Hearing the expression work-life balance has always made me cringe. I mean, it does sound like these are two opposites that exclude each other, or the only two things our lives consist of. Work is as much a part of life as are our families, friends, hobbies, etc. Balancing all these things is what makes us who we are, and more than that, it can make us happy.
Being one of the most important parts of my life, my work along with other parts defines me as a person. It helps me learn, grow, change, build a certain mindset and relationships with others. On the other hand, work is not everything I have so I won’t give up other important things for one important thing.
The world offers so many different ways to work, to learn and to change, that hating your job or sacrificing your personal life looks more like a mindset than a real problem. And to start changing that mindset, you should understand that:
When you’re looking for so-called work-life balance, you’re actually looking for life balance
With all the work-life balance guides and discussions coming in trend, I felt like a total outcast. My point was that ‘life’ is basically an umbrella term for everything that happens to us, including, guess what, work.
Joshua Lee, the founder of LF Media, Inc., once wrote for Fast Company and I can’t agree with him more:
“I don’t believe you have work-life balance: You have a life balance, where everything you do complements your life’s work. My family is the major reason I’ve designed my business in a way that allows me to spend time with them.”
This approach helps to set priorities, mix them and build a schedule with slots for each part of your life, whether it’s a family dinner, business meeting or going for a massage.
All these stereotypes of work domination and giving up your life for the sake of career are imposed on us by the society, by people who probably know no other way to live. We often forget that it’s no longer the time when you need to prove you’re good enough at your job. It’s the time when being physically and emotionally healthy is much sexier than being miserable but with a big bank account and an even bigger ego.
Getting rid of stereotypes is not that easy. They’re kept on the back of our minds and sometimes, we follow them without recognizing they exist. That’s why the next thing you should do is:
Be realistic, understand your needs and desires and build your life according to it
The first step to solving your problem is admitting you have one. Work-life balance enthusiast Nigel Marsh spent 7 years looking for answers that would help him redesign his own life for the better. He came up with an assumption that with all the technology you can — and are often expected to — spend all your time working and available, no matter where you are. Which makes admitting to an imbalanced life very hard, because you literally don’t understand that there is a problem and instead of finding your own way, you step into someone else’s shoes. Sometimes, this someone can be the whole Internet.
Here’s what I learned from Marsh’s research about how to fight this stereotype and concentrate on your needs and desires:
- Take the quality of your life into your own hands. It’s not up to the government to make your life better. Your company, no matter how good they are to their employees, won’t do it either. Your happiness lies in your hands. Only you know how to make your workday effective. If I feel like I’m working better in the evening, I let myself sleep in and work late hours. When I’m tired of spending weekends at my computer while everyone’s out having fun, then I don’t. And I urge you to do the same. Respect yourself. Set boundaries. Have some time for yourself.
- Be realistic. Admitting to having a problem with balancing your work and leisure is definitely a step forward. The next step is to give a realistic assessment of how much you can squeeze in one day. When planning a day, I used to have about 10 things on my list. However, at the end of the day, I sadly realized that I managed to do only 2 or 3 activities by working in an entirely normal tempo. And you know why? Because I’m a human being and I’m not a perfect creature with a 100% productivity. If one day I’m 80% productive, the next day it may be 10% — but it’s fine. Remind yourself about it every time you think you are not enough.
- Start with small things. We all have big goals in life, but a balanced life starts with small wins. Maintaining balance in your life doesn’t mean making dramatic changes. If you find yourself inside a chaos — start by organizing your apartment and working space better. Feel like you don’t spend enough time with your parents? Start calling them every two days for 15 minutes. You can do only what you can, don’t put unnecessary pressure on your only one life.
I can add from my experience — don’t consider the process of finding a balance as something certain. It’s a variable, an experiment you should rather watch and enjoy than rely on the fast results. Because as we know: no expectations — no regrets. This brings me to the next and the last idea for this piece:
Finding life balance requires some effort
The search for balance is a constant work in progress. There’s no visible ending to it. You change, your life changes, work circumstances change, people’s needs change, which is why you have to keep finding the motivation to keep going, to keep your life balance and adapt it to the current situation.
To save yourself from unnecessary grey hair, always remember that everything can’t be perfect all the time. Don’t be disappointed if something doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to. Breath, count to ten, look for another way. To always be on a roll, I recommend finding one’s own inspiration and motivation.
- Traveling -– my favorite. And I’m not talking about vacations right now. Life as a digital nomad, or at least a frequent traveler, is what can help maintain balance in your life and keep your brain alive and motivated. See, frequently living like this fills your life with challenges. You need to deal with logistics, coming to terms with other nations’ lifestyles, new food, routine, etc. Working at home may be comfortable, but leaving your comfort zone, working as a nomad activates the parts of the brain that are otherwise inactive, thus, keeping you all fit, balanced, and ready for anything. This kind of living reminds me of a rock star on tour. You’re not a tourist, you work while on the move, but at the same time, you’re your own tour manager and road crew.
- Meditation or other practice. Not everyone can become a nomad overnight, but everyone needs to clear their heads from time to time. Meditation is one of the best ways, they say it even helps us live longer because reducing stress is crucial for our cells. However, it’s not for everyone. And to be honest, it’s not always working for me either. That’s why I’m always in the search for new practices and activities to clear my head. I recommend you to watch “The Happy Film” by genius designer Stefan Sagmeister where he tries different approaches to achieving happiness. Meditation didn’t work for him, so he found another way of finding peace — driving for hours around Bali on his scooter and listening to music.
- Work hard, play hard. Even if you earn your living with your hobby and love every minute of it, you’re not immune to stress, pressure, especially if your job requires a lot of responsibility and concentration. This is the part where you choose another activity that you love that will absorb all of your attention and take your mind off of work. Sports are, of course, a great option, as they not only get your mind off of working matters but also helps you stay fit. But you can go for something different as well — photography, drawing, cooking, or even writing a book with jokes for your imaginary stand-up performance. All of this will work, as long as you can fully immerse yourself into whatever you’re doing.
And to sum all these up, I want to share the quote by already mentioned Stefan Sagmeister:
Finding a life balance is like finding a happiness: there is no right way to do it. There is only your way, your efforts, your time and your happiness.
This article about work-life balance originally posted on Product Tribe blog.