Balancing the Grind With Dr Polly McGee, Author & Leadership Facilitator

Dr Polly McGee is a co-director at leadership training company, Pilot Light Consulting, and author of the book The Good Hustle: Creating a Happy, Healthy Business with Heart.

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1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My career has been wildly diverse, which is partially a function of being curious, loving learning and growing my mind, and partially rolling existential crisis where I spent many years thinking I needed to do or be something and I simply didn’t have any idea of what that was.

So I looked furiously for what I was going to be when I grew up, tried job after job, sector after sector, kept piling up qualifications, until I finally got the memo that I didn’t need to have a vocational job – my value and purpose wasn’t what was on my business card.

The through-line running through most of my career has been innovation, ideation, taking concepts from ideas to the market, and helping people solve business problems in unconventional ways.

Alongside of that I have A strong interest in spirituality, social justice, gender and identity, so tend to gravitate to boards and pro-bono work where I can make a difference and be in service to those areas.

I do love learning, and my academic background is an undergrad in communications and cultural studies, Honours and PhD in Gender studies and an MA in Creative Writing. This year I began a post grad in Clinical Psychology, which is a five year pathway to being registered to practice.

My preferred mode of expression is writing, so I’ve written a couple of books along the way and in the middle of a third one now.

I currently am a co-director of a company called Pilot Light that delivers leadership training and cultural strategy across all sectors, we are both facilitators for Dr Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead program so a lot of my work (up until COVID-19) was delivering her training.

I also have my own digital strategy consultancy that works with small and boutique businesses and government to deliver education and training around the digital economy, media, comms and marketing.

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

My workdays are wildly varied, which as you might have guessed, makes me pretty happy. I’m either writing, working on documents, coaching or doing media from my home office, or I’m travelling and facilitating training, running workshops, and working with clients face to face.

I usually have a number of projects on the go, or in development, or just for fun. Study for my psych degree has thrown yet another deliverable into the mix. So basically I sit and my desk and crunch on through or I’m out and about in the world.

The suggestion that you have work, and life, and the two are separable or compartmentalised and have to balance is a little nuts to me. We are whole people. We bring our whole selves to everything, and whatever is going on in our lives informs and impacts our work, and vice versa.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I’m a HUGE champion of remote working and have been for a decade. One of the upsides of COVID-19 is that people are having to work from home, and many businesses that have been reluctant to operate that way are finding out it works pretty well.

I think many knowledge workers can do their work this way, it’s great for the environment, great for running output based businesses and projects, great for allowing flexibility and integration with the view of life as a whole not as compartmentalized.

So pretty much if I’m not with a client, I’m remoting somewhere, and I work all over the world. The freedom is awesome. I choose to base myself in Tasmania for the lifestyle, clean air, food, wine, and beautiful vistas, and then the rest of the world is mine to explore and work.

As my life is so varied, my routine is supremely agile. No matter where I am it involves meditation and yoga, and a good nights sleep, all of which are my non-negotiables.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

This is going to be controversial for this interview, but I am strongly anti the idea of work life balance as I so frequently see the concept used in a rigid and inflexible way.

The suggestion that you have work, and life, and the two are separable or compartmentalised and have to balance is a little nuts to me. We are whole people. We bring our whole selves to everything, and whatever is going on in our lives informs and impacts our work, and vice versa.

I see a lot of people who are stressed and trying to so hard to have a work life balance that they are missing the joy in everything.

One of the reasons I am such an advocate for remote working and true flexibility is that our lives are agile, and we are quite capable of self-regulating. Sometimes, we need to work a lot, other times we need to take the foot off the pedal, rest and reset.

As trusted adults, we should be able to make this happen and our outputs and productivity speak for themselves. Nothing in life or nature has that sense of balance interpreted like poised scales. No. We are messy and life is chaotic and we need to flow, surrender to what is, and most importantly enjoy it all and keep learning and growing.

So work life balance for me means I’m flat stick, and then I’m on a retreat, or turning off all the devices, hanging with my partner, chilling with a book or a walk or whatever I need to charge my batteries.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

I have a strong sense of self discipline, which has come from many years of multitasking study with demanding corporate roles. I can focus and get a large volume of work done and stick with it till its complete.

Working to get ahead of deadlines, strong project management and communication is part of my routine for sure, but without hesitation, my spiritual discipline and practice of meditation and yoga are core to everything I do.

By working in service to others, no matter what I’m doing, it is easy to give it my all. It’s a mindset that I have strongly cultivated, and being able to sit for hours if I need to and meditate (let’s be clear, my mind is still going crazy just like everyone else) and live by my yogic and Buddhist values gives me a great toolset and frame of reference for what is hard and what is just grist for the mill.

Success for me is have I done all I can to take away the suffering of all sentient beings. That’s a pretty big undertaking, let’s call it a stretch goal ha ha, so by nature that means I do what I can with that focus as my moral compass.

The rest is just to enjoy the gift of being alive, being healthy, being able to use my skills, being born in this country and living at this time. That practice of gratitude is important to understanding that success is just being, not so much doing.

6) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

I read mainly non-fiction, and unsurprisingly am an avid consumer the broadest spectrum of philosophy, theology, psychology and the traditional teachings of yoga and Buddhism.

I also read a lot of business and entrepreneurial texts, and basically follow my nose to whatever I’m into on any given day, right now I’m fermenting everything so there are books on sourdough baking, pickles and kombucha in the mix.

A few of my fav authors are Pema Chodron, Lama Yeshe, Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Paul Selig, Brené Brown, Michael Pollan, and a pile of unread books I’m waiting to crack into when I have some downtime.

I read on my Kindle and use Audible a lot so I’ve always got a few books on the go and everything portable.

7) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

Meditate and breathe.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

Ha ha, see previous comments, I’d probably just read a teaching on the illusion of life as permanent by a yogi or a Lama and not take myself too seriously that I have any control over any of it.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

If the main motivation for your life is to be joyful, to love, to serve, to be grateful, then whatever you do, it will be a thoroughly purposeful and meaningful life.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.