(This is the first post in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. Side note: for regular readers of this blog, these posts will be longer than usual. We three coaches are used to listening more than talking, so we have a lot to say.)
In getting to know Mark and Tonya over the last few weeks and months, I realized that we all have a similar concern about balance in our lives and helping others achieve it also. So it wasn’t hard to twist their arms to join me for a series on the topic. By way of introducing the series, we will share a little about ourselves, but also look at what drives us to be passionate about this subject and where we’ve found it most challenging in our lives. At the end of each post in this series, you will also find suggested readings and resources on that post’s topic. Mark is going to get us started by answering this first question:
Give us a bio and include your balance journey.
Mark: I grew up in a lower-middle-class, conservative Christian family in southern Michigan. My parents were very involved in their kid’s lives, putting their own needs aside for their kids. After marrying my high school sweetheart, we moved to Columbus where I began what became a twenty-year career in corporate America. Early on in my adult life, I was pretty confident that work and non-work balance was important to me and an important equation that I would have to solve. As our family grew (three kids now ages 17, 15, 13,), I realized balance is nuanced and fluid; it’s not a static, rigid concept. There are seasons where things are askew or you may be focused on one area more than another. What I always retained was that my relationships-wife, kids, God-were the things that I valued. As I navigated the career life, I found that career progression encroached in my home life and balance became really difficult-to the point that I walked away after twenty years to chart a new course. That was the moment I acknowledged publicly and through my actions that life was out of balance and I had to hit reset. I realized I needed a fairly drastic change in order to get back the balance that I wanted and had lost. Now I’m on this big adventure of what does post-corporate America look like. I enjoy coaching clients on this idea of balance in their lives; I’m jazzed about helping people know where they want to go in life and put together a plan to get there. It’s something I’ve learned-and I’ve learned a bunch.
Tonya: I’m also a Michigander. Go Blue! That’s where my husband and I met and married. My family experience was different; I grew up in a single-mother home. After marriage, we went into ministry, starting in campus ministry. We learned very quickly after moving into church staff world that we were going to have to protect our family life. So my story of balance comes from working under workaholics, pastors who had moral failures and were abusive to staff and family. My husband and I had to sit down and say, “What’s right here?” Those times helped us set the balance that God wanted for our marriage and family and to stand strong. Now having been married for 25 years and working as a therapist for 22 years while homeschooling our children, I never worked full time; taking care of the kids came first. So sometimes that meant I couldn’t do some of the things I felt passionate about doing. So seasons was also something I followed like, “Now is a season I’m raising my boys.” My time is beginning to shift since my youngest is about to finish high school, so I’m going to have more time to do those things that I want to do. My husband is now in the corporate world, but we still follow the choice to always talk about job opportunities he has and make decisions together. We’ve gotten push back at times, people telling us we’re crazy, but God has always blessed us. Living in California now for 16 years, we haven’t always chosen to have the income we could have had, but we feel blessed and haven’t paid any penalty for our choices.
John: As I listen to you both, I hear interesting intersections in our stories. I grew up in a pastor’s home; my dad passed away at the age of 40. As a twelve-year-old kid, I can’t say that my dad was a workaholic, but I can’t say that I think he had balance in his life. So that certainly influenced my view of balance as a pastor, as an adult, to not repeat the same history. Being single, achieving balance looks different but is still important. Balance can get out of whack for all of us in any area. I have worked through a couple of seasons where I realized, more from an emotional state, that I was out of balance. Similar to you, Mark, I chose to walk away from staff positions in order to reset. I didn’t have a “next” lined up. So Tonya, I got those same, “What are you doing?” comments. The balance for me wasn’t being concerned about what any one person thought more than what I understood the Holy Spirit was telling me. That doesn’t mean I have it all together, but when I feel like I’m out of balance I step back and let Him speak into what’s going on.
What makes you passionate about the subject of balance?
Tonya: The Oxford dictionary says that balance is an even distribution of weight enabling someone to remain upright and steady. That definition helps us see the importance of keeping things flowing along and not feeling discombobulated and confusing. My passion is founded in my leaving my therapy practice a few months ago to pursue coaching. In my therapy practice, so many pastors were referred to me who had hit the wall. They were dealing with losing their spouses or depression or addiction; so I was desperate to help them be preventative. Coaching pastors is my passion, to help them remain upright and steady. Living for that audience of one, like you said John, is our first priority. Balance helps us stay steady even when the world is unsteady.
Mark: This may sound cliche, but I think it’s in the time of difficulty where we are tested to choose the things that we value. When tragedy happens, when promotions are on the table, we are asked in those situations to reaffirm those things that are important to us. In those times, having clarity on what is important makes it easier to make the hard decision or to get through the season, and to realize the season will reset or that it can be made to shift back once it is over. These times give us the opportunity to prove what is important to us.
I’ve always taken a longer-run view of balance, driven home by working with workaholics lacking a longer view. I decided that’s not what I want. Who gets to their death bed and says, “I regret I didn’t have more conference calls. I didn’t travel more to meetings around the country”? Nobody says that. There is this pressure that organizations put on their people to go the extra mile. I always wanted to maintain this longer view, to not wake up one day and my kids are gone and I don’t know my wife and I’ve missed it. There are more important things to me than a career or an organization’s profit. In the church context, if we don’t exercise our opportunity to say “no” then it doesn’t give others the opportunity to others to step up and say “yes.” So in the church and the business context, I saw how things could be different. So I decided to take this longer view to keep me from having regrets in the end.
Tonya: To piggyback off of that, this summer I just spent three months with my father back in Michigan as he was losing his battle with cancer. It reinforced for me the principle of understanding who we are is not what we do. Unfortunately, he never came to that. He passed without that peace. He struggled to be important by what he did, with the “do.” That was hard to watch, but it determined in me even more so to know who I am. When I introduce myself to others, I say, “I am the daughter of the Most High God”-not to be super spiritual, but to know who I am.
John: Feeding off of your thoughts, two things come to my mind that I’m sure people have heard me say or observed me do. One is, “Relax. God’s in charge here. It’ll be okay.” The other is I share a similar passion to what you were talking about, Mark, in helping people say no. Modeling that is huge. Helping people see the freedom that comes from saying no creates the reaction, “Wow. I didn’t know this kind of living existed.” It’s sitting back and saying, “God is first. I’m not.”
(Part 2 will post tomorrow, where you’ll find our suggested resources on the subject of balance.)