Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Is Life Balance Better Than Work/Life Balance?

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

I have an issue with work/life balance. By putting work & life on the same line, it implies an equivalency between the two. And by putting work first, it provides a pecking order.

Work and life are not equals to be balanced or prioritized: Work is a part of life, a subset. The real issue is how to balance the different facets of life.

As I wrote in Busting Your Corporate Idol, life has three arenas: sleep, work, and everything else. A Balanced Life requires attention to each arena. 60, 80, 90 hour work weeks encroach on other arenas.

So much of the work/life balance field is focused on flexibility. But what about the person who has flexibility and chooses/feels compelled to work 60+ hours. Is this person happy? Maybe Is his or her life balanced? Doubtful. Freedom to pick your own 90 hours isn’t really a help. It may feel good for a time if you love your job to work all the time, but it isn’t balance, and it isn’t sustainable. (I know, because that was me.)

What I needed, and what many people need, is to work fewer hours. In my last post, I quoted an executive who said to Cali Williams Yost

Every time you say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?

I find it sad that the executive felt that he could not have life balance; he wasn’t even trying. He just assumed that he needed to make sacrifices for the company. (Which regular readers will recognize as corporate idolatry.) It doesn’t have to be that way. This executive had flexibility, and after talking to Yost, agreed to allow his employees more flexibility. But he was still overworked, and so were they!

So it’s time to call a spade a spade. We are overworked, and in order to achieve Life Balance we need to choose to work less. Yes, it is our choice. It does no good to blame the company, the economy, or globalization. No one will tell you to work fewer hours. You need to take back that time for yourself. You might be surprised to know how many managers have told me that they see their employees working too much. They won’t life a finger to stop it, but would comply with a request for less work in an instant.

Balance is not stationary. Life Balance is someone riding a unicycle while with a bunch of bowls on her head, with sticks in her hands, each holding up a ball. She is constantly moving. Life Balance is the same way. We are always moving and adjusting. Your Life Balance will look very different from my Life Balance. Of course they will, because we are different people.

I think that until we give up on the misdirected goal of work/life balance, we cannot achieve what we really want, a balanced, healthy, and meaningful life.

What do you think is the best phrase? Life Balance, work/life balance, or work+life fit?

Thank you Patricia Kempthorne, Founder/CEO of The Twiga Foundation, for your helpful feedback on the concept of Life Balance

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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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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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