What’s all this talk about Work/Life Balance and why is it so important?
I particularly like the metaphor Austin Vickers shares in his book Stepping Up To a Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power (2005). He likens balance to a three-legged stool. Vickers refers to the three stool legs as “body, mind and spirit” and notes “all three of these legs of life are necessary to make us stable and balanced.” He cautions that if you are missing one leg of your stool “all of your energy is spent trying to maintain balance and not fall over. You cannot relax. But upon a balanced stool, one can relax, read, work or use it as a tool to do other things.”
The cultures of China and India have recognized the importance of a balanced life for more than 2,000 years. Their theories of health and illness are based on the presence (or not) of balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the belief that dis-ease is caused by energy blockage in the body. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep energy moving throughout our bodies; for example, by regularly practicing yoga, qigong or tai chi, having therapeutic massages by an experienced practitioner, or receiving balancing from an energy healer.
Data show that balance is important for performance and for creativity. We need space and inner calm to create. If we constantly feel like we’re on a treadmill and unable to get off, it eventually affects our performance as we have difficulty sleeping, are challenged to focus, and we have no time and space to “recharge our batteries”.
Lissa Rankin in her book Mind Over Medicine (2013) cites a number of studies showing that chronic stimulation of the body’s stress response caused by work-related stress can lead to autoimmune disease (such as fibromyalgia), heart disease, cancer, inflammatory disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes and other illnesses. International data also show that overwork leads to early death. The Japanese actually have a name for it – karoshi, or “death by overwork”.
Work/Life Balance is an elusive and personal concept. Elusive, because so many people talk about and strive for it, yet few are able to attain and/or maintain it. Personal, because what work/life balance looks and feels like for you is different from what work/life balance looks and feels like for me.
Imagine what your life would be like if you were able to quiet your busy mind, forget about your “to do” list when “off “ work, have time for family and friends without feeling guilty; and feel good at the end of the day based on what you’d accomplished?
Here are a couple of exercises to help you explore work/life balance.
- When you think about work/life balance what thoughts and feelings come up for you? Take a few moments to jot these down.
Take a few moments to relax. Take several deep breaths and get comfortable. Then think about your personal vision of work/life balance. Answer the following question.
- What does work/life balance look and feel like for you? You may find it helpful to use the stems I see…and I feel…. For example: I see time in my schedule to have lunch with good friends regularly. I see doing yoga classes four times per week and really being present during these classes. I feel inner calm. I feel there is enough time to do what I want to do each day.
I’d love to hear from you and welcome your comments and insights below. Please share with others who you think might benefit.
P.S. My book “Learning to Dance with Life …” includes an entire chapter of proven strategies and powerful practices for creating more balance in your life.
Many High Achieving Women become workaholics at some time in their lives. Workaholism is an addiction and similar to other addictions it helps us to cope, “numbs us out” and assists us to avoid dealing with deeply held emotions, beliefs and situations that are no longer serving us.
I will use an example from my own life. From a very young age it was important to achieve and by achieving I mean attaining tangible and measurable results such as “being the top in my class”, winning a race, getting high marks… That focus on achievement and on “DOING” carried into my adult life.
When I was pregnant and expecting my second child, my daughter, Sara, was just two. I had federal funding for a project, had five people working for me and my son was due part way through the project. I had maternity leave from my university teaching position, but was not able to lay off my project personnel for three months while I took maternity leave. My husband (of the time) was working on the other side of the world and though I had a nannie during the day, as soon as I arrived home from work, she left the house.
I went to bed thinking about work, awakened with work on my mind and put in full days running my project. My mind and body were constantly in motion. I still did aerobics classes throughout my pregnancy and swam, as that was part of my regular routine.
I went into labor at the project office. I finished a day’s work, went home, got the house ready and told my nanny I was in labor. My husband wasn’t yet home, was “in flight” and wasn’t due home for about 24 hours (as our son wasn’t expected for a few more days). I ended up communicating with a colleague who was in labor at the nearby Grace Hospital. Her husband was with her and when her labor slowed down she sent him over to accompany me to the hospital. I walked to the hospital with my friend’s husband, stopping frequently along the way, to breathe through contractions. You can imagine the scene. My membranes ruptured as we entered the emergency room.
I am happy to report that I had a healthy baby boy and one of my girlfriends who is a midwife came to coach me through David’s birth. My husband arrived home the next morning and rushed to the hospital to see his new son.
As I had one more class in my program to finish and still had employees, I took only two weeks off when I had David and then went back to work 20 plus hours a week. When my son was 5 weeks old I facilitated a workshop while my sister sat at the back of the room with David so that I could nurse him during breaks.
Reflecting on this time in my life I realize I was a CRAZY woman. I never thought that I could do anything differently and surprisingly managed to accomplish more than the average “bear” in a day! Yet at what cost?
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Though your story may be different, it likely has common elements.
It was not until a number of years later, that I began to think about balance and to incorporate tools and strategies into my life to assist me to relax, slow down and “smell the roses”. I believe it was my mother’s death of metastases from breast cancer that made me examine my life and commit to making positive changes. Now I am less driven by external achievements and more guided by consciously chosen activities, my own core values and my body’s wisdom. It took some time and effort and I know it is possible.
The first step is to assess whether or not you are addicted to work. Ask yourself the following questions. Do you:
- Go to bed thinking about work?
- Awaken in the night with work-related challenges swirling in your head?
- Wake up in the morning with work on your mind?
- Consistently work on weekends?
If you answered yes to these questions, you may be a workaholic. The first thing to do is to become consciously aware of these patterns in your life. The next is to realize you have a choice.
Do you want to continue as you are or would you like to create some positive changes in your life? e.g. not work on weekends, spend more quality time with family and friends, take more time for yourself relax, reflect and just be. If you decide to make some changes to work less it is important to have someone to support you during this transformative process. In the next post I will speak more about work/life balance and how you can create the life and work/business of your dreams, one that YOU design and love
Is work a priority in your life? Is it taking over? Are you interested in making some changes? Perhaps you were addicted to work in the past and made a conscious decision to make positive changes. It’s always great to hear from you. I invite you to share your comments and reflections below. Share the post with a friend if you think they might benefit and/or share it on social media.