In February 1983, my work life balance was seriously off balance. I had started my own business and at the same time we had taken on renovating an old farmhouse that took all the money and more that the business was generating. Coupled with a few other factors, my stress level was running high.
Driving to Ottawa in an ice storm one frosty February day, my left side suddenly felt like it was wrapped with a steel band. My whole body was tense, I felt hot and cold at the same time and my breathing was labored – in short there were symptoms that might have pointed to a heart attack had I been older than 33 at the time, or just unlucky.
What ensued were several months of periodic anxiety attacks and related effects, countered eventually by some self-reckoning and serious life style adjustment. I would love to tell you that I learned my lesson and my life has never got out of balance since, but that would simply not be true.
What do you think about this concept of work life balance? Do you think of it as an attainable goal, or does it seem like an illusive, unattainable myth?
Surely other people must have their work life balance all figured out? They must be balancing a demanding career with putting perfect, nutritious meals on the table every night and training to run the Ironman race.
Or maybe it is an illusive myth? Maybe nobody has it figured out, everyone is constantly juggling the many aspects of their lives and they never quite get in balance.
If you are feeling the pressure of being out of balance, you are not alone. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that 58% of Canadians report overload as a result of pressures associated with work, home and family, friends, physical health, volunteers and community services.
One of the big ways that this pressure is showing up is in the so called Sandwich Generation, the generation caught between looking after their children or grandchildren while also caring for aging parents or other relatives. Typically, this is a woman in her 40s, 50s or 60s. Statistics say that many women in these age brackets are spending up to 20 hours a week caring for a relative, over and above a job or other fulltime or part time pursuit. In their lives, any idea of balance is seriously out of sync.
If you don’t fall into the Sandwich Generation, there are still a myriad of ways that work life balance can be off kilter. We all seem to be running harder, in spite of our many time saving electronic devices. Because we can work everywhere and anywhere at any time, we do. Squeezed into that already busy work life, are all the things we want to do, or think we need to do – from running marathons to producing the perfect apple tart to ticking world destinations off of our bucket lists.
If you Google the term “work life balance”, you will get nearly 400 million results. You will see everything from the latest self-help books and blogs to an entertaining juggler/motivational speaker who tells us that we will never achieve perfect balance and that really is ok.
I like the quote from Jack Welch, business guru and former Chair/CEO of GE: “There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.”
Here are the top 5 things that I know about work life balance and how you get to make choices:
- YOU are in charge – only YOU have the power to figure out what your choices are and make them, and then live with the consequences. Ask yourself: who’s driving your life? What are you tolerating? Whose story are you accepting about YOU? Who are you giving the power to?
- Perfection does not exist – Voltaire said “Perfect is the enemy of good.” It becomes a law of diminishing returns; if absolute perfection does not exist but you continue to seek it, time and effort are burned up and you end up feeling inadequate and stressed. Let it go.
- It really is all about scheduling – if something is in my schedule, it happens. Hence, I put personal time in my calendar. An entry might read: “spend time with Meg” or “hike Mount Norman with Dana” or just “exercise”. If it is there, it happens. One of my clients actually put into her schedule 15 minutes each morning between when she picked up her coffee and got to her office and when she actually started working. Short, but it is her own time.
- Off balance is ok (sometimes) – the motivational speaker cum juggler is Dan Thurman who entitled one of his books “Off Balance on Purpose”. His theory is that since we will never achieve perfect balance, we should learn to embrace uncertainty and that true creativity often comes in times when we are off balance. I get that. I have come up with some of my most creative solutions, be it a work or personal challenge, when I have been seriously off balance. My caveat is that this is not somewhere you want to live for long, but sometimes it can work.
- Work Life Balance Starts Today! – if we wait until the perfect time to start this, it will be too late! Waiting until things slow down at work, until you get a new boss, until the renovations at home are finished…these are all excuses. My advice is START NOW!
Finally, I leave with you a quote from the wonderful poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that making a living is not the same as making a life”. Words to live by.