The Happy Engineer Podcast

151: Forget Work-Life Balance If You Want to Be Happy | Master the Wheel of Life

Forget Work-Life balance. If you’re an engineering manager seeking coaching or help with work/life balance, you will be frustrated.

In this episode, we dive into the crucial concept of whole-life balance, challenging the traditional model of work-life balance.

The centerpiece of this episode is the Wheel of Life, a powerful tool for assessing satisfaction in eight key areas, including body, finances, relationships, mindset, and vocation. I guide you through the process of scoring each domain and emphasize the importance of taking small, specific actions to improve each area gradually.

The episode concludes with an actionable plan to prioritize and address the areas that need attention the most. Don’t miss the chance to grab the accompanying workbook and embark on your journey toward whole life balance.

Download The Wheel of Life Workbook HERE that goes along with today’s training.

So press play and let’s chat about transforming your life one turn of the wheel at a time.

Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 151: Forget about Work/Life Balance & Find Whole-Life Balance with the Wheel of Life



LISTEN TO EPISODE 151: Forget Work-Life Balance If You Want to Be Happy | Master the Wheel of Life

Previous Episode 150: Victory Over Imposter Syndrome and Burnout with Jimmy Burroughes


Top 3 Tips on Finding Balance for Engineering Managers Using The Wheel of Life

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, I explore the concept of whole-life balance and the essential tool to achieve it.

Here are the top three insights:

1. The Wheel of Life: Learn about the powerful tool for assessing and balancing actions in key areas of your life such as physical health, finances, relationships, and vocation.

2. Small, Specific Actions: Discover the importance of focusing on the smallest actions to move up just one point in each domain of your life for significant impact.

3. Regular Analysis and Action: Understand the importance of regularly reassessing and taking action in each area of your life to maintain balance and growth.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, click the podcast link below and listen to the entire conversation.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: How many times have I told you to forget work life balance? If you’ve been hanging out around the Happy Engineer podcast and Zach White at all, you know that I do not like it. Work life balance now, gasp, maybe you haven’t heard me say that before and you’re getting the wrong idea. It’s not that I don’t love and value balance.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:25] Balance is so key, not just to our happiness and joy in the moment, but to the quality of the career growth that we experience and the acceleration that’s possible for you as well. So. What do we mean by forget work life balance? Well, today we’re going to unpack that deeply and I’ll share with you the single simplest and most important tool you will ever use to help you achieve what I like to call whole life balance between your career and the rest of who you are as an engineering leader.

[00:00:59] Now, back in 2012. I went on a trip to Chicago with my wife and we were going to Chicago for ballroom and Latin dance lessons. I spent a lot of time competing in ballroom and Latin dance, both in college and after college during my career, and we were driving to Chicago for the weekend, staying with some friends who were also competitive dancers, and we were flying our coaches.

[00:01:24] In for two days of solid lessons, an incredible opportunity. These coaches were from places like Russia and Latvia living in the United States, in New York and North Carolina, but we are flying them in for the day on Saturday and Sunday to teach ballroom and Latin dance to us. It was an incredible opportunity.

[00:01:44] Well, on the drive home from that trip to Chicago, my wife and I got into. Let’s call it an argument. Okay. It was an argument. We started fighting and it began as a little tiff around money. You could imagine that this trip and all the expenses involved in bringing dance coaches from other parts of the world into Chicago for a day, paying for their flights, their meals, their travel expenses to, and from the airport.

[00:02:13] Everything. Was a pretty high ticket investment, especially for me being very junior in my engineering career. And my wife was not earning very much at the time and it was taking a big bite out of our budget. So it started as a, a little argument about money and can we afford to continue to do this? And I don’t know if this is the right decision with our finances.

[00:02:35] And I mean, you could just imagine how money goes. It can be tough with a spouse, uh, in any relationship, money is tough. Well. That spiraled into arguing about marriage and things that weren’t working between us and our intimacy. And then the friends that we were hanging out with. And yeah, we drove all the way to Chicago to stay with your friends and we never spent any time with my friends.

