Work-Life Balance: Waking Up To The Real Problem (Part I)
Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Michael Van Osch of ThinkTankMen.com.
“Work-life Balance. Work-life balance. Work-life balance.” You hear about it a lot. And given some recent stats that show only 20% of Americans are passionate about what they do for a living, it’s hardly surprising that work-life balance is a major topic of conversation.
We all want to have meaningful work, we all want to spend quality time with our families, enjoy non-work activities, have some fun and relax. That’s pretty normal and yet it seems so unrealistic for so many people. I speak with a lot of men every week in my coaching practice, and the desire for achieving some work-life balance is one of the top issues I continually hear about.
So why can’t we solve this thing called Work-Life Balance, or more correctly, the lack of it? Why does this seem so unattainable for so many? The reason is this: work-life balance is a false concept. It’s a fallacy. It’s a notion that we’ve erroneously bought into. The very nature of the words lead us to consciously (and subconsciously) believe that we should be able to keep all the different parts of our lives in neat little, correctly proportional boxes. And if we do that, then life will be grand.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way for most of us and we feel this gnawing sense of pressure. What is that pressure that we feel, and where does it come from? To help shed some light on this, let’s look deeper at a basic divide that splits the population into two groups. Generally speaking, you have people who like what they do for a living (or even love it), and you have people who don’t like what they do for a living (or even hate it). Given that, who do you think feels more pressure about attaining work-life balance?
Think of your own situation; think of the people you know. Does it follow that those most consumed with their lack of work-life balance are the same people who don’t like (or even hate) what they do for a living? They certainly are in my world - and I used to top the list as one of those men. So the pressure that we feel then is more related to lack of fulfillment in our work than it is to the false concept of ”˜balance’. Granted, there are people who love their work and just need to take a break and schedule some leisure time - but I’ll deal with that scenario in Part II of this article.
Moving Beyond "Balance"
So if lack of fulfillment is the major culprit that leads to the very real pressure we mistakenly attribute to work-life balance, then what is the answer? In other words, if it’s not a question of ”˜balance’, then what is it? How do we obtain this elusive fulfillment from our work and life in general?
The answer is alignment. It’s about aligning what you do for a living more closely with who you are as a person (meaning your strengths, preferences and goals). It’s about aligning your work with what you’ve been put on earth to do, which is what I call your personal mission in life. As an example, why do you think blogging has become so popular? It’s because the technology arrived that allowed anyone to dig into and write about what’s important to him or her, to what turns them on. It’s even allowed some to make their livings from it and that’s why it has changed many lives – because people who are well aligned with their work (or vocation) are people who have the energy to make a difference.
For many years I was a marketing executive, and although it was good to me, I felt I had no work-life balance whatsoever. I wasn’t fulfilled doing that work by any stretch of the imagination. I became burnt out and depressed by it and wanted out, but felt locked because the money was so good. Just waking up to face the day was a chore. Can you relate? I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and it totally soured my personal life, my health, my fun factor, and frankly, made me old before my time.
However, after a very concerted effort of turning over a lot of stones, my life is happily quite the opposite. I’ve been able to align my work with what is right for me. With my personal mission as a writer, speaker and coach for men, I’ve never worked harder or longer hours than I do now, and I absolutely love it. And the kicker is, even with all the “work” I do, I have more time, energy and joy in my personal life than ever!
That’s the litmus test: finding or creating work that is closely aligned with who you really are gives you energy instead of draining you of it. For most of us, it's not about balancing the see-saw, it's about finding a new, more suitable playground.
Sure, it takes work to find a new job, start a business, become an artist or do whatever is aligned with your real strengths and preferences. Hell, for many of us (me included), it takes turning over a lot of stones just to figure out that there is such a thing as a personal mission. It takes hard work, but here’s the thing - you’re going to work hard either way. And you can either work hard in a situation that doesn’t fulfill you (which can be very boring and painful), or you can do it in a situation that you intentionally create and that is right for you. The choice is yours.
When you’re doing work that is right for you, when your work is aligned with your why you were put here, most of the time it doesn’t even feel like work. Try the litmus test I mentioned above – does thinking about the work you have to do next week give you a spark of energy or does it drain you and make you feel weaker, tired or overly stressed? If that thought seriously drains you or really stresses you out, that’s a sign. And it is your choice whether you do something about that or not - just as it is your choice to manage your personal finances or to exercise. Of course you don’t have to do anything about it – no one else will really know or even care.
Start By Excavating What's Most Important to You
But if you do choose to act, to begin the process of changing your work and life, then I recommend starting with excavating what is most important to you. Some call it your passions, but whatever the term, take the time to go deep, look back in your life and be totally honest with yourself.
It can be damn hard for many of us to get out of our own heads and get real with what is really important to us. And the higher-paying and higher “prestige” your current job or business is, the harder it is to admit it’s not what makes you happy – I know from experience. This is a good time to stop “shoulding all over yourself” and realize that the way you are, your likes, strengths and natural talents are there for a reason – you’re supposed to follow them and use them. That’s where fulfillment starts and grows.
Is the pressure mounting for you in your life? Is the mismatch of your work with whom you are making your days feel like drudgery and stealing your life out from under you? If so, take a close look at this issue of alignment. Start getting back in touch with who you really are – start now by creating that list of what’s really important to you and what really excites you.
Check back here for Part II of this post where I’ll talk more about how to make some real changes that lead to becoming more fulfilled from doing work that is meaningful to you. Until then, I'd like to know...
How are your work and your life in alignment? How are they out of alignment?
Photo Credit: Doug Beckers