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The Workplace Balancing Act
Diana Robinson, Ph.D.

In the workplace it can be difficult to balance the need to be flexible and adapt to situations while still remaining true to one's inner well-being. Being flexible to the situation is sometimes necessary for survival. Being true to oneself is always necessary for inner well-being. The balance between the two can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

Are there some guidelines to help us in our search for balance in such cases? The truth is that these guidelines tend to be in opposition to each other, which is why the balancing act can be tricky, and is therefore worthy of serious thought. I also need to offer the caveat that every situation and every individual is different, and there are no "one size fits all" solutions to the decisions we must make in our lives. What is unthinking and unnecessary rigidity in one situation may be carefully thought out adherence to one's values in another. Equally, what may be spineless capitulation in one case may be compassionate cooperation in another. Who are we to judge others?

First, it is my belief that our own authenticity is essential to our well-being. Each individual needs to know his/her core values. What is important to you? What are you about? What are the behaviors that feel right to you? What are the behaviors that, in your most thoughtful and centered, unpressured moments, you can say, "No, that's not me. I would not feel right if I did that." Now, when you have gone through that process, you know where your playing field is, and what areas are out of bounds, based not on "shoulds" or external pressures, but on what truly feels right to you, based on your values and beliefs. That is a large part of what authenticity is about.

Next we need to look at those surroundings and events that call for flexibility. As we have all discovered, sometimes painfully, life does not always go our way. There are other people in it, and their expectations and behaviors are not always of our choosing. Sometimes it seems that we need to "go with the flow" if we are to get on with others, if we are to receive the rewards in life that we seek, or, sometimes, if we are to simply survive. The big question is, to what extent should we be prepared to flex in our behavior so as to achieve this?

In every case, the circumstances differ, and no individual should dictate what is right for another. However, in general, the answer to this question is given us by the answer to the previous question. If we have examined our values, and we know where those boundaries lie, then we have our guidelines. If circumstances require that we flex so much that we cross the boundaries into behavior that is "Not me, not who I really am," then it contravenes our authenticity. It is probably behavior that will leave us with that slightly sick feeling that comes with knowing that we have gone against our own values. On the other hand, if the behavior needed to flex with the demands of others still allows us to remain within the bounds of our values, even if it is something that we might not have considered doing on our own, then it is probably acceptable. We can flex and still remain authentic.

Examples may come from almost any environment. The friend who asks you to write a letter of recommendation may or may not be asking you to cross your boundaries, depending on what you are asked to write and what you know of the friend. The supervisor who asks you to publicly support a company policy may be entirely within bounds, or, if you believe that particularly policy to be morally wrong, may be crossing the boundary.

The first step in all of this is to know what you believe in, not necessarily in a religious sense, but in terms of what you consider right and wrong.

Sometimes we may suddenly find ourselves in uncharted territory - facing a situation where the behavior called for, the value that is involved, is not something that we have seriously considered. We have not yet decided where our boundaries are. What then, if a snap decision is to be made? One solution is to simply refuse to make a snap decision. There are people who will pressure you to say "yes" or "no" without giving you time to think... and under such situations , if they refuse to give you time to think, the wiser decision is most often to say "no." (Though that is not always the case - remember there are no absolutes that are not guided by your own situation, both internal and external.)

Another guideline, if you absolutely must make a quick decision, is to check in with yourself as to whether you would be willing for the decision you make to be an open book. Would want to keep it hidden from those you hold near and dear, or those that you respect the most? If you would not want these people to know that you had made that decision, had been willing to flex into that behavior, then it is probably not the right decision for you.

Ideally, we would under all circumstances hold to what we believe is right. This is what integrity is all about. In fact, unfortunately, we sometimes feel so pressured, so worried about the down side of what will happen if we withstand pressure to cross our boundaries, that we give in. This may happen in personal relations or at work, on a daily basis or just occasionally. Sometimes an individual will be so committed to a relationship, an employer, a situation, that s/he will continue to condone something that is against values because s/he believes that s/he cannot survive without the job, or the relationship, or whatever the source of the ressure is. There may be a feeling of having no choice. We much each decide for ourselves, but xperience suggests that the sacrificing of our values for some external situation is rarely the right thing to do in the long run. It may ensure short-term comfort at the expense of long-term inner well-being. Most of our heroes (male and female) are people who have stood up for what they believe to be right in the face of major hardship.

In our day-to-day lives it is easy to say that we would make the right decisions where major events are concerned. but that when it comes to the small stuff, it's okay to let our boundaries be crossed a little. Consider, though, that the act of standing up for what you believe to be right can be a bit like the use of a muscle. It needs to be used regularly, even on the small stuff, if it is to be of use to us when the major activity approaches.

Choose wisely.

�2001 by Diana Robinson, Ph.D., all rights reserved.
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