You know that “work/life” balance that all the personal development books, c.d.’s and seminars tell us we need to have in order to live a fulfilling, rewarding life? For a lot of people, achieving this perfect “Ying/Yang” mix of work and life seems to be one of life’s great unsolvable mysteries.
Some folks feel they work too much, and don’t spend enough time pursuing their personal interests – something that leaves them feeling stressed-out and frustrated; on the other hand, these same folks fear if they spend too much time on personal interests that they’ll neglect their work, and then their career might suffer some irreparable damage… Can you see this dilemma?
Rock: Meet hard place.
With these seemingly being the only options – work or life – to choose from, many people are left wondering which is the right one to take; even worse, once they’ve made a decision they’ll often stress out whether or not they’ve made the right choice, and get stuck in a vicious circle of what constitutes “work/life balance”.
From what I’ve seen, the concept of “work/life balance” rarely means the same for two people since we all want different things out of our life experiences. In reality we have to work out what is best for us as individuals, and then get busy experimenting until we find what works best for us.
I think the idea is that if we are to feel whole and complete as people that we need healthy doses – or balance – of both work and life activities. Put another way, if we want to feel fulfilled and happy we need both the Ying of work gratification AND the yang that a happy life has to offer – because both parts – the Ying and the Yang – bring value to our lives.
From what I can tell, it breaks down a little something like this:
Ying/Work: We should work enough to learn new skills, grow as individuals and contribute to something worthwhile, all while earning enough to provide us with the lifestyle we want to have.
Yang/Life: We must also ensure we leave enough time to be able to play; and by playing, I mean pursuing activities we enjoy and that make us feel happy and content in our personal lives. Think families and hobbies, hanging out with friends, etc.; because nothing’s better than time away from “the daily grind”, right?
So basically, balance is achieving fulfillment in both the “Ying” of our professional accomplishments AND the “Yang” we get from pursing activities that we enjoy; and it’s up to us as individuals to decide what the ratio of activity needs to be on either side of the equation; no one else can make this decision for us.
Make sense so far? I’m not so sure it does – especially for those of us who don’t earn a regular paycheque.
HOW ABOUT THOSE OF US WITH “UNCONVENTIONAL” LIVES?
What about those folks (like me) who doesn’t have a regular job to go to each day – how are we supposed to find the work/life balance? I mean, without the benefit of punch-clocks and schedules and Friday meetings and bosses to micromanage our every move, how does my ilk do know if our daily activities are defined as work or play? Without such guiding mechanisms to keep us in check, how do we know if we are living balanced lives?
Let me explain:
Each morning I struggle with the same conundrum – I look at my daily task list and wonder if I’m doing enough actual “Ying” (work) to justify my “Yang” (my boss-free lifestyle). And since I have no clue if what I’m doing at any given time in a day, I don’t know if my tasks can be deemed “work” or “play”, or even if they fall into some deep, dark abyss in between, and here’s why:
Each day I perform some “creative project tasks”; things like writing my blog, preparing speeches for (and then speaking at) events, developing personal development materials, working on branding, connecting with cool people, etc. – you get the idea. For the sake of this discussion (and because there is a work component to them) let’s label these things as “work balance” tasks.
On the flip side, each day I also do a whole bunch of things for the simple reason that they bring me (and sometimes others) joy and happiness; things like going to the gym, spending time with family, creating and sharing meals with friends, going for coffee, watching movies with Tristan, etc. – all activities we’ll slot into the “life balance” category.
And while both categories consist of radically different tasks, for me both are of equal importance because every task – be it categorized work or life – fills me a sense of happiness, achievement and fulfillment.
Bigger still is when all these tasks are combined they nourish both my heart and soul, and usually allow me to emerge a bigger, better person than I was before I tackled them – and honestly, isn’t that the real goal of any task we undertake, be it work or life oriented? To achieve and accomplish things that make us feel good and proud and happy?
WRITING = WORK? PLAY?
For example, is writing my blog considered a “work” task or a “life” task? I mean on one hand, adhering to self-imposed deadlines, consistently writing quality content each week, constant revision of my work, etc. takes discipline, skill, research, adhering to a timeline, etc. – a lot of guidelines and expectations that remind me of my old job, a position l came to loathe – hence why I left.
But then there’s this: I LOVE TO WRITE! Nothing jazzes me more than getting up early, brewing a big pot of Starbucks before tucking into a 3 hour session where I can write, re-working my words over and over again to paint a picture for folks to see when they read my words.
Times like these give me a massive feeling of satisfaction, and therefore writing doesn’t feel like work one bit. When I get to this point, it’s playtime all the way!
So the question becomes: Does my writing fall under the Ying of work, or the Yang of life? I mean it doesn’t generate an income, is really hard at times, makes me adhere to strict deadlines, and causes me tons of frustration – all like a job does – except without the benefit of a few shekels every fortnight.
On the flip side, I love to do it – just like I love to speak, develop creative programs, work on branding, go to the gym, spend time with my family, cook dinners for friends, go for coffee, watch movies, etc. – the truth is, I love doing it all, and for one simple reason: It makes me happy.
So I’ll ask again: Does my writing fall under the Ying of work, or the Yang of life? And the answer is…
As long as it makes me happy, then who cares?
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS
Yesterday I had coffee with my good friend and Productivityist Mike Vardy and I was discussing this idea with him, and (as usual) Mike summed it with just a few well-chosen words, rather than a Tolstoy length post like I always do. (Brevity has never been my strong suit)
Rather than referring to this idea as “work – life balance” – something that is different for everyone, but also basically unachievable – he suggested we seek to create “Work – Life Harmony” – which is another way of saying:
“Do whatever tasks you need to do, must do, want to do, and have to do, as long as they all fit into your life and make you happy.”
Again, brevity is not my strong suit; however the message comes across loud and clear, and it’s this:
The idea of work/life balance is archaic, somewhat naive, and more importantly – not what any of us should strive for in our lives.
What we should seek is a work/life HARMONY – This goes for those of us who are employed, unemployed, self-employed or just “doing our own thing” like I do.
So now I really don’t care what category my various tasks fit into, nor should I; my only concern should be if they are worthwhile pursuits that in some way, shape or form makes me happy, and add value to my life.
If they do, I should proceed; if they don’t I shouldn’t. Period.
So next time someone asks me how I divvy up my time between work and life I’ll just smile harmoniously and say…