There’s a lot of discussion in today’s business world about work-life balance and how to achieve it. The phrase itself conjures stock images of placid equilibrium—a pair of joyous kids on a seesaw or the good old scales of justice gleaming in perfect harmony. There’s a reason the only images of balance we have are abstract ideas like these. For those of us who have careers as opposed to jobs, and are committed to achieving success in them, work-life balance is not a realistic expectation.
The concept of work-life balance implies an equivalence between both physical time spent and mental energy expended. The fact that these are not really quantifiable metrics shows that we’re embarking on a fool’s errand if we try to achieve this perfect balance. My house and my car both have plenty of switches, but my body doesn’t. Unless you have a mindless job that you really don’t care about (and I hope this isn’t the case) it’s impossible to turn off work-related concerns the moment you step out of the office.
And vice versa. Unless you are a robot (again, hopefully not the case) it can be exceedingly difficult to “leave it at the door” when it comes to extracurricular concerns at work. The key is to approach both sets of situations seeking balance and happiness in each. How is your life at home? What pressures are weighing on you most, specifically? At work, how confident are you with the projects you take on? How is your relationship with your boss and coworkers?
An increased sense of calm in both areas will reduce any friction that exists between the two spaces. So what can you do to cultivate a healthy coexistence of work and non-work activity? Below are a few areas in which to assess your current happiness and gauge your progress.
Cultivate healthy practices. Health seems to be more at the forefront of popular culture now than ever before. This makes it easier to access different means of being healthy, but it also presents so many options that it can be daunting to decide how to act. Do I do the 30 Day Grapefruit Cleanse or the 60 Day Coconut Water Cleanse? Ultimately, it’s up to you. But either way, do the research and assess the options. Diet, exercise, and spiritual practice are all part of what makes a healthy program for me.
Communication is a big part of psychological health, as well. How often do you stop communicating out of frustration or lack of ability to do so? Are you comfortable talking to your significant other about concerns at work? Are you a good listener to his/her concerns? Try to approach coworkers and friends alike as individuals just as complex as you are, with their own fears, joys, dreams, and concerns.
Act, don’t react. Now is the time to alter habits that aren’t helping you achieve balance. If you harbor any negative feelings towards others, ask yourself why you are so bothered. And ask what you (not they) need to do to change that perception. The feeling of constantly being on your heels, reacting to the problems that come your way while other, more primary concerns go by the wayside is a byproduct of not having strong priorities in place. Can you be prepared for everything that happens? Of course not, and we wouldn’t want life to be so predictable. But we can be more prepared so we don’t get shaken off of our intended path.
Know what success looks like for you. Have both short and long term goals that are physically written down somewhere and concretely measurable. If you want to run two miles per day, do it and use an app to track your progress. If you want to spend a week in your ancestral homeland before the end of next year, put it on the calendar and start making plans. Balance is a mental state resulting from a continued process of intention and action, not a combination of facts and figures.
You do have some sort of work-life balance then, but it’s simply called life. It’s not measured by how effectively you shut out work while at home or vice versa. It’s measured by your comfort level with the inevitable overlaps between the two. Have you gotten better or worse in this regard since you’ve been at the job you’re in now? What will you do today to set yourself on a path towards more balance?