[00:02:56] And then that became family and in laws and next thing you know, we’re fighting about what church we’re going to go to. And thank God that we finally made it home and the argument ended and got to go to bed. Well, I walked away from that. situation, thinking to myself that, you know what, there’s some friction at home, but my work life balance overall is still pretty good.

[00:03:21] I’m happy with my career and there’s some work to do at home, but every everything overall pretty good. Two years later, I was completely burned out, grinding my face along rock bottom in my life. And divorced. The truth is, things were not fine. My work life balance mental model had completely failed me, and I was not taking care of the things in my life that needed my attention right then, right there.

[00:03:56] I was blind to it. The tool that we’re going to walk through here, it is very common. It’s called the Wheel of Life, but it is the most important tool that you will use to create whole life balance. Right where you’re at today and to experience a deeper level of happiness and progress in all the parts of who you are.

[00:04:19] What I’m going to share with you is not just the tool, but a couple of the key areas that you need to get right in how you use this tool to get the full value from it. When I first saw the wheel of life, I did it wrong. I used it in a way that made it more complex than it needed to be. And I want to share with you those failure modes and make sure that you’re getting this right.

[00:04:40] And you’re creating incredible value from the tool. There is in the show notes a link to grab a PDF workbook with everything that we’re going to do so you can follow along and use this tool for your own life and take action right now. I highly encourage you go download the PDF so that you can actually.

[00:05:01] Do the wheel of life for your own situation, follow along, take notes, and do this on your own. If you’re driving or working out right now, go grab the PDF later and do the workbook on your own time after you’re done. Let’s jump in. I want to show you how to use the wheel of life. you can follow along with the actual slides and the demo on the YouTube channel or on our website where the video is posted, but we’ll make sure this is very clear and simple for you to follow along as we go through and grab that PDF.

[00:05:33] So you can do this on your own time, the whole point of the wheel of life. Is for us to find the bumps and to smooth out this experience of our life as we go through day by day, week by week, quarter by quarter, year by year, and continuing to expand in each part of who we are. And the Wheel of life is a snapshot in time.

[00:05:56] It’s right now. It is something that we want to look at. In a single moment, And this is the first failure mode I’ve seen with people who use the Wheel of Life tool. Is they seek to aggregate some sort of average over the last year, or the last quarter, or even their entire lifetime. And when they’re filling in their scores and assessments, they’re doing some mental calculus around what type of average they’ve had in a particular area.

[00:06:27] And it’s very easy. To convince yourself based on your conditioning or core beliefs in a certain area to give a score that is unrealistic of how you actually feel right now, and the value of the tool is to treat it as a true value. Point in time snapshot. So in the workbook, you’ll see, we’re going to put today’s date.

[00:06:51] I want you to actually capture the date that you are doing this because it’s a point in time. It is a single moment. And for me, as I’m recording this, it’s in December of 2023. So I’m going to load in 12, 1923.

[00:07:07] And here is the core question that drives the wheel of life on a scale. Of zero to 10, how satisfied, how fulfilled are you with each domain of your life today? Just pause for a moment and reflect on this exact experience, quality, state, energy of each area right now for you. We’ll start with an easy one, your body, your physical health.

[00:07:46] How you feel in your physical body right now. I just invite you to scan your body. Do you have any aches and pains? Are you frustrated with what you’re seeing on the scale today? Maybe you know you’re not eating, uh, the foods that give you the best energy. You’re feeling a bit sluggish today. Maybe you are sick right now.

[00:08:08] It happens to be a time where you have a stomach flu or you’re not doing well. You’re in bed from zero to 10. How satisfied, how fulfilled are you with your physical body? And imagine that a zero is the worst. Zero is the absolute worst that this has ever been for you. And a ten is exactly what you want it to be.

[00:08:35] You could not imagine it being any better right now than it is. And what we’ll do is pick that score right here at a moment in time. Don’t overthink this. You’re doing a real time scan and you’re picking the number that. You feel is true for you right now. So for me, if I’m being honest about my physical health and body today, I feel great.

[00:09:01] I worked out this morning. I’ve had a lot of water today. I got to have a wonderful latte, great coffee. You recording this podcast is a high energy thing for me. So I’m actually going to give myself a nine. I feel really good about my physical body right now. We won’t go through each category in this depth, but I’m going to share with you the eight spokes on the wheel of life.

