When the Florida housing market dissolved a few years ago after the bubble burst, realtor Deborah Bacarella found herself working twice as hard for half the money. Frustrated and uncertain, she was lunching at one of the city's finest country clubs with a client when she burst into tears after he asked a simple question: "When was the last time you had fun?"
Fun was a foreign word, she realized. "My faith was wavering, my children missed me, my bank account was dwindling and I was neglecting my physical and mental health. My life was out of control. I was definitely not having fun!" she recalls.
She awoke the next morning and made a list of the things that were most important in her life – seven words beginning with F that she put in her Dream Folder and forgot about while trying to work everything out through hard work. The grim period continued, during which she and sales colleague Cathy Lewis talked about collaborating on a book to help realtors. As they began to map out the themes for the book, she reached into her folder and the 7F words leapt out at them. They roped in her sister, Barbara Agerton, a certified public accountant based in California, and the result is 7F Words, offering an approach for a balanced life based on focus, faith, freedom, family, finance, fitness, and, yes, fun.
"Make every day a seven. If you touch on each one over a day, it propels you into a balanced state of mind," she says in an interview with her collaborators not just on the book but also on workshops and coaching they now conduct under the title of Certified Sisters, playing on their regular professional qualifications. The messages:
Focus: You need to set goals and be passionate about them. If you pledged to lose weight in this new year and haven't, probably it's because you were going along with prevailing expectations and weren't passionate about the goal. They note that you don't have to be original in your paths to your goals. The business success of franchises, in which people follow an existing successful model, can be applied to your own goals. Be a copycat, finding people who have been successful and seeking their advice. If the 7Fs are your goal, they offer a weekly score sheet in which each day you list what activities fell into each category to ensure you are progressing towards balance.
Faith: This is a dialogue that we have with ourselves as we face the obstacles in our life. Whether that faith comes from God or from within, you need it to succeed. "The recession beat people down and a lot of people lost their faith," she notes. Try repeating affirmations to yourself, positive statements that allow you to fake faith when it's shaky. Keep a gratitude journal in which each day you capture five things for which you're grateful.
Freedom: This can take many forms, as you explore freedom from elements of life that bind you, be it debt, clutter, meetings, or other demands on your life. Ms. Agerton hosts "Just Say No" parties on her back porch, in which she and friends practise saying no. "If you practice, it comes easier," she says. The book includes a license to say no, which you sign, agreeing to the following precept: "I hereby grant myself the power to say no to the things I do not want to do or that will not advance me to my goals." Signing takes away the guilt (or at least some of it) and the licence can be placed in a prominent spot as a reminder.
Family: Our family is not just our relatives but also close friends and work colleagues. They urge you to identify the "significant seven," your seven most important relationships, and then fill out a worksheet of how often they are involved in your daily activities. Then look to increase the connections.
Finance: This starts with controlling debt. And that means tracking outflow of money, as well as inflow. Ms. Agerton has a lot of clients who don't pay much attention and come to her at the end of the year with a box of receipts and a pile of credit card debt as penance for their inattention. She also suggests you look for ways to enhance income, by seeking a promotion or starting a side business – if you have musical interests, for example, she suggests teaching an instrument to others. "A lot of people feel trapped. But there are so many ways to make money," she says.
Fitness: This covers physical, emotional and mental well being. They urge you to avoid excess, since doing too much – be it eating, drinking, or working – can harm you. Schedule daily exercise in your calendar, so it doesn't get elbowed out of your life.
Fun: Finally, what started it all – the need to have fun. They highlight the importance of having fun in the workplace, creating a sense of productive play with colleagues. And they ask you to distinguish in family vacations between "family fun" and "forced family fun." The train trips Ms. Agerton and her family take from California to Texas every year are "family fun" for her and her husband but perhaps "forced family fun" for the children. But either way, it's fun.