Health or Wealth? Finding the Work-Life-Health Balance

Image source: 123rf

I recently faced a tough decision after a phone call came out of the blue, offering me a great job opportunity. Just two years ago, this job would have been a dream come true — An amazing, multinational media organisation. Tick. A chance to lead a team of great people and make great content. Tick. A chance to reach a large audience and make a difference. Tick. I’d be crazy to turn it down, right?

Weeeeell, actually when I thought more about taking my “dream” job, I realised it would have required me to spend two to three hours of my day commuting in city traffic. It would have meant long hours in the fast-paced media environment and less time to spend with my two little boys. I’d have to be constantly “on”, attached to my smart phone, keeping up to date with the mass media controversies and conversations. Just writing about it now makes my shoulders tense.

Finding the work-life-health balance is one of the great dilemmas of our time. It’s as if we are all jugglers with balls in the air — one ball is family and friends, another is work, and another is our health. Often, when we turn our focus too much on the work ball, the others come crashing to the ground. In my case, it was my health. I was 24-years-old when I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was worsened by a stressful modern lifestyle and it took me 10 years to learn the skills I needed to recover.

During my deliberations, I canvassed my family and friends. When I explained to one person who was in the “go for it” camp that I felt my health would suffer, his response was “Oh, don’t worry about that, you wouldn’t have time to think about your health,” with no irony intended. His words were symbolic of a common attitude. We live in an age where success and achievement is often valued over and above our health and relationships.

Let me put this another way. In the US, there’s now increasing awareness of the dangers of concussion associated with playing football in the NFL. When ESPN magazine conducted a survey of 600 high school players, coaches, parents, and trainers about their attitudes toward head injury, the responses were fascinating. In reply to the question “Is a good chance of playing in the NFL worth a decent chance of permanent brain damage?” 134 of 300 players said the risk is worth the reward. That’s 45 percent of players said they would risk being permanently brain damaged for the chance to play in the NFL. One star player said, “It’s a health or wealth question. I choose wealth, and I bet lots of other players will too.”

It’s not just aspiring young football players who are risking their health to pay for their potential careers. The Modern Family Index 2017, which provides a snapshot into the lives of working families from across the UK recently found that:

  • A third of parents reported being burned out often or all the time
  • Four out of ten parents say that work intrudes to stop them spending time with children often or all the time
  • 50 percent of parents agreed “my work life balance is increasingly a source of stress”

The report was funded by Working Families, a charity seeking a better balance between responsibilities at home and work, which has now declared September 23 to be “Go Home on Time Day.” In an age where one in five parents working full time is putting in five extra weeks a year in unpaid work, just to keep up with the demands of the job, the idea behind the initiative is to start a national conversation about the UK’s work culture, by simply asking for one day of the year that people go home on time.

We live in a time when words like “frantic”, “overwhelmed”, and “crazy-busy” are used to denote pride, dignity and honour in the work that we do. At the same time, in the US more than 120,000 deaths per year are associated with work-related stress. In China they call it guolaosi, with a staggering 600,000 incidents estimated each year.

Am I the only one who thinks there’s something wrong with this picture?

One of the first areas in my life that I needed to address when I began to recover from my illness was my stress. I’m not talking about the good, healthy short-term kind of stress. I’m talking about chronic stress that lasts for weeks, months, and years. This is the kind of stress that is linked to host of chronic diseases and makes healthy life choices much much harder. When we’re stressed we’re too busy to cook nutritious meals, we’re too busy to exercise, too busy sleep, too busy to see our friends and connect with people in meaningful ways.

As you’ve probably worked out by now, I didn’t take the job.

All this isn’t to say that I now kick-back and put my feet up. I work hard; writing my blog, promoting my book, researching the next one, and developing new film projects. But the hours are on my terms. I have busy periods where I have to work late or on the weekend, but on the whole my work day rarely starts before 9am and finishes after 5pm. The 30 second commute to my desk at home is more than manageable and if I need to go for a meeting, it’s a 10-minute bicycle ride to the office, along a gorgeous beach front.

Do I wonder if I’ve made the right decision? Almost every day, especially when I hear about my peers who are kicking goals and making waves. But the thing about having all the balls up in the air — family, friends, health and work — is that if our health ball drops, it’s made of glass and shatters. Our careers, on the other hand, are made of rubber. They bounce.


Originally published at www.thewholehealthlife.com.

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