[00:09:24] And this is exactly the model that we use with all of our clients who are part of our programs here at the Oasis of Courage and the coaching that I do. And just as a resource for you, I want you to know this tool can be adapted. into any framework of balance in life. Thinking back to episode 36 with Carrie Jack, we talked about the ten alignments.

[00:09:46] You could use this tool around the ten alignments. In episode 137 with Rebecca Whitman, she talked about seven pillars of abundance. You could use this with the seven pillars. Just back in episode 148, Steve Gamlin shared his version of the eight spokes of the Wheel of Life. This is Zach White’s version.

[00:10:04] This is how we coach it at the Oasis of Courage. But I want you to know the tool is yours to adapt and use in highest service to what you need to be focusing on. So first we have our body. Then we have our finances. How are you doing in your money right now? Are you earning what you want to earn? Are you saving what you want to save?

[00:10:27] How are those investments going? Give yourself a score in satisfaction and fulfillment on your finances. Maybe you check your bank account, check in on that 401k, give yourself an overall score on your finances today, point in time. What about the significant relationship, your spouse, your partner, that person who you have an intimate relationship with, how is that relationship going?

[00:10:58] Your mind thinking about mindset thinking about a positive state or a negative state of mind Do you have peace of mind or are you constantly in a state of stress? worry Anxiety give yourself a score on your mind filling each of these in as we go score for finances a score for your spouse or significant other a Score for your mind your mindset zero the worst You couldn’t imagine it being any better.

[00:11:32] All your other relationships, we’re just going to bundle this into one group. This is friends, this is colleagues, the people that you spend time with other than that intimate partner. How are those relationships going? Are they bringing life and joy into your world? Are these people who are aspirational for you, that are driving your life in the direction you want to go?

[00:11:54] What’s the truth today? You know, maybe you’re in a fight. With a close friend and you need to go have a courageous conversation and apologize for something. If so, give yourself a lower score. Maybe here it is, holiday season, you’re just coming into a new year. Maybe these relationships are vibrant and alive and going well for you.

[00:12:16] Zero to 10 relationships. Your faith. This could be your connection to spirituality, your relationship with God. It may be faith in a non religious sense. How do you show up to the things that you cannot see, the parts of life that keep the world moving, but we need to have faith in? I’ll give you an easy example of this.

[00:12:39] It comes up all the time. Zach, what is faith if we’re not talking about religion? Well, you’re likely driving somewhere almost every day. Maybe if you work from home, it’s not every day, but you get behind the wheel of a car and you drive to the grocery store. And there’s that yellow painted line right down the middle of the road.

[00:13:00] riddle me this. How do you know that that car on the other side of the line is not going to come careening across the yellow line and smash into you head on? Well, you don’t, it takes faith. So what is your relationship to faith in your life? Zero to 10 giving generosity. That could be giving of money, it could be giving of time and talent.

[00:13:26] How are you in selfless service? Are you giving in a way that is fulfilling and meeting your goals for giving? And last but not least, the reason you’re probably here on the podcast in general.

[00:13:42] Is your vocation, your career? How is that business, that career, that job going? Are you moving forward fast? Are you experiencing fulfillment and joy and purpose at work? Do you love what you do? Are you making an impact? Give yourself a score on your vocation. The biggest failure mode, again, is trying to aggregate or average.

[00:14:07] Just trust your intuition on a score. Right now, don’t overthink this. When you’re using the Wheel of Life, the whole process is only going to take a few minutes. Now, I’ll show you an example of what the wheel looks like. Imagine a circle. Divide it into these eight segments, and inside are concentric circles from 1 out to 10 at the outer edge.

[00:14:36] And what you’re going to do is draw a line around the score for each of the areas as you scored it. So if you gave yourself a 10, you’d be drawing that line around the very outer edge. And if you gave yourself a 1 You would be drawing at the very inside, a very tiny circle, and we’ll use the lines that divide each section to draw out the wheel.

