At work, it’s usually pretty easy to know if you’re being successful, hitting those targets that have been set (whether by you or your leaders). There are definitive numbers that need to be met and when you meet or exceed them. Hooray! Confetti rains down along with a nice bonus! Or maybe it’s a “Thank you, keep up the great work” kind of conversation. Either way, you know where you stand.

It can get a lot more confusing in mythical Work-Life-Balance-Land. Speaking from experience, I assure you your 4-year-old will not be overly impressed if you exceeded your annual targets, but they definitely will be if you read a story in a silly voice. 

Why do we struggle to feel successful in our life, even when everything seems to be going well at work? It comes down (as so many things do) to clarity and intention. 

First, clarity. Have you stopped to think about what a successful life means to you (and to your partner if you’re in a relationship)? Do you know what truly matters to your family? What are you willing to give up and what is a non-negotiable item? For some people, it’s uninterrupted time as a family with no cell phones. For others, it’s turning off the radio to talk about everyone’s day as they drive to the evening activity. Whatever it is to you, it’s something you do consistently and that you prioritize above everything else (yes, even that important evening work meeting!). 

Next, intention. Now that you know what success means to you (which will be different from what it means to me, or your neighbor, or your boss, or your mother-in-law), how are you taking intentional action to make that success happen? What do you need to say no to in order to keep your priorities aligned? What things do you need to add? Determine the changes that you need to make and take action.

Neil Pasricha had a fantastic article on this topic that has some great practical examples of how he and his spouse approached this exercise as a “life contract” in the same way that job duties and expectations are detailed out in a work contract.

In my own life, I’ve seen what a difference having a specific set of priorities has made for me and my family. Sure I could try to squeeze more stuff into my days, but what I value is quality time with my family. It has to be a really amazing opportunity or activity for me to even consider giving up eating dinner together and talking about the highs and lows of our days.

When we lack clarity in any area of our lives, we’re left with a vague sense of not meeting expectations somehow. Then we struggle to quantify in what ways our life balance is off, which makes it particularly hard to correct it. Instead, once you’ve defined success that feeling disappears and you’re left with a sense of calm (even among the chaos of deadlines and school concerts!) that you’re doing those things that you value most. 

Now that sounds like success to me!

One of the most popular jokes in our family right now is a knock-knock joke.



Who’s there?

Interrupting Cow.

Interrupting cow who?

Moo! Note that the timing is everything here. You need to yell out your Moo before the other person finishes the Interrupting cow who? portion of the joke, thereby interrupting them. Trust me, it’s hilarious! If you spend time with younger kids or with adults who need to lighten up (and who doesn’t?!?), try this out on them and see for yourself.


My kids have been off from school for a week and it’s been an adjustment for all of us as we unlearn the schedule and pattern of the school year and try to settle into a summer rhythm. When and how I got my work done over the school year isn’t effective anymore; there are too many interruptions.


Do you ever feel that way in your job? Are the interruptions taking over and preventing you from doing your best work? I’ve been in roles where that’s been the case and it’s frustrating for both the interrupter and the interruptee. 


But there’s another way to think about the interruptions: Have you considered the possibility that the interruptions ARE your job? 


When people stop by your desk to ask questions, it’s not because they’ve been plotting all day to sabotage your work when you finally get a moment alone. It’s because they lack clarity on something and believe you can provide it.


Those problems that get brought to you to fix are the things that someone else couldn’t resolve on their own (Send them back to try resolving it on their own first if they haven’t!). They need your unique insight and advice on another way to approach the issue.


I’ll bet if you spend some time thinking about your various interruptions throughout the day, they are mostly questions, requests for help, problem-solving, or advice. They are a chance to build productive relationships. A chance to share your knowledge. They are an opportunity.


We need to reframe how we look at interruptions. They aren’t annoyances to be ignored or brushed aside – they are often the exact thing that our companies or families need us to do in order for us all to be successful. 

And sometimes when an interruption is taking place, it helps me remember to reframe it, lighten up, and really listen when I whisper to myself, “Moo.”

Do you have a big dream or maybe a tiny nugget of an idea inside your head that you hope will happen someday? Great! Hope is an amazing tool in many instances. But it doesn’t make dreams and ideas happen. Action does.

In the book, Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World by Brooke McAlary, she spends some time exploring the idea of imperfect action. Rather than waiting for the exact perfect conditions to do the thing you’ve been waiting to do or hoping to have unfold, instead identify the action you can take now, albeit imperfect, to move you toward what you want.

Is there something at work you’re hoping will change? Identify one action you can take to make that change happen. Is your dream to write a book? How many sentences (or words!) have you written to get you closer to that goal? Do you want a new job? Start thinking strategically about what steps you need to take to get to where you want to go. Wishing and hoping isn’t a strategy.

I encourage all of my clients to start taking actionable steps toward whatever it is they are targeting. It’s easy for all of us, myself included, to come up with excuses and reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t get started. That means we usually put off doing those steps that could help us get to where we want. Then we end up struggling with why the change we seek is taking so long or give up entirely because it feels like we’re not making progress.

As a recovering perfectionist, I completely understand. It’s hard to push forward when it’s not perfect timing, or perfectly worded, or perfectly planned out. But there’s at least one thing you can do to move forward (arguably, there are many, but start with one!). 

There’s a saying, sometimes attributed to Chinese proverb, that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

You don’t need to wait for the timing to be perfect; you just need to pick one thing and move forward imperfectly.  Start starting already!