Fed Up With a Quest for Work-Life Balance? Try Accessing Your Seven Slices of Life

By David J. McNeff

Innovators & Entrepreneurs, April 2021


As a working actuary soldiering on through the pandemic, you’ve undoubtedly encountered one or more self-help books promising you “work-life balance” as the antidote to your stress.

Yet, I posit, that pandemic or no pandemic, there is virtually no possibility of true balance in our lives because to chase “balance” between your work and family is unachievable and therefore futile. That’s because we are all actually living seven different lives, or “slices,” not just two. The problem is that by pursuing only two life slices leaves us hungering for one or more of the other five. Without those, you cannot achieve balance and, good news here, with those you can run past mere balance and land squarely on something much better, i.e., “harmony.”

In my new book from McGraw-Hill, The Work-Life Balance Myth: Rethinking Your Optimal Balance for Success, I offer a new way of contextualizing life and managing stress with what I call the Seven-Slice Method, comprised of the following Seven Slices:

  1. The Family Slice
  2. The Professional Slice
  3. The Personal Slice
  4. The Physical Slice
  5. The Intellectual Slice
  6. The Emotional Slice
  7. The Spiritual Slice

Busy professionals such as actuaries juggle countless tasks, priorities, and pressures every day which leaves them especially vulnerable by ceding the other five slices of their lives (Personal, Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, and Spiritual). Though some of us will pick up one or two of the other slices randomly here and there, most focus only on the two primary slices (Professional and Personal) and leave the rest to chance. No wonder that for many the stress of family and work feels more acute than ever today: it’s become their entire world, with consequences that are typically not healthy, to say the least.

Frequently, for example, a client will call me suddenly to tell me that someone on their team snapped or made a terrible (and often preventable) error in judgment, or that a recent meeting had dissolved into arguing and yelling. On a company level, stressed employees are unhappy and thus less productive. On an individual level, unable to keep stress from taking over your life, personal as well as professional lives will suffer.

This is unlikely to be a surprise to you. People can be perfectly pleasant, patient, and easy to get along with (at their job or in their household) when things are calm and easy. But when stress enters the picture, your sense of perspective shrinks. Things that are stressing you out become the center of your world. You become less patient and less available to the people you care about. You become less able to feel and express gratitude and to appreciate the good things and the good people in your life. You might even stop caring about or even noticing the feelings of others.

My Seven-Slice Method won’t change your actual circumstances. Your life will always have stress in it. But a process and method to identify, understand, and leverage all seven slices of your life may help you master the art and science of finding the time and patience to live (even if only briefly) in every part of your life. Although “balance” may be impossible, I do believe that you can live more in harmony with yourself, every day.

For example, if your Professional Slice is dominating your world and causing you acute stress, try blocking off a half hour on your calendar between 5 and 6 p.m. to go outside for a dedicated 15 minutes of walking outside. Just 15 minutes. Not a huge time commitment, yet by just touching your Physical, Personal, and potentially your Family Slice (if you walk with your partner and/or family), you are in a better position to dissipate your stress. You’ll better remember that your Professional Slice only makes up one part of your life.

The effort to live in all of your seven slices may take some work but will be well worth it. You’ll let go the impossible notion of “balance” and introduce harmony as a higher value. Most importantly, harmony could prove a goal that you can realistically achieve.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the editors, or the respective author’s employer.

David J. McNeff is author of The Work-Life Balance Myth: Rethinking Your Optimal Balance for Success (McGraw-Hill). Founder and president of Peak Consulting Group, David is a thought leader, executive advisor, jury trial consultant, profiling expert, workshop facilitator, author, and keynote speaker. You can reach Dave via mcneff@peakcg.com, www.peakcg.com, or directly at 508-868-8551.