[00:14:58] If you can’t picture it, just go check out the download. There’s an example there, and you can get this drawn up for yourself. There’s a section on the next page where you can create your own wheel. Take the scores that you just gave yourself and mark them down on the wheel. So just to give you an example of what that would look like, I’m going to draw one right now if you’re watching on YouTube.

[00:15:22] You know, you just create this shape based on the scores that you gave yourself. And you’re going to get this funny squiggly pattern. It’s not going to look like a wheel. You can just imagine. I’m going to fill this in for anybody who’s ever done this before. Whoa, that shape when you draw it, it’s not very round.

[00:15:47] Let’s just imagine for a moment this was an actual wheel that you were driving the vehicle of your life with.

[00:15:55] If that crazy shape wheel is hooked up to your Ferrari, the vehicle that is you. A vehicle that has incredible potential, lots of horsepower, but the wheels that you put on it were shaped like the wheel that you’re seeing when you draw this out. Imagine how bumpy of a ride that’s going to be. If you have high scores in many of these areas, but one or two areas in your life that are a one, a two, a three, you’re very unsatisfied.

[00:16:29] You’re very unfulfilled. Every time the wheel rotates around and you get to that area. There’s a pretty big bump. It’s like you’re hitting a pothole every single time the wheel goes round. And here’s the thing, the faster you move through life, the more often that these bumps hit the ground and hit it hard.

[00:16:53] And when you speed up in life and you start going after results, hard in life, these areas that are not working are going to create an even bigger shock and even bigger bump into your system. And you’ll be just like me back in 2012, where everything’s fine at work. Maybe I’m a nine or a 10 in my vocation, but these other areas, multiple of them were not working for me.

[00:17:18] And every time I’d come around to those areas. But boom, but boom, I’m hitting these big pothole like bumps. And the thing is I’m in the driver’s seat of this car, right? And I’m looking at the road thinking, man, where are these bumps coming from? The bumps weren’t coming from the road. They were coming from the wheel of life that I was putting on my own car.

[00:17:39] I was the source. I wasn’t addressing these issues. I wasn’t doing the work to create a better balance on my wheel.

[00:17:50] Now, you might be asking, well, what do you do about it? Okay, Zach. I see the picture. The wheel looks pretty funky. This makes a lot of sense as to why I’m experiencing so much roughness and friction in my life and in my, my world right now, but what do we do about it? How could I possibly solve all of this at once?

[00:18:12] Great question. And on the next slide of the workbook, we have the whole life balance action planner. Here is the key to the Wheel of Life. We want to focus not on solving every area to a 10 out of 10 all at once. You might have an area of your life that’s a 3 right now. Let’s say you are unhappy with your finances.

[00:18:41] Your finances are a 3 out of 10. Perhaps something broke down at the house, or you had to put a new roof on your house, and you spent a bunch of money that you didn’t want to spend. It took a big dent out of your savings, and you’re frustrated. Maybe a car broke down, whatever. Your finances are not where you want them, for whatever reason.

[00:18:58] It’s a 3. To focus on creating a finances experience of 10 out of 10, is going to require a lot of effort from you. It might take a lot of time from you. We don’t know exactly every action to take between now and a 10 out of 10. So what you want to focus on instead is the smallest action. What is the smallest action that you can take to move up just one point in each domain, the smallest action you can take to move up just one point.

[00:19:35] How do you take your finances? From a three to a four. What would that look like? Maybe the simplest, smallest action is simply to start saving 5 percent more of your income. Just start saving 5 percent more. That would be a simple action that you can begin this month. For each of the areas of the Wheel of Life.

[00:20:04] Ask yourself the question, How could I move up one point? The simplest, smallest action that you can move up in each domain. And then, over here on the right, there’s another column where we’re going to look at each of these domains and ask, What is the actual priority or the rank? of each of these actions.

[00:20:29] You might use a due date. When do you want to get them done? And remember, we’re taking small specific actions. These are not big sweeping actions like go land a big promotion to director and make twice as much money. That’s a great goal for the long term. It’s not a great action for moving up one point in your wheel of life because it’s not something you can do quickly and do now and control the outcome.

