to be our best in the public eye, highlighting what we have and covering up what we lack in our personal and private lives. When the gap between our public image and the truth enlarges, our happiness declines. We feel awful for two reasons: the pressure to keep up with what people expect of us, and the inability to change our personal and private lives.
With the social media boom comes the great irony: we keep posting our polished happy photos and stories when, in fact, we can barely hold on. The images we project and the number of likes and shares we get become the indicator of our worth. We are tormented by our desire to look good and feel proud. It’s a chain we put around our own necks. We no longer live free and true to ourselves.
We have to break that chain.
All positive changes must originate from your private life and then propagate your personal life, and eventually your public life.
If you have been unhappy for a while, you get stuck in a thought pattern that every trivial thing happening to you confirms your suffering. The self-fulfilling prophecy of failure makes it more taxing to complete your tasks at work and at home. If you want to be happy, healthy, and confident, stop this negative belief. Think about how your strengths can help you overcome challenges more effectively.
I’ll use my friend Helen as an example. To protect her and her family’s privacy, I changed their names and other specifics.
Helen is a mother of eight-year-old twin girls. She works full time as a marketing associate at an advertising firm. Her husband, Jim, a construction contractor who works long hours, rarely offers help. Most of the weekdays, Helen does house chores late into the night, exhausted and lonely. Because of her busy schedule, she doesn’t have time to play with her daughters, to cuddle, laugh, and be silly. After putting on fifteen pounds since the twins were born, Helen only buys shapeless clothes and has stopped putting on makeup altogether. She no longer goes out with her unmarried, fashionable friends. One day, she runs into an old college friend who doesn’t recognize her because of her drastic change. She wants to talk to Jim about her struggle, but he falls asleep while she’s still talking. She wonders what happened to the passionate Jim she married. She thought they were soulmates.
Helen loves her job, where she can express her creative talent. She dreams of running national campaigns for her firm’s top clients. She’s disciplined, organized, and efficient at work. Recently her boss offered her a manager position in charge of two of their biggest clients. She likes the challenge of handling large accounts but worries the longer work hours will make her a bad mom. Jim tells her to turn down the offer because he just signed a new contract, and coming home early is out of the question. Helen resents her lone sacrifice for the family. She yells at Jim and cries to sleep.
The next morning, Helen wakes up with a stiff neck. She feels depressed and lacks energy. When she helps her daughters with their homework in the evening, she yells at them because they don’t get it after repeated explanations. The girls burst into tears. Helen hates herself.
She tells her boss she can’t take the promotion because of her domestic responsibilities. Her boss gives her two weeks to think it over because the promotion means she will be the first female manager ever at the firm.
Working moms pursuing a career goal often feel guilty for choosing their careers over their children. Lack of support from their partners often makes them feel selfish going after something that only benefits themselves. In Helen’s case, her confidence and job satisfaction is an essential part of her private life. Her personal life demands her time as a caregiver, which means long hours of cleaning and preparing with little intellectual stimulation. When these two lives pull her in different directions, she believes herself a failure, and her health deteriorates. The conflict between these two lives leads her to decline the promotion, a downturn in her public life.
How should Helen resolve the conflict between her private life and personal life, and subsequently achieve her career goal? Let’s examine Helen’s strengths: creativity, self-regulation, and caring. She’s at the center of this tug-of-war: on one side lies her needs for a fulfilling career that highlights her creative talent; on the other side rests her need to love and be loved at home. How can she satisfy both needs without being torn in the middle?
After spending a week weighing her options, Helen goes back to her boss with a counteroffer. She’ll take the promotion but wants to work only three days in the office while working from home for the rest of the week. Because of her organizational skills, she can collaborate with her colleagues on large projects efficiently while at home. Her boss hesitates, so she asks for a three-month tryout. If she doesn’t deliver what she promised, she’ll step down from her role. The boss accepts her proposal.
Helen talks with Jim about the possibility of hiring a part-time assistant to help him with time-consuming tasks so he can work less. Her increase in salary and bonuses with the manager position will more than offset the cost of such help. On her working days, Jim agrees to come home early and take care of the twins, but says he won’t do housework.
Helen learns to ignore the urge to clean up the moment she steps into the house. She hires a cleaning service to come in once a week to keep the house in order. Helen proves herself at work and secures her promotion in three months. To celebrate, she buys a pair of major league baseball playoff tickets for Jim’s birthday, and they have a great time at the game. When Jim thanks her for the surprise gift, Helen asks if he still loves her because she no longer feels his love. Her statement shocks Jim. He thought she’d been doing fine. Helen expresses her need to communicate with Jim just like before they had the twins. He promises to listen to her more and doesn’t object when she wants to work out. Although there are still many issues to resolve, Helen is happy that Jim wants to make their relationship work.
Now it’s your turn to examine the conflicts between your private, personal, and public lives. Figure out how to change these three lives based on your strengths. If you’re stuck, check out the free online courses on my website for specific recommendations.
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