The quest to create a life that actually had some life in it, and wasn’t just all about work.
But I must admit that for me the whole thing has been a bit of a headfuck.
How as a professional person, with a deep sense of vocation, and a need to earn well, do you make life your number one priority?
Your well-being? Your happiness?
How do you dare, through one lens, let go of the grip that work has over us, create life on your terms and have faith you’ll be okay?
Or, through another lens, how can you dare be so selfish in a world where work is king?
Where the unwritten expectation is that you’re at your desk, virtual or not, and contactable 18 hours a day, 5 days a week, and sometimes at weekends too?
The Great Work Life Balance Hoax
Oh, I know there’s a ton of stuff out there about achieving that state. But as I’ve written before, I don’t really hold with the with the concept of balance – at least not in the way many of the worklife gurus talk about it. Bottom line: it’s a corporate idea that has adopted a new age word in the hope that it will be experienced as having holistic intentions. But its real objectives are to keep you in the system, whether that serves you or not.
And I’m not saying that employers can’t get a lot smarter at managing the pressure their people are under.
People are feeling stressed out.
But at the end of the day, I think the whole worklife thing goes a lot deeper than even the very best HR policies can ever cater for.
Because there is still such angst about it. For heaven’s sake, I experience it, and I’m self-employed.
The Challenge Of Making Work Fit Life
The dilemma for me goes like this:
If I throw myself entirely into my work, I can achieve loads, for sure. And, boy, because I love what I do, there’s a tendency in me to do just that.
But I then lose connection with the people in my life who matter to me.
My health suffers because things like my diet, exercise, rest and sleep all go tits up.
I end up resentful about just what work is doing to me and, paradoxically, my performance is not as strong overall as I like.
On the other hand, when I put life first, as I strive to do, I get caught in this place of tension.
That I’m somehow not being a proper “professional” because I’m making up my own work patterns.
That I’m phoney because I’m making client calls from one of my leisure travel destinations.
That any moment I’ll be exposed because I earn well in relation to the hours and time I put in.
Not that it stops me, but the whole time I have kind of felt like I’m running some kind of gauntlet. And I’ve assumed that that just came with the territory.
What If The Struggle Was Always Only Ever Inside Your Head?
But the other day I had this huge realisation.
All the feelings that I have of guilt, shame, feeling that I’m less-than?
What if I’d made them up?
What if I’d given something of myself over to some fantasy in my own head of how I imagined things were?
I don’t actually know if a corporate client calling me out of the blue at 10am on a Tuesday morning and finding me unavailable because I’m in the gym, or worse, still in pyjamas, would smile or frown.
The unexpected call is emotionally neutral. But I cringe at the thought of being judged for bunking off.
I don’t know whether my ducking out of a team dinner mid workshop because, as the coach, I feel the need for space and to rest is laughed at or not.
Again, the action is neutral. But I burn at the thought they think I’m a social wimp.
I don’t know whether the words I put out here impress you or not.
My posts are just me being me. But in the past at least, as I was writing last week, I have cared what you thought.
And people might frown, laugh at, or disregard me. Let’s face it, we all live in the same world view that puts more emphasis on what happens outside of us than on our own internal well-being.
But whether people do or don’t is not my business.
Only I can ever affect what I think and feel.
This challenge has been mine and mine alone. Because, no matter what else I make up, I’m actually pretty self-determining.
And thank you, God, that in our society, if we choose, we do have freedom to act. Much more freedom than I think we ever realise we have or give ourselves.
I cannot tell you how it has enhanced my sense of well-being since I had this revelation. Bizarrely, I’ve done less work in the last little while, but been more impactful and productive.
Less work, more productive
Take just writing this post. In the first instance, I sat down and the words wouldn’t come. Or rather, words came, but they weren’t forming in the way that reflected the knowing I was sitting with. For a while I persisted, all the time thinking, “I really must exercise today, but not until I get this post written. It has been over a week now since I wrote my last one, and I committed to turning up here more.”
Then I heard something deeper saying, “that’s bollocks. Nobody cares about any of this. And what if the best way to get the post written was to go exercise first?”
So I did. Beautiful autumn day here, so I eschewed the gym in favour of a walk. And it was just gorgeous to feel part of the whole countryside as its colours change, and the season makes its presence felt.
I got the first line for the post as I was walking. It just came. Once home the whole post wrote itself in about half an hour.
I’ve still really to get my head round the wider implications of all of this. But for now I just wanted to share it.
Does what I’m saying here resonate? What insights did it prompt in you as you read?