I’ve always been intrigued by the somewhat stylised media around the ‘you can have it all’and be at the top of your game hype. In particular, articles in lifestyle magazines and self-help literature espousing the benefits of prioritising how you invest your energy according to what’s important to you. Glossy images of happy, healthy people juggling demanding jobs, complex family commitments, and Olympic fitness regimes worthy of champions, alongside inspirational, though borderline unbelievable narrative explaining how to do it.
Easier said than done isn’t it? Ironically, the reality is usually a frenzied, exhausting pursuit for that elusive balance between a full time job, running a house, managing a family’s schedule of activities, and having some sort of reasonably enjoyable social life. Oh, and if you can switch off mentally for long enough, time to relax as well!
The pressure put upon us is to constantly squeeze our personal commitments into less and less of our daily routine, in order that we may demonstrate our wholehearted commitment to our employer, our company, our career pursuits. Anything short of 120% focus on our jobs at all times is somehow deemed less loyal, less driven to achieve, perhaps less competent?
And yet, how many of us create this unrealistic belief and expectation within our own conscious minds? How many of us have an employer, a manager, who has asked us to put our work before our family? Very few I would imagine. And possibly only those so far removed from having a sense of what’s truly important in their own lives to be so misguided as to propose the value of this ill-thought out sense of order to someone else.
There are times when it is rightly appropriate, and indeed responsibly required, to sacrifice a personal agenda in order that we may give that little bit more to our work. Those in executive positions accept that along with seniority and salary comes a degree of personal contribution to supporting the organisation. Equally, operational jobs can, on occasion call for an extra burst of drive, energy and follow through to resolve a problem or deliver quality service to a customer.
So when does balancing career and life become unbalanced, disproportionate, unmanageable and ultimately unhealthy?
The answer is simple. What is deemed ‘too much’ to one person may be ‘not enough’ to another. We are each fuelled by a complex mix of personal values, attitudes, beliefs, goals, desires, hopes, wants, needs and fears. All these elements, stored in our conscious and unconscious minds, blended together, produce our sense of prioritisation, thus, our motivational strategies, and finally, our boundaries, the limits beyond which we cannot survive comfortably for very long.
This complex mix is our own unique internal gauge, responsible for telling us what is important, what is not important, what is acceptable and unacceptable, and critically, what our absolute limits are in relation to our life goals.
Each of us has inside ourselves a map of what we hope and want to achieve in our lifetimes. This, coupled with our values, attitudes, and beliefs, governs our behaviour.
When we are faced with constant conflict between the pursuit of one of our life goals, to the detriment of another or many of our life goals, it is then that we need to look inside ourselves. We benefit from reflecting on what brings us implicit joy in our lives. Why do we do what we do? In doing this we are able then to see where our boundary is in relation to this conflicting life goal.
If the conflict is short-lived, the chances are that we simply dig a little deeper, find the energy and resources, and push on until we’ve achieved our goal don’t we? We will often juggle our priorities, work a little later, a little longer, knowing that this conflict around what’s important to us is only for a short while.
If the conflict doesn’t appear to have an end point though, if it looks, sounds and feels as though it will never loosen its grip, then we start to struggle. As our focus on this conflicting goal starts to affect other aspects of our lives, and others of our life goals, we begin to feel the pain of it a little more sharply.
To survive this conflict, we create a new pattern of behaviour; re-prioritising what is important to us, the rest of our life goals, much farther down our list of life goals. In order to perform effectively during this demanding, consuming period, we believe that those close to us will accommodate this re-prioritisation indefinitely, because they love and support us, and want us to succeed, don’t they? The reality is that we are inflicting one of our own goals on those we love and cherish, including ourselves! We are working longer, sleeping less, socialising less, cancelling gym memberships, evenings out, school plays, even holidays, to increasingly accommodate this constant, never ending conflicting life goal. Our energy starts to wane, our motivation seems harder to call up, our focus appears blurred, it’s harder to concentrate, everything seems much harder.
So when does balancing career and life become unbalanced, disproportionate, unmanageable and ultimately unhealthy? When we have deferred virtually all of our other life goals in favour of one single life goal. When we can see no end to how much of our life force it drains from us. When we begin to realise we have put our families, our loved ones, our friends, behind this goal. When there is no balancing of career and life because our every waking moment is consumed by this one goal, to the detriment of others.
Read some of the training diaries of some of our greatest achievers in sports in recent years….Paula Radcliffe, Chris Hoy, Rebecca Adlington, Lee Westwood, Lewis Hamilton. Their stories demonstrate phenomenal capacity for being single-minded and focussed on achieving their sporting goals. Read them again. Peppered in the small print are references to what else is important to them; children, family, friends, socialising….and that elusive nirvana we all crave in this hectic world….’time to relax and enjoy the journey’!
When we get to the end of our lives, and we’re reflecting on how successfully we juggledbalancing career and life…..and we look back at all the rich memories we have carved out for ourselves, what will we treasure the most I wonder……the weekend we gave up with our family to work, because it’s a hard habit to break……or the work we appropriately re-prioritised, because we can, to spend time with our family?
If you would like help with your work-life balance – contact Potentia for a chat. Find out what really matters to you!