The debate about work-life balance continues to circulate. Each fearless generation insists they can find the mythical ‘balance’, only to later concede defeat. It’s quite easy to make bold predictions when the see-saw has few items that require balancing. Once the joys and trials of marriage, parenthood, mortgages, elder care, retrenchment or illness beset the best of us, most of us tend to follow similar paths.
But what is the balance we are looking for?
First, forget balance. It is a self-defeating trick we play on ourselves that can only ever lead to disappointment. Think priorities. Lifestyle priorities, including work. What is most important to me? And why?
In my coaching work, clients increasingly describe lifestyle ambitions they could readily achieve, if only they could shift their thinking. Yes, some want to climb Everest, or live the rustic lifestyle in a Tuscan villa. But for the most part, these are just fantasies, which we know will never be attempted. Most however, have ambitions to paint, learn the guitar, spend more time with an elder in their life, get fit or write a novel. But then come the reasons why we can’t.
Listen closely to the pattern of excuses we make, triangulated in debate around money, time and health.
When we are younger, we are fit, healthy and have more time. We tend to idealise the ‘big’ goals but bemoan our lack of money. “If I had the cash…..”
Those at mid-career are more financially secure and still have their health, but lead hectic lives. “I just don’t have the time…”In later years, finances are generally OK, more time becomes available, but those things we planned to do slip beyond our reach because of failing health. Some of us are only a doctor’s visit away from our lives changing forever.
Too often it takes a life altering event to jolt us into changing our priorities. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Contemporary workplaces are catering for flexible working in so many different ways these days. Notwithstanding the options, surprising few employees seek out the opportunities, often, incorrectly assuming that their boss will be unwilling to consider their request for flexibility to incorporate another priority in their life. Within 20 years this will be the norm. Portfolio working – multiple roles, parallel careers and the simultaneous and prioritised pursuit of personal passions will be common. Right now there are few who attempt this, but those who do reap enormous benefits.
The first step is to be clear about your priorities. If you don’t know, then the rest will be a muddle. In the debate you have inside your head, choose to be the grown-up and have an adult conversation with yourself. Be realistic, or your plans may fall apart quickly. And don’t be a victim. If you want to achieve self-actualisation, you have to be disciplined and take total accountability for your choices.
Lock in on the one clear goal that you want to achieve that you believe will bring more joy or meaning to your life. Research it. Make sure it is actually available for you to do. Don’t commit to learning the saxophone if there are no teachers in your area. How long will it take? Does that matter? Does it involve a lifestyle change and if so, do I need to discuss and agree this with my partner?
Importantly, talk about it with your employer. Try honesty and transparency. You may be surprised how accommodating your boss will be.