Jae Ellard is an author, speaker, and founder of Simple Intentions, a company that helps people develop the skill of awareness—the ability to see the world and how you show up in it—in the workplace. Ellard believes that being aware of your behavior allows you to become more present and accountable in all other parts of your life, which can ultimately help increase innovation, productivity, and creativity.
After spending years in corporate senior communication roles, Ellard was overly stressed and exhausted, and it wasn’t long before she collapsed from adrenal fatigue—twice. Soon after these episodes, Ellard began researching human behavior, neuroscience, and mindfulness, eventually quitting her job, and starting her company in 2008.
We followed up with Ellard after her webinar, The 5 Truths About Work Life Balance, and asked about her journey to find balance, and how independent consultants can bring more awareness into their daily lives.
1. If you hadn’t collapsed from exhaustion years ago, do you think you would be where you are today?
Ellard: That was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was so painful, but at the same time it was such a gift as well. It was through that wakeup call that I really began to understand the significance of stopping, pausing, and thinking about why we are doing what we are doing. I’m glad that I wasn’t able to prevent it from happening at the time, because I wouldn’t have the life I have now or this business.
It’s easy to fall back into old habits and patterns. Boundaries are the heart and soul of where my practice began. I realized that I have horrible boundaries about what work time is and what it isn’t, and how I have conversations with people about my priorities. It took a solid year to unravel behaviors I had spent years making, but I was able to build and grow from there.
2. What are common misconceptions people have about work-life balance?
Ellard: The biggest misconception that I feel like I’m still dealing with is that it’s a woman thing or a gender issue. As women, we often come together in communities and have been talking about this for decades, whereas men have been excluded and left out of the conversation. It’s important to have the conversation together as human beings—that’s the only way we are going to shift ideas.
The other misconception is technology. Technology is so amazing and wonderful, but also comes with a big level of accountability and responsibility in terms of setting boundaries and rules. People struggle with being okay about not being available. We are in this “always-on” community. If you’re a doctor or a newsroom photographer you may be on call, but most of us can choose to lay down boundaries and just say, please don’t reach out to me past these hours.
3. Where do people get stuck when working to achieve balance in their lives?
Ellard: What gets people stuck most often is guilt and the fear of letting other people down, which leads to over commitment. Ego is another one, because some of us feel we contribute value when we are actively doing things—we think we are adding value to the client when we are busy.
To get over the guilt problem, ask yourself: is it true? Is this person really never going to hire me again if I tell them I’m going to my son’s soccer game? Generally, the answer is no. Consider the worse-case scenario and ask yourself if that is really true. For ego, ask yourself: what’s my true motivation? Am I acting a certain way because of how I want to be perceived? Do I care more about how it looks or about how it feels?
4. What advice do you have for independent consultants looking to bring more balance into their lives?
Ellard: Your ability to be present and have space is why people hire you as a consultant. If you give up that space in your mind or your ability to be present, your value as a consultant is diminished. Then, you’re just as busy and overwrought as the full-time workers that are bringing you on because they are at capacity. Continue to remind yourself that is the value you bring. Having that space in your mind is part of your product offering.
You also have to resist the temptation to take on too many projects, or you lose your value. Communicating about boundaries is important, especially if you have a lot of clients. Let people know upfront about your availability.
5. What benefits can people realize through greater awareness and balance?
Ellard: Space and the concept of presence. When we allow ourselves to feel more engaged and connected around what we are saying yes to, when we aren’t filled up with guilt emotions, we can create more space for joy and happiness to come in. That spirals out into hard business skills, allowing us to be more innovative, creative, and productive. All of a sudden, our capacity to show up and deliver changes dramatically.
Be guilt-free and judgment-free. There are so many choices you make each day; some are going to support you and some will sabotage you in terms of reducing stress. Each day you can move the ball a bit more. That makes it a much more manageable life practice instead of something you feel you have to achieve.
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