I love my job. 6 years ago, when I started working, I lived alone in a city where I didn’t know many people. Thus, my work became my entire life. I had the time and energy and motivation to work many more hours than my job required in order to stay on top of lesson planning or do extra research and increase my own knowledge. It was a wonderful life. However, ever since then, I was also told by society that I needed to have some sort of “balance” and that my work being my life = me being a workaholic (with a necessarily negative connotation).
A few years ago, I remember reading something about work-life balance and how it doesn’t actually exist because oftentimes, our work is not just a compartmentalized part of our lives. I didn’t think much of it then, but this year, when work has been a stressful part of life (and not always the good kind of stress), work-life balance became a topic that seemed to come up more often. A few weeks ago, while listening to the Coaching for Leaders podcast (great content on leadership, if you’re interested), an episode featured Scott Anthony Barlow who discussed his thoughts on moving past the idea of work and life balance.
One of the key messages of the episode was:
When people say they want work-life balance, what they’re really saying is that they want to experience happiness in how they’re spending their time.
Scott discussed how we should reflect on the things that make us truly happy and build our schedules around those. I loved his focus on happiness and joy in our lives, but it also made me wonder what happens when our work, which we may love, expects us to do small tasks which we may not love so much. We can’t just ignore those tasks for the sake of happiness, so there’s probably more to this than just looking for happiness (on a side note, I’m sure the podcast was referring to bigger things than small work tasks, but it’s still something to think about). Scott’s thoughts sparked my own on what work-life balance really is and what it means for those of us who love our jobs but also get stressed easily.
I really liked Christine Riordan’s approach to the topic in a Harvard Business Review article. She says that instead of balance, we should be focused on “work-life effectiveness” where “work fits with other aspects of your life”. This is similar to Nozomi Morgan’s approach. In a HuffPost article, Morgan states:
I believe your work is part of your life. In this fast-paced, demanding world we live in, to be truly successful, your life needs to be seamless when it comes to work and life. Your work and personal life should be integrated. There is no clean line to draw between the two worlds.
Another thing Riordan mentions is the importance of looking at success holistically, in terms of all aspects of life, not just work. Oftentimes, we get so focused on doing well at work that we forget that there are other things in life that are just as, or more, important for us to “successful,” whatever that word might mean to each us of us.
If you agree that work-life balance is a misleading term and that it implies 50/50 when the ratio can be significantly different for each individual, then the next logical question is how to work towards achieving the ratio that works for us. To find some answers, I looked at three articles by Forbes, Mental Health America and Fast Company. Here are some tips:
- Unplug! Take some time away from technology or anything that’s going to keep you tied to tasks you’re not working on at the time. I’ve been off for a couple of days and the only reason I’m on my computer now is to write this post and prep for class tonight; I’ve stayed away from it since Saturday to make sure I get proper time off.
- Physical Health – two of the articles mention exercise, meditation, eating right, etc. I think these things are more important than we realize sometimes, not just for health reasons, but also to give our bodies a break from sitting at desks and typing on computers.
- The Forbes article specifically mentions that we should “limit time-wasting activities and people.” It’s so much easier to sit and watch Netflix and then feel bad about it later, than to put in effort and read a book, but reading always makes me feel so much better and more joyful (which means I should probably go do that next).
- The Mental Health America and Fast Company articles both discuss ways to get support. It’s hard to recognize when we’re struggling and sometimes, even harder to ask for help, but it’s so necessary for people close to us to understand what we’re going through and how they can help. My husband has been extremely supportive as I struggle through revivifying myself and finding inspiration and he’s held my hand as I take small steps forward.
- Lastly, the Fast Company article discusses a lesson it took me 5 years to learn at my job – saying no. As an eager overachiever, I took everything that came my way and ran with it during the first part of my career because I wanted to learn anything and everything I could. It was only recently that I really had to take a step back and learn to say no to things I wasn’t going to be able to handle. It’s been difficult turning down opportunities that are amazing, but it’s helped me focus in on things that are most important to me and stick with those.
In our world today, work can easily take over our lives and become our sole focus; more and more young professionals are working more than the 40 hours that we typically consider full time and in some professions, such as teaching, there’s no question that we work at least 50-60 hours a week, much of the work happening at home outside of class hours. Riordan’s article (mentioned above) quotes Anna Quindlen, who reminds us about what success should really mean in our lives:
If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.
Let’s all find ways to create joy in our lives, to find happiness whatever we’re doing whether it’s work or other things. As for me, I’m back to enjoying my last couple hours of time off…