work-life balance

Work-life balance.  We all know what it is and we’re all striving to reach it.  It’s like a mythical nirvana, where we have plenty of enjoyable work, but we also have plenty of time for outside pursuits like family, hobbies, church, and yard work.  When we reach this nirvana, we’ll be at peace with the universe.  We’ll walk around in a bubble of indescribable joy.  Our spouses will love us and our children will adore us.

So, how’s that going for you?  Are you there yet?  I’m not.  I think we’ve been had.  I think work-life balance is an impossible goal to reach, like a 300 bowling game or a size zero dress.  I think work-life is a false dichotomy, setting us up to expect more out of life than is reasonable, or even possible.  Here’s the thing, either you will be so into your work that the other aspects of your life will decrease in importance, or you will be so into the other aspects of your life that work will be a drudgery, something to be endured.

I think what people are really looking for when they talk about work-life balance is happiness and fulfillment in all they do, in their work and otherwise.  They want to have fulfilling work, but not be so bogged down by it that they don’t have energy for anything else.

It may sound strange to say it, but I think the only way to have this kind of balance is to make your work your life.  I’m not talking about the 80-hour-a-week workaholic here – they obviously don’t have balance – but I’m talking about the people whose life IS their work.  I’ve met some people whose work and life are indistinguishable.  They don’t have work hours and off hours.  They’re at work all the time, but they’re living their lives all the time, too.

What kinds of jobs fit this description?  I met a author once, who traveled around with his family, writing and speaking at conferences.  Although he was never off duty, his family was a part of his work.  In fact, he didn’t even see it as “his work.”  This was what his FAMILY did, not what he did.  Other careers where this type of balance might be attainable include pastor, farmer, and small retail owner.  Careers where this type of balance is a little more improbable include policeman, teacher, and salesman.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Have you found work-life balance?  How did you do it?  Send your responses to the paper.

This article originally appeared in the October 8, 2008, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.
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One Response to work-life balance

  1. Paul Baffes says:

    Brian:

    Great post! I can imagine millions of folks feel like you do. Probably worse, now that the financial crisis is upon us. It’s going to be all work, work, work now, right? Unless….

    …unless you are open minded enough to change what you think about “work” and “life”. If you really truly believe that work and life are opposites, then I can’t help you. And you are doomed to the kind of funk you describe here.

    But I can tell you — for a fact — that I have personally experienced, and I now have coached hundreds of folks, who can get more done in less time, can skyrocket their career, and simultaneously deepen their relationships outside of work.

    It all comes down to what you are willing to believe. Let me ask you some questions:

    Do you think of work and life as opposites? Like you have to “take” from one to “give” to the other?

    Have you ever had a great day at work? Does it spill over to your home life? What about vice versa? If you are having a wonderful time at home does it affect your productivity at work?

    Or how about this: do you believe, truly believe, that it is possible to be an outstanding performer at work when your life is terrible? And do you think you can come home and be “Mr. Happy” if you hate your work?

    Your answers to those questions govern whether or not you can have work life balance. When you change your thinking from work and life as opposites, and realize they MUST GO TOGETHER, that’s when you see the transformation I’m talking about.

    Some specific habits I teach (try these out and see if they don’t work):

    1. Take quiet time every day. Time for just you, when you aren’t tired and have no distractions, to just think about what you want and need.

    2. Decide to do something you want to do in your life (that comes up in step 1 above). Write it down in a PUBLIC PLACE (like on the refrigerator).

    3. Decide to take one action, no matter how small, towards your goal every day. Do it FIRST THING in your day.

    4. Keep a “success journal” where you record what actions you took to move you towards your goal. Write them down. Once a week, go back and look at what you’ve done.

    Do that for a month, and see what happens. I guaranty it will put you in a better frame of mind and it will positively impact your productivity at work.

    I’ve got a ton more (and a book: http://drworklife.com/book.html) and a blog (worklifebalancing.blogspot.com). Let me know how much more you want to hear and I’ll keep it coming. :-)

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