Tag Archives: Work-life balance

Healthy, holistic success: Be curious, be mindful, be brave

The wheel of life — an exercise designed to help people find true balance among all aspects of their lives — typically has eight areas of focus, from social life to personal growth to career.

Amy Machacek, 46, a high-energy yoga instructor turned entrepreneur, rocked the wheel a bit for her personal and corporate training programs. Her nine categories include “home/environment,” “fun and recreation,” “significant other/romance” and “friends.”Amy Etzell

As the owner of two Northfield, Minnesota–based businesses — HeartWork Yoga and LIFE.REVAMP — Machacek has relied equally on her instincts, her network (including her entrepreneurial father) and her passion for keeping up with industry trends. In addition to her E-RYT 200-hour yoga certification, she has trained in nutrition, meditation and life coaching. She’s also studied with Jack Canfield, co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series and author of The Success Principles.

Machacek’s liberal arts education at the University of St. Thomas taught her to “be curious” — one of her favorite sayings — and to embrace lifelong learning. “It’s why I have one daughter there now and another starting in the fall,” she says.

On February 6, Machacek will headline UST’s prestigious First Friday Speaker Series in downtown Minneapolis, offering attendees a five-step plan for gaining more energy in all areas of their lives.

On stress reduction: Yoga doesn’t decrease your stress. It doesn’t make your boss nicer or your kids listen to you. But it changes your perception of that stress. I’m helping people process or manage this stuff in a way that is less taxing.”

On the character of an entrepreneur: “I’m not sure whether it takes courage or stupidity! My partner, Dave Shonka, works for a traditional company. He likes the security, but he doesn’t have the freedom. I like the freedom, and I’m OK without having security. Neither is right or wrong, but your choice should match your personality.

“I’m creative, and I really need a creative outlet. Plus, I watched my family do this when I was growing up. It seemed normal to me to put in long hours when you’re building the business and have some flexibility once the business is doing well.”

On growing a business: “If I stay just one step ahead of my growth, I can expand thoughtfully and not have to take on debt. HeartWork initially was yoga classes only, in a small town with 11 other places that offer yoga. We weren’t going to be viable forever if we just did yoga classes.Life Revamp

“Then I created the yoga teacher training school and added personal training to the studio. LIFE.REVAMP was next. I was working on all of my certifications, and I recognized that if I combined nutrition, life coaching and yoga, I could help people gain forward momentum.

“I brought in barre tone classes when I saw them on the coasts. People have short attention spans. If you’re not adding or changing, you’re dying.”

On how fitness fuels success: “Everyone in LIFE.REVAMP is working on their own things, but it all starts with fitness and nutrition. The initial call may come because of career issues, but first people need more energy and clarity about where they are body-wise.

“One of my clients has 750 employees, and his company bought another company this fall. He told me how great he felt standing in front of his expanded team. ‘I knew what I was talking about,’ he told me. ‘I was standing up straight.’ Another middle-aged client who has shed some weight says she’s now ready to focus on being an athlete again.”

On the tyranny of technology: “We have to make some rules for ourselves. At the end of the workday, Ward Cleaver could close his ledger book, turn off the light and go home. And nothing followed him.

“Now, that doesn’t happen — but we don’t have to allow technology into every aspect of our lives. Otherwise, it’s like the spoiled child who demands our attention all the time. We’re losing out on our relationships because of it.”

On positive parenting: “I don’t want to hover over my kids and make every decision for them. I help them slowly make more decisions as they get older, so they’re ready when they go to college. Nowadays, parenting seems to be defined as keeping kids in a sweet, tight grip. My job as a mom is to love my kids and prepare to let them go.”

On beauty and aging: Marcia Wellstone [Markuson] was a classmate of mine at Northfield High. When she died in October 2002, I was 33 years old. I remember it vividly. We’d had a class reunion that summer, and she was this shiny person. She had gotten remarried, she loved her stepkids. I was standing in my bedroom when I heard the news and thought: ‘Who am I to complain about getting older, about being alive?’ Marcia didn’t get this opportunity, and I did.

“I describe it now as my life before that moment and my life after. Honestly, not for one day since then have I complained about aging. I see aging as a gift, and I believe that to the bottom of who I am.”

On the rewards of growing older: “I love the wisdom and experiences that come with age. All the hard stuff and good stuff we’ve been through makes us who we are today.”

