Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Four Ideas To Help You Get Your Life Back Starting Today

Chapter 8: Build Your Community Part 11

Over the last few posts, I have explained why it is dangerous to put all of your happiness eggs in the work basket: Lack of diversification is inherently risky.  Would you put all of your money in a single stock?  Any financial advisor would say you are crazy to do so.  Diversification is the key to a sound financial strategy.  The same holds true of your connections to other people.  Market forces beyond your control  can turn the most wonderful of workplaces into the stuff of nightmares.

If your time profile indicates the risk of corporate idolatry, I suggest that some life diversification is in order.  There is no need to say  “no” to the company – it will likely cause additional stress and may induce feelings of guilt.  Find something to say yes to, an activity that you decide is a higher priority than the company.  Here are a few suggestions:

1. Make a list of the things you liked to do when you were younger.  Is there anything you’d like to start again?

2. Join a class that a friend is taking.  At minimum you’ll get more time with the friend, and you might find something new that you really like.

3. If someone invites you to something, say yes!  (See this post on community opportunities.)

4. Put the new activity on the calendar – you will be far more likely to follow through if it is on the calendar.  One person told me her solution to a crazy time in the office was to sign up for 4 dance classes a week.  It gave her a “reason to get out of there.”

Sorry if you were expecting more earth-shattering ideas. It’s not complicated, just scary and hard to begin.  But once you start to connect with other people outside of work,  you will feel positive peer pressure to keep on connecting.

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Treat a Community Opportunity Like a Career Opportunity

We are taught to be on the lookout for career opportunities, and rightly so because really good opportunities don’t come around that often.

The career opportunity conversation goes something like this:

“This is a chance for you to come in, kick some ass, prove yourself, and then you can write your own ticket.”

Or maybe it goes like this.  “We know what you are capable of, and need you to come in and build the department.  This is a chance to do it your way, to put your stamp on something great, and when the company goes public you cash in big.”

As you evaluate the opportunity, the narrative progresses to: “It will take a lot of work and sacrifice, but opportunities like this don’t come along every day. If you say no, you may not get another chance.  What is unsaid, but likely understood is that someone else will be the hotshot.  You don’t want to be stuck in a crappy job a few years down the road, wishing you had taken this opportunity when you had it.  You will only live once.”  These fears – of failure, of saying no, of being left behind, are all powerful drivers.  At the same time, the prospect of the new and exciting – to make an impact, to learn, to be part of something – those are also powerful drivers.  All normal and healthy.  But the question is, why don’t we apply this same diligence to Community Opportunities?

A Community Opportunity arises when someone invites you to do something outside of work, which brings a chance of connection to other people in a wider network.  According to Wikipedia “Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion.”  What is most important about a community is that the people support each other, physically, financially, emotionally.  And research shows that one of the biggest determinants of happiness is community and connection to other people.

Community Opportunities also don’t come along very often.  When is the last time someone invited you to do something new?  We are not in college anymore, where we can walk down the hall to find our next adventure.  Some people join spiritual organizations to build community, but this is not for everyone.

A Community Opportunity looks something like this: “I am going to book club next week.  Do you want to go?”  How often do you say yes, and how often do you say “I’d love to, but I have work/family/travel obligations and I can’t make it.”  It seems like a book club, or invite for a drink will always be there, but if you say no too often, the offers stop coming.  You should evaluate a community opportunity the same way you evaluate a career opportunity.- chances like this don’t come along very often, and you may wake up one day and find you are lonely, even if you have a loving family.

For many people, work has come to substitute for community.  Companies actively foster this kind of thinking.  But DANGER DANGER DANGER.  A real community will never kick you out, but a company not only can but should let you go if the market changes.  Let me repeat that.  A company may need to let you go solely due to changing market conditions, no matter how good a job you have done.  If all your community eggs are in the company basket, you are risking a serious crack up.

Community is something that must be built.  And like a good career opportunity, a community opportunity can take a lot of work and sacrifice in order to see its benefits.  But its a different type of sacrifice.  A career opportunity asks you to sacrifice family and personal time for career advancement.  A community opportunity asks you to sacrifice some of your after-hours work time for a chance to be with other people.

Recently, I wrote a post about Corporate Idolatry and time allocation.  If your time allocation looks looks like this, there are not many hours to build a community outside of work.

It is very hard in the abstract to just say “I”m going to work less.”  It’s much easier to say “I’m leaving work by 5:00 every Thursday to go to book club or bible study or dance class or volleyball practice.”  There are people out there who share your interests.  You need them, and they need you.

My suggestion: start looking for community opportunities, and say YES to them no matter what.  And take the time for your community building from work, not sleep or family.  It’s a matter of priorities.  You only live once, and you get to decide what is most important.
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