For the past several years people have been calling me a "workaholic" and saying that I need to work on my "work-life balance". I take exception to this idea - and I have only recently figured out why.
When people start talking in terms of "work-life balance" they generally mean one of two things:
- desire to spend less time doing work they don't enjoy;
- need or obligation to spend more time doing the "outside things" that they don't necessarily want to do.
Pay attention to when the people around you start using these terms: more often than not it's when they think you should spend more time doing things that they want, or when they are not happy in their work.
There are exceptions though - and by paying attention to their motives you will be able to tell when someone is talking to you about it out of genuine concern for your health and well-being. As one way of assessing motive, I have taken up responding to people who use the word "workaholic" with, "I don't hate my job," just to see how they respond.
The reality is that our lives are "in balance" when we are happy, creative, stimulated, and amidst people who are supportive, inspiring, and compatible. Ideally, that would happen at work and at home, but sometimes it just doesn't work that way. What can you do to move towards that?
Next time you find yourself having a legitimate discussion about balance shift the focus. For instance, instead of pondering how you can have more time to do the thing you feel you should be doing or less time doing what you don't enjoy, ask yourself why you feel the need to do it at all. Follow that up with "and what can I do about it?"
In economic downturns it may be impossible to quit your job and it my not be feasible to sever ties with family entirely, but what small steps can you take to begin correcting the "imbalance"? Where would you like to be in six weeks? Six months? A year? Time moves on whether or not you make changes, and if you don't start moving in that direction, you'll still be stuck where you are when it does.
Step One: decide to stop feeling guilty about not doing the things that suck. There's no point in mentally being in an unpleasant place or situation when you are physically somewhere you could be enjoying.
Step Two: design your perfect week. Spend time envisioning what a "balanced life" would look like for you. How can you get there if you don't know where "there" is?
Step Three: compare and contrast. How far is your actual week from the perfect one? Consider even the minutiae: your commute, the atmosphere where you buy your morning coffee, your meals, your office decor, your floor coverings, your shoes.
Step Four: evaluate. What can you change now? What can you change next week? What's going to take a longer period of time?
Once you start making changes, even the little things will have a big impact. Sometimes, just knowing that things are going to get better and having a plan to make it that way goes a long way.