On staying curious: “I tell people in my classes every day: ‘Be curious. Don’t act like you know everything.’ Our lives get smaller as we grow older. We don’t get down on the floor. We don’t reach our arms as high. We don’t move as fast, we don’t try new things — but we need to keep reaching in life.”

5 Q’s: On How Life Integration Drives Success

“I like to challenge myself to take reasonable risks, and that can cause me to feel vulnerable,” says industrial-organizational psychologist Carol Lynn Courtney, Ph.D., a native of Buffalo, New York, whose leadership development and executive coaching business takes her throughout the country as well as to Ecuador, Turkey and elsewhere around the globe.

Placing herself in stressful and unfamiliar situations helps her better understand her clients, who include top leaders and mid-level managers in corporations, universities and nonprofits. “We ask people to change their behaviors every day,” says Courtney, president of Courtney Consulting Group in Minneapolis, “and that’s a scary thing for them.”

Courtney, 56, both busy and balanced — accomplished and yet accessibly down to earth —created a coaching model called “Life in the Center,” which she uses to guide her clients toward more integrated lives.

Recently, before her weekly saxophone lesson, she talked over a vegetarian dinner about how values and purpose, relationships, creativity, lifelong learning, purposeful investing, exercise and play all contribute to a vital and fulfilling career — as well as a meaningful life.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Why do you use the word integration rather than balance?

It’s not about life-work balance. You can never have life-work balance. A healthy life is about integrating all of your priorities and activities, and that practice may work differently on different days.

At my home office, for example, I can be writing a report and get up to play my sax for half an hour. That’s more difficult to do when I’m at my main office. Recently, I’ve tried to avoid scheduling any client meetings before 8:30 a.m. That allows me to exercise and meditate first thing in the morning, so when I show up for my clients, I am even more engaged.

I’m being intentional and deliberate: These practices are going to help me grow. The self-care and self-expression are just as important as the work I’m doing. In fact, they inform and improve the work. That’s why I call it life integration.

How does this play in the corporate world?

As an industrial psychologist, I’m dealing with the workplace and the challenges that my clients have at work. But I tell people that I work very holistically. There’s a vulnerability any time somebody puts themselves out there, to look at their work style, their strengths or blind spots. My clients’ work issues often have roots in other realms of their lives: physical, financial, emotional or social. Whether we like it or not, those issues can impact how we show up in the workplace.

You challenge yourself to “avoid becoming too comfortable or complacent.” Why continue to take risks at this stage of your life and career?

It keeps me honest. I ask my clients to do some pretty tough things. I could just say, “Well, go do this, make this change.” Instead I say: “You’re going to have to do this, and it’s going to be difficult. And you can get past the fear.”

At times, I’m scared when I get up onstage and play my saxophone — an instrument I didn’t pick up till my 40s — but once you do it, it’s like you’ve never been afraid. By doing the very thing that you’re nervous about, you get through it. You say: “OK, I did that. I accomplished that.” It’s a success, and not just from an ego point of view.

I find myself giggling and saying: How amazing! I was able to do this crazy thing — whether it was playing the sax with our band of I/O psychologists or bungee-jumping in South Africa or taking dance classes every week from a woman young enough to be my daughter.

You say that the decisions we make at midlife will affect the old age we’ll have. When did you recognize that in your own life?

Growing up, I was seeing people around me who gave up in their 40s, plus a lot of people in my family died in their 50s. Heart trouble, cancer, mental health issues — it’s all in my genes.

That impacted why I decided in college to become a vegetarian. I played sports during my undergraduate years at Wells, and only the salad bar would be left in the dining hall after soccer practice. I learned how to control the things I can: exercise, eating, emotional well-being.

Research now shows that if you hit age 50 without major health issues, you increase your chances to live to age 80. I see this with clients and the choices they make. Clients will say: “I’m going to retire and then travel.” Great! What kind of exercise are you doing? Because travel can be rigorous. I have experienced this firsthand.

My exercise — running, swimming, biking, kettlebell classes, kayaking, lifting weights — helps me play my sax better. Those practices aren’t distinct; they’re integrated.

How do the sax playing and the lessons at Zenon Dance Company up your game as an industrial psychologist?

The discipline I have in my work is the same discipline I bring to my sax playing and my other avocations. To play really well, you can’t be self-conscious. The more relaxed you are, the more in the moment you are, the better you’ll play. I’m still learning this.

Similarly, when I’m rolling around on the floor and jumping in dance classes with people 25 years younger than me, I have to trust my body. I have to let go! If you are nervous and your muscles tense up, you can’t move in a fluid way. As adults, we become more physically self-conscious. We brace ourselves when we think we are going to fall and end up becoming more vulnerable to getting hurt.