[00:20:53] we come up with eight ideas. But we still don’t have capacity to take eight actions at one time. Which domain matters the most? Now there’s a couple ways you might think about that. One could be looking at areas where you have a low score. You know, in this example that I created earlier, I drew a low score on relationships.

[00:21:18] You might say, If I could move up a point in my relationships, that would be really powerful. So ask yourself right now. Which area is the one that’s going to have the biggest impact for you? It may not be the same as anyone else. It’s not about a specific hierarchy that you must work on one or another.

[00:21:41] And here’s the other thing. It doesn’t have to be your lowest score. You may decide that what matters most for you is to work on an area that’s already going pretty well. I mentioned earlier that I was a 9 in my body. Well, maybe I want to take that 9. And move it up to 10, because it would feel really good for me to have a 10.

[00:22:05] I just want to get one 10 out of 10, and that’s going to build momentum for me. That’s what’s going to have the highest leverage for me. There is no right answer, but I’d encourage you to rank these. How do you want to tackle each area? In what order? Remember, there’s no such thing as equal priority.

[00:22:25] There’s only a lack of priority. So let’s set and establish the order that we’re going to tackle these actions and then go get to work. The last thing I want to share with you here is that it’s okay to have a 10. Yeah, I know. Engineers don’t always like to hear that, but it is okay to have a 10. 

[00:22:49] Here’s what I’ve seen with engineering leaders when it comes to tens, we all like to leave room for potential future growth. Nothing is perfect. We can always imagine something better. And that’s a great quality, by the way. But what I want you to ask yourself is what would a 10 out of 10 look like as a snapshot in time?

[00:23:12] We’re asking about right now. And of course, we have goals for the future. But if we always rely on hitting the goal to experience a 10 out of 10, then you set yourself up for a life that you never actually reach the fullness of happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment in your life. It’s okay to be a 10 today, because here’s what I want you to know about the wheel of life.

[00:23:38] None of your scores are stagnant. None of them are written in stone. And if you do nothing in a particular area over time, that nine will become an eight, will become a seven, will become a six, will become a five. If you’re not growing, if you’re not expanding, then you’re shrinking and you’re dying in that area.

[00:24:05] So yes, tomorrow you can be better. Yes, today’s ten is tomorrow’s nine. I get it, but it’s okay to give yourself permission to experience a 10 out of 10 today. Don’t be afraid of the 10. It’s a snapshot in time. Give yourself permission to mark that top score. Similarly, be honest with yourself. And if an area is truly really low, really bad, mark a low score.

[00:24:34] There’s no ego here. You’re not trying to impress anybody. Put down the truth. If you want the tool to serve you well, be honest with yourself. How often do we want to look at this? I’d encourage you to use the tool as often as you need it to continue to balance and rebalance I look at this a minimum of once a quarter and if things feel out of balance to me, if I’m really struggling in an area or things are just chaotic in my world, then I’ll look at it every single week because the truth is it’s not hard.

[00:25:12] It’s not complex. You can score every area quickly come up with actions you could take this week to help each area and have that all done in five minutes. 10 minutes max, it doesn’t need to be difficult. If it takes you an hour to do this, you’re doing it wrong. Keep it simple. Keep it action oriented. Use the workbook that’s attached there as a guide or do it in your own journal.

[00:25:36] There’s so many free resources for this wheel of life tool, but absolutely put it into practice. Make it a part of your playbook rhythms. Something that you come back to often. Don’t fall into the trap. Of work life balance, this two dimensional Scale like model of career and life, the trap that will turn you into something that looks a lot more like bipolar than balance. You can’t make up for bad work by partying harder on the weekends, and you’re not going to experience your full potential by only looking at work and everything else as two categories.

[00:26:18] There’s a lot of areas of your life that matter. And 

[00:26:21] how you do anything is how you do everything. So if you want to experience the upward spiral of growth in your whole life, then we need to be taking simple, small action to work on each area of the wheel. 

[00:26:36] Zach White: Grab the workbook, have fun going through this on your own and shoot me some feedback on what helps you the most.

[00:26:42] I’d love to hear from you. Join us at happy hour. The registration link is in the show notes and tell me what you discover. About yourself as you go through and execute on action from your will of life. Let’s do this.