There are a few buzz terms that kill my vibe, and “work/life balance” is one of them. Gladly I have a suspicion that many companies and employees are starting to feel the same. At the risk of sounding cliche, we live in a corporate, materialist culture which values productivity and quantity all as quickly as possible. Words like “hustle” and “busy” have become badges of honour. The 9-5 is a distant dream, with many employees working well over these fantasy hours (despite not being paid for it!). We enter job interviews with a token question about office culture, but this is really code for, “What are the positives around here to get me through the grind?”
(If you're feeling this I'm hosting a workshop to soften the grind, tickets available here)
During my corporate career, the chase for work/life balance felt elusive, as it was an ever changing destination that would be constantly redefined by someone who “had nailed it better” i.e. who uploads the most beachside cocktail photos on Instagram #vacay #workfromanywhere. It has made me realise that work/life balance isn’t a tangible, external “thing” measured by the perfect amount of hours, perks, contract negotiations or time off. It is a FEELING we are craving. I believe the term work/life balance can often tell us more than just how we spend our time...it is an expression of powerlessness and dissatisfaction. Work/life balance is just a much easier, and less scary way to say it.
So it is less about finding the holy grail of time management, and more about questioning our own beliefs around work, the role it plays in our life, and how much power we are willing to give it.
Generally speaking, work/life balance is the optimal division of time between career and personal activities, and I’ve been on all ends of this spectrum of division. From 14-hour days Monday to Friday, to a 4-day contract arrangement with 1-day off to study, to floating between part-time marketing and teaching fitness in Denmark. Now I mix casual teaching hours, ad hoc copywriting, and running my business. It is quite a dance of hustle and flow! I would say the closest I have come to “balance” was when I was living and working in Denmark, NOT when I’ve had the most flexible and free work profile.
Co-incidentally (or not!), work in Denmark is treated as just an element of the greater priority we call Life. I must caveat that this may be the rose-tinted-glasses of an Australian expat in Denmark, however it was hugely evident to me that work and life were not viewed so separately there. Work is simply one of many activities you get to play with. Your work can change. It can go on hold when your family needs you. It can be fun, social and full of personal growth. It can be taken outside, on-the-go, on different hours and time zones, and if another amazing life experience comes your way, you’re going to seize it with no second guesses and with full support of everyone around you.
So what I’ve come to learn is that work/life balance (if there is such a thing) is a shift in thinking on how work features in your life based on your desire at that time. Balance for me today looks vastly different to what it did 6 years ago, and it will look different again 6 years from now. And while I certainly believe we need a collective shift in favour of our workplace wellbeing led by employers, we as individuals can improve our own wellbeing by not giving “work” so much power. This starts with the way we speak, the boundaries we set, and the choices we make. We have ONE life, and work is just an element of it. Balance will be vastly different for all of us depending on our desires, our vocation, our family life, our values. Some will desire more time spent in our job than others - and that's OK. Our desire to define everything as black and white so it’s easier to categorize can leave us chasing a mythical one-size-fits-all standard, but work and life is different for us all, AND it will change with the seasons of transition in our lifetime. So let’s forget the label and just get on with it.
Next time you find yourself caught up in the work/life balance scavenger hunt, stop and ask yourself:
- What is this REALLY telling me about my current situation? Decipher the work blame-game to get to the root of what is really feeling out of balance. It could be your health, sleep, the people you surround yourself with, beliefs in your ability or talent, or part of yourself that isn’t being expressed.
- Does something need to change? Where can I take power back? (e.g Am I wearing busy as a spiteful badge of honour? Am I saying yes when I could say no?)
- What does “balance” actually mean to me? How does it look and feel? Where can I create more of those feelings already?
Join me on Saturday November 3rd, 2018 in Sydney for a 3-hour workshop to Get Your Spark Back, and realign your relationship to work. Final tickets selling now!