It’s a great analogy for life.

The work that I do coaching teams and executives on their performance is like music or dance or any physical exercise. Once you’ve mastered the foundational knowledge, it frees you up for the art of what you’re doing. I don’t sit there thinking: I’m using this theory. That’s second-nature by now. And so I’m free to work with the art of the person, to focus on the individual or team, and to see the nuances.

Learn more: To nominate yourself or someone else for a “5 Questions” interview in “The Middle Stages,” contact Amy Gage at agage1014@gmail.com.

Boomerang! What Happens When the Empty Nest Refills

I didn’t expect to find myself here, one year after I became an empty-nest mother and my husband and I downsized to a smaller house. We moved back to the city, barely a mile from where I work, after raising our two sons in Northfield, Minnesota, a two-college town with open minds and well-funded public schools.

I didn’t expect to become a cliché, the classic Baby Boomer whose grown kids have boomeranged home. And yet, that is precisely where life has landed me.

My boys — or men, as I’m training myself to call them — are living with us again, with their huge shoes and crusty socks and bicycles and soccer balls crowding our 1,500-square-foot house in St. Paul, minus the mud room and second full bathroom we had in Northfield. (Quick! Add a toilet in the laundry room.)

By habit and definition, I am a working mother again, balancing my time between job and family, and failing again, daily, to “have it all.” This time, however, I am called to redefine what “mother” means. Do I sign my reminder notes “Love, Mom” or “Amy”? Why do I write reminder notes at all? After 20 years as the family breadwinner, slogging through a 40-mile commute to my city job, do I sacrifice the yoga practice, time with friends and renewed commitment to writing that an empty nest allowed me?

Financial realities

Other parents struggle with these questions, too. Thirty-six percent of young adults in America ages 18 to 31 live with their parents, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s 21 million “emerging adults,” many of them educated and under- or unemployed. Pew calls families like mine “multi-generation households,” an effect of the still-lingering recession.

An August 2013 article in The Economist about the boomerang trend drew 70 comments — some by young people pointing out the sorry state of the job market, others by snarky “olders” criticizing the Millennials’ work ethic and impractical liberal arts degrees.

I worry whether my sons — both liberal arts majors — will be able to build a career as I did with only a baccalaureate degree. Will living at home, at ages 24 and 19, respectively, affect their social lives and ability to function independently?

Facts rarely assuage emotion. Knowing that other middle-aged mothers are buying milk by the gallon again and hauling three times the recycling to the curb every Thursday doesn’t change my experience — or my feelings about the experience.

Welcome back, Sam and Nate!

Welcome back, Sam and Nate!

So, ever the organizer, I have put some rules in place:

  1. Don’t over-parent. The 6-year-old boy who declared, “You’re not the boss of my clothes” has grown into a 24-year-old man who is working two jobs and recently spent seven months volunteering on behalf of injured animals and at-risk children in South America. He neither needs nor wants his mother overseeing his diet or other details of his daily life.
  2. Set financial expectations. With three active young adults in the house (did I mention the college student and his girlfriend in the basement?), the grocery bills alone would break the budget. The five of us negotiated an equitable system of shopping and paying for groceries; a magnetized whiteboard in the kitchen holds reminders and receipts.
  3. Catch the small stuff before it explodes. I get crabby when I’m the only one scanning the back yard for dog poop or when my small-town sons forget to lock the front door. So I shoot them a text message — simple, to the point and less threatening than face-to-face confrontation.
  4. Get to know them as adults. My college sophomore, an atheist, has shared his strong views about what he considers the hypocrisy of organized religion. He’s been willing to open up — and openly disagree with my free-form spirituality — because his dad and I are genuinely interested in what he has to say.
  5. Claim your alone time. As a careerist whose work kept me away from home a lot, I didn’t think adjusting to the empty nest would be so challenging. But the strange brew of relief and regret, seasoned with the powerful whoosh of time’s passage, left me feeling adrift and powerless for months. Solitary journal writing and teary talks with other mothers got me through it. Now, I don’t sacrifice my hard-earned alone time, even when the only way to claim it is behind a closed door — with the sound of music and my sons’ laughter drifting up the stairs.

Lesson learned: The concept of reframing helps me enjoy life as I age. Getting more time with my sons — at a point in life when I thought I’d rarely see them — feels like a second chance at all the family time I missed.