4 Necessary Isms of Life Work

By January 5, 2016Leadership

life work isms

Another shift most have realized: Work-life balance is out, and work-life tempo is in. Work and life are entangled. Life is challenging with our “do it all” mindset, and work is challenging to survive demanding requirements of “do it all or else.” Productivity in the workplace is up significantly (over 74%); wages are essentially flat. The World Happiness Report 2015 places the United States at 15; Switzerland is number 1 in happiness.

The pull and push of life work.

If there is more frustration than happiness, we may point to one or more of the following bottlenecks:

  • Personal desire to want it all and having it all right now
  • Spending habits of buying more than budgeted and then working extra to pay the interest
  • Impatience rules over patience
  • Doing the work without defining the purpose and philosophy
  • Carefree over careful
  • Cautious over creativity

Different tugs happen in our life work.

  • We would like to be idealistic, yet realism hits us in the face.
  • We are too realistic, and idealistic pursuits escape us.
  • We want to leap forward, yet we don’t do the necessary work to ensure sustainability.
  • We do all the slow work, and our purpose gets buried.

Clarity and timing make the difference.

Knowing our life purpose and career mission delivers clarity in priorities and keeps our focus on what matters most to advance.

Knowing when to push forward and when to build the foundation provides the necessary timing to master our life work puzzle.

Bringing the right cadence to our life work Isms (or, the necessary life work Isms).

We need a certain mix to make things work, to enjoy what we do and how we live. We need a strong dash of idealism with a stout surge of realism. We need an enduring sense of progressivism with a persistent logic in our incrementalism forward. These are the necessary isms in our life work!

Let’s begin with simple definitions (compliments of Dictionary.com)

Idealism is defined as “the cherishing or pursuit of high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.”

Realism is defined as “the tendency to view or represent things as they really are.”

Progressivism is defined as “favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.”

Incrementalism is defined as “a policy of making changes… by degrees; gradualism.”

Standalone, these isms present a narrow concept. Together, these isms offer a necessary framework.

The Necessary Isms of Life Work

We defined the isms in each block, so let’s look what they bring to life work.

We already know there are struggles in our work and life. Ignoring them will not make them disappear.

Necessary Life Work IsmsOn the Realism row, our strategy needs to plot a course of who we need to work with, work around, and work through. We need to think about the If/Then and develop several realistic scenarios and workflows. We need to develop a real view of what the situation is or can be, so we can respond thoughtfully rather than react awfully.

Power politics is one way to look at this row. Another way to view this row is, by having a realistic strategy, your power will grow. Power is a necessity but will only be useful and sustainable when used with integrity and for positive impact.

The next block over is how resolve happens. More than resolving the challenges, it is building our resolve by taking each required step and doing it the best way we possibly can. Without doing the indispensable work, no strategy will be implemented, and no lasting results will be realized. More than this, as a leader of your work, you will not be successful without doing incremental tasks in a consistent, exemplary way.

The Realism row is the foundation in which our Idealism grows. Idealism needs to develop roots in the realism of what works.

Moving up to the Idealism row, our reputation is supported by getting things done. Our next challenge is to empower ourselves and others to move bigger initiatives forward. Idealism is a communicated aspiration. Aspirations need inspiration to activate others. We also need inspiration to keep our mindset open and bright. Our idealism needs to open up the “What if” attitude and approach. Clarity of vision and possibility is empowering.

Empowering politics is a way to look at this. Think growth. Think ladders in which you and others can climb up. Motivating purpose will activate momentum.

The next block over is how resolve happens here. Progress adds to our resolve. We resolve roadblocks and then add to our achieved improvements. Progressivism is bigger steps up. Progressivism is taking a tougher path but with bigger possibilities. With the foundation of Realism and Incrementalism supporting us, bigger steps can be taken, or steeper paths can be chosen.

Seasoned Path Life Work IsmsWhat transpires is a seasoned path. A well-seasoned path helps us achieve our True North or Gold Star initiatives.

Realism alone can be lonely. Idealism alone can be frustrating. Combined, they are transformational.

Incrementalism alone can be boring. Progressivism alone can slow. Combined, they produce in bountiful ways.

As a new generation enters our workplace, we need to activate these four isms in more meaningful ways.

In our personal initiatives, we need to choose a well-seasoned path and work each quadrant of our four isms.

In our work projects, we cannot afford to ignore a quadrant and expect to be successful. A necessary rhythm begins when we engage each ism wholeheartedly.

Isms to Avoid

Before we leave, there are certain isms to avoid in life work. These isms are easy to fall into, and then they entrap us. We need to be self-aware and ready to make changes to avoid being stuck in these isms. Key isms to avoid are:

  • Schism – Don’t build barriers between individuals, teams, departments, partners, neighbors, friends, etc. Remember: Strength in diversity.
  • Pessimism – Walk, work, and live on the sunny side of the street as often as possible.
  • Obstructionism – Build for the future in positive ways. Don’t block change. Engage change and make it better.
  • Egoism – Self-confidence is important, but self-centeredness is dangerous. Focus on the higher purpose and bigger goals.

Too much good is needed to be done to get stuck in any of negative isms. Do good work. Activate a good life.

Isms for Good Life Work

I am just scratching the surface on how the four key isms work together, but it is a concept I believe in, and I have unknowingly achieved it at times. Imagine what can be accomplished when we knowingly embrace this framework! I wish I grasped it much earlier in my life work.

Consistent focus on getting the right timing between the four isms will create a more meaningful life work opus. Are you ready to engage the necessary isms of your life work?


Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Randy Conley says:

    Hi Jon,

    I always appreciate your creative use of the four box model…you’re a master! You’re hitting on an important issue. We have to find the right cadence/tempo/rhythm in life, which work is a large component. I’ve personally adopted the mindset of “work-life harmony” instead of work-life balance. Balance implies everything has to be equal and it seems like it sets us up for perpetual dissatisfaction because life is too unpredictable to always have things in balance. Harmony, however, means we may place more focus on particular areas of our life yet find a way to be at peace and content with it all.

    Thanks for expanding my thinking. Be well.


    • Jon Mertz says:

      Hi Randy,

      Thank you for your feedback and comments. I like how you frame harmony on where we focus and being at peace with activities or attitudes about the elements outside of this space. I think this is essential to being in harmony with our life work. I found one of your articles on this topic – Seek Work-Life Harmony, Not Balance – 5 Key Strategies – and provided a link. The strategies you point out are key.

      Thank you, Randy!


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