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Balancing the Grind with Vanessa Dietzel, Co-Author of The Performance Curve

Vanessa Dietzel is the co-author of The Performance Curve (Bloomsbury Business) with Laura Watkins.

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

I have always been intrigued by what makes us tick as human beings and how to really live our potential. Wanting to learn about the world of business, I started in management consulting in London and Sydney.

After six years, I switched careers completely to work as a breathwork therapist in Australia, at a destination spa in Thailand, and Europe. When I returned to live in the UK, my career pendulum started to combine those extremes, and I created a ‘portfolio’ career.

In addition to independent consulting projects and breathwork, I started teaching yoga and meditation, and qualified as a business and life coach.

Over the years, I focussed on leadership development (designing and delivering programmes for companies, executive coaching) and this is where Laura and I have collaborated a lot, to bring the best of modern science and experience-based wisdom traditions together to help our clients achieve high performance, which includes well-being. We have now consolidated this work in an upcoming book, called The Performance Curve.

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

My days vary greatly, and I love that! I might be delivering a programme (these days online), working on our book, planning a workshop with a local ‘horse whisperer’ where I contribute breathwork, or taking what I call ‘unstructured time’ – doing what is calling me in the moment. That could be work related, or not.

I don’t have a fixed workday routine. I start work at different times, sometimes before 8, sometimes in the afternoon!

But I have certain rituals I have been doing daily for years: hot ginger lemon first thing in the morning, as well as a 30 minute breathing/meditation practice, breakfast and dinner with my partner when we’re in the same location.

Yoga, running, gardening, swimming in the sea and walks are my regular forms of exercise. I usually do one of these 5 out of 7 days. I often end my day with naming some things I feel grateful for.

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

Since becoming self-employed in 2012, I’ve been working largely from home when not meeting clients in person or facilitating off-sites. It took me a couple of months to find my groove at first, and now it fits my life perfectly.

It allows me more flexibility to manage my energy in ways that top up multiple batteries. For example, emptying the dishwasher or making a nice salad is not just good for my culinary order and wellbeing (I love food!) but is also a regenerative break from mental work and refreshes my ability to focus on deep work again.

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

Work-life balance can sound like we are compromising between two opposing things.

I look at my life more like a circle with many different components in it that complement and reinforce each other – physical health, relationships with others, hobbies, finances, time to daydream or be with myself (I am a bit of an introvert), activities through which I seek to contribute to the world (some of which I get paid for and some I don’t).

It’s the combined variety of them that makes the total greater than the sum of the parts. 

What I’ve found important is to keep the proportions fluid. It’s fine for some components to take up more space than another for some time, as long as the balance is there over the longer-term. I also value the freedom to be able to engage in new projects that pop up or spend a month or two in an ashram in India.

So I make sure I don’t overcrowd the circle, say no to things when it’s starting to feel too tight or I can’t bring my full passion and energy to them. And I pay attention to the signals that tell me I may be overdoing something, like feeling resentful. I then find out what need isn’t being met and how to address that.

The other thing I have discovered: I’m at my best when I do 2 to 4 hours of deep work per day on average (of course this varies when it is a day-long programme, or I’m up against a deadline and just need to focus on that).

By deep work I mean new idea generation, writing or design work, coaching sessions where I set high standards for me to be fully present. I have found this amount of time to be my long-term sustainable sweet spot for doing my best work while having the most fun doing it.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Nothing has changed my life, but since the pandemic I’ve been sharing my nightly gratitudes with a close friend who I couldn’t visit anymore. It helped us stay part of each other’s lives.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

The Performance Curve, of course! Seriously – it’s easy to forget your own advice and I find it helpful to come back to what I know works.

Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart – by James Doty.

And I sometimes watch a bit of Marie Forleo, for her quirky, fun style of tackling important questions of business and life.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

Thankfully, there’s nothing I can’t live without. I used to be surprised by how little I need it when I’m in an area without connectivity for a while. However, one app I really like is the Breathing App developed by Eddie Stern and Deepak Chopra with sounds by Moby.

It’s a very simple app for coherent breathing, which brings our heart rate, heart rate variability, blood pressure, and brainwave function into a coherent frequency. This leads to calm, restful alertness and many other benefits.

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

My deceased grandfather. He was fiercely protective of nature, quite outspoken when he saw a lack of human decency, and therefore an oddball to many. I’m sure he would have had something very eye-opening to say.

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

If you don’t know what lights you up or gives meaning to your life, how you want to live or how to make that happen, or there is just this small niggle that there may be more: it is always worth launching into the uncertain journey of seeking answers to these questions, no matter how uncomfortable or challenging that may seem.

There is no formula for how to live life, the point is to find out what matters to you and then translate it into practical, day-to-day actions. As Mary Oliver put it, it is ‘your one wild and precious life’. Everyone deserves to live it well. And it’s up to all of us to make that possible for ourselves and others.

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.