Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Advice For Singles On Work-Life Balance

My Corporate Idolatry Time Profile

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 4

One question I have gotten from readers is this: Greg, I’m single.  The suggestions to spend more time with family don’t apply to me.   I’m on my own, and my work is what I have.  What can I do?

To begin my answer, I’ve included the Corporate Idolatry Time Profile to the left.  Working too many hours squeezes out the opportunity to do other things in life.  Building a community is particularly important if you are single because we all need people to support our change in priorities.  And the most reliable way to be happy is to spend time with friends.

The first step is to leave the office.  “George,” a Silicon Valley Business development and strategy executive did just that, in an effort to give himself the opportunity to meet new people.  Here is how he describes the experience.

“You never know what that [new person or thing will be], but you’re not going to find it staying two more hours staring at your spreadsheet.  Part of it is chance encounters, and so you are not going to create new parts of your life unless you have the opportunities to encounter new places or new foods or new people or people from your past.  If you limit your chances of encountering those things, in a sense you only have yourself to blame.  By sending the hours from 6pm to 10pm working on your spreadsheet you are vastly limiting the hours where you can discover new things about yourself.”

What opportunities are there in your life for chance encounters that may lead to community?

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You might also like this post from the archives:  Treat a Community Opportunity Life a Career Opportunity


A Simple Rule To Reduce Chronic Overwork

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 3

Remember David from Chapter 7, whose stroke led him to recognize his corporate idolatry, and switch to a people-first identity?  (You can read about him here.)  Family and community was an essential part of his change. David’s wife was thrilled that he was more focused on the family and his health.  And I was amazed to hear that David and his wife decided to sell their large house in an affluent, gated community for a smaller, but very nice home in a more rural area.  It meant changing school districts with kids in high school, but everyone was on board, looking for a less stressful life together.

David seemed surprisingly relieved to move.  He said it was very stressful to maintain what he called “the façade” – making sure “you acted a certain way.” The kids needed expensive clothes; Sears was not allowed.  (I didn’t ask about Chez Target, my family favorite but I strongly suspect it was also out of bounds.)  But David’s move wasn’t about the materialism per se; it was the people in the community that made him uncomfortable.  He told me that one parent he met wouldn’t let her kids go to a certain person’s house because of a coat someone was wearing.

David’s de-materialism was probably the most extreme example I encountered.  Of course David is also the only person I interviewed who had a stroke before the age of fifty, which gave him a particular urgency to change his life. David also made changes that were less extreme, more typical for people looking to build community.  For example, David started going to the gym a few times a week with his buddies, which reinforced his decision to make people a higher priority than his company.

Who we choose to associate with is a key to change.  By analogy, an alcoholic cannot spend his free time  in bars, even if only drinking soda.  Eventually, the environment will lead to a relapse.

Similarly, if you want to move to a lifestyle that is less work centric, you need to find people who aren’t working all the time.   And the next post will suggest ways to do just that.

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The Way I Stopped Big Ticket Impulse Purchases

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 2

The changes I made in my life would have been much harder without the support of my wife.  First, I made changes in my identity to start putting people first.  And there were implications – it was possible that I could get promoted more slowly because I wouldn’t jump up and volunteer for the extra project that would require that I work over the weekend.  And then one day, on a drive home from Yosemite National Park, I announced that I just wanted to resign and stay home with the kids.

We planned my exit from the corporate world for two months, looking at the finances primarily, to see if we could pull things off with only her salary to live on.  What was key, however, was not the raw numbers per se, but our shared values.  We decided that reducing the stress in our lives was the top priority.  And we were fortunate that we’d gotten a big stock windfall earlier in the year.  Rather than make a big purchase, we used the money to buy freedom.  If our values required a new beamer every two years and expensive shoes every month, I would still be working to maximize our income.

It was amazing how much less money we spent after I became a stay at home dad.  Off the top, we saved money on childcare, gardening, lunches, eating out, and dry cleaning.  But we saved even more money on big ticket items that we didn’t really need.  We’d be in Costco, and buy something expensive on a lark.  Looking back on it, I think these purchases were a palliative for stress.

And while not everyone has a family, as we shall see in as the chapter progresses, everyone has the ability to grow a community of people who share their values.

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Why Passion For Life Is More Important For You Than Being An Engaged Employee

texas renaissance festival

Community Brings Smiles

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 1

One morning at my first job, I had a terrible moment of panic as I scanned my identity card to enter the building.  ‘What if I lost my job?  I would not be allowed to enter this building.  “I couldn’t talk to all of these interesting people, and I couldn’t work on all this great stuff.”  Aside from my wife, I couldn’t think of anyone in my life that wasn’t at the company.  Where would I go?  What would I do?

Fear of isolation is normal.  A friend of mine told me that being unemployed was like prison, because there was nothing to do all day.  And taking pride in your work is normal and healthy.  In fact, Judaism teaches that work is sacred.  As Rabbi Janet Marder preached on Rosh Hashanah

“In the Jewish worldview, work is sacred – it is building and creating a partnership with God in the work of creation.”[i] Rabbi Marder explained that two famous scholars in the second century “would purposely carry burdens on their shoulders into the Study House because they wanted to show their students that manual labor should be respected.  This view of work set Judaism apart from other [idol-worshipping] philosophies prevalent in the ancient world. The Greeks and Romans looked down on work; freedom from work was a mark of status and privilege. “Labor stupefies both body and mind and deprives man of his natural dignity,” said Aristotle. “…The title of citizen belongs only to those who need not work to live” [Politics, parts 6,8,10,11].”[ii]

So it was not my passion for the job per say that was the problem.  The issue was the absence of other things in my life.  Over the years, as my community got stronger, that fear subsided into the background.

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[i] Rabbi Marder was quoting “Chaim David HaLevy, former Sephardic Chief rabbi of Israel from [Aseh L’cha Rav, 2:64; quoted in Work, Workers and the Jewish Owner].

[ii] Rabbi Marder’s entire sermon available here

Image Credit: Smiles Abound At the TRF By Alaskan Dude Frank Kovalchek via Flickr CC Link