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How many times have you heard the term ‘work life balance’? It’s this elusive statement used to describe…. What? What exactly does it describe? Because when you ask others what they think the ‘work life balance’ means they don’t really know, and they don’t think they have it down pat for themselves.
Which makes me think two things.
1) How on earth can you be chasing after something if you don’t really know what it is?
2) Screw the work life balance.
Yup. Screw it. I don’t want a bar of it. Because to be honest, I always feel like I don’t have it, despite not really knowing what ‘it’ is, and that just makes me feel like I’m failing even more. For what? What is this so called ‘balance’ going to give me in the end? Happiness, joy, serenity, less stress, more money? Will it make me a better parent? A better person? Because right now, chasing something that doesn’t seem to exist, is just making me more stressed.
So screw it.
What Is A ‘Work Life Balance’?
Supposedly, a work life balance is what we achieve when our work and our personal life balance out in perfect harmony. When we manage to get all of our ‘work’ done, without it compromising time with our family, or our social lives, or impeding on our relationships.
Sounds like something out of a Disney movie, with sweet music and birds chirping.
I’ve never really ‘believed’ in a work life balance anyway. To me, work is part of my life, and it’s up to me to ensure I enjoy my work. I’m lucky enough to say that for the majority of my working life I truly have enjoyed the work I do. Over the last 8 years, that work has involved being an emergency Paramedic, a job that has brought me great joy and challenges too.
One thing I’ve learned is that there’s no real ‘off’ switch. It’s not like I go home from work and stop being a Paramedic. I might take my uniform off and no longer be on call, but it’s part of who I am. It always will be. My work is part of my life and my life is part of my work.
As a business owner and as a Paramedic I bring with me life experience to my job. I look at things differently now that I’m a mother, I take less risks than before because the idea of needing to make it home safe is more of a forethought. This makes my life part of my work.
I tried thinking about what a ‘work life balance’ would look like. Over the years I’ve had people tell me I work too much. Does that mean my ‘balance’ was out? But I was happy, I loved my work and it energised me. So how many hours of work does it take to create a work life balance? Does working the standard 40 hours a week immediately mean that we have to start chasing this ‘balance’? Or does it kick in at 30 hours?
The number of times I see someone asked in an interview ‘oh and how do you balance your work with your life’ (and don’t even get me started on how this question only ever seems to be asked of working mothers) makes me wonder who came up with this idea anyway?
What To Focus On Instead Of The Work Life Balance
Here’s my take on what the ‘balance’ should actually look like.
Stop chasing after things you can’t define or measure. There’s no point, you’ll literally never get there.
Start thinking of your life as a whole. What areas make you happy? What areas make you unhappy? How can you reduce the unhappy and increase the happy?
How can you incorporate more of your life into your work and your work into your life so you don’t feel the need for the divide but feel like they actually work together, as part of your life as a whole?
If the thought of having your work as an actual part of your life makes you cringe, then maybe you need to look at why you’re doing the work you’re doing and if it ‘fills your cup’. (I totally understand that in some cases a job is a job and you need one because you know.. Money and all… but maybe it’s a good sign to start looking at things that you could do that would make you happier, bit by bit).
Be okay with not having a ‘work life balance’. Sometimes you’ll work more, sometimes you’ll work less, sometimes you feel like there’s nothing but chaos and other times you’ll wonder how on earth everything is ticking along without falling off the rails. It happens, it’s called life.
Tips For Keeping A Better Life Balance
Okay, so I’m calling this life balance because that’s what it really is. Life and work just happen, while separating them in your mind might seem like a logical thing to do, trying to balance work and life out separately is a surefire way to stress yourself out even more.
So here are some practical tips for keeping a better life balance, adding more happiness to your life and work, and focusing on what is important to you.
1 – Determine What You Want Your Life To Look Like
As I said before, there’s no point striving for something if you don’t even know what it looks like. Sit down and actually think about what you want your life to look like. What does your ideal day look like? What happens when you wake up? Where do you work? How to do spend your day? How do you feel living this life?
Write it all out. If this is truly what you want your life to look like, then it’s time to start making it happen.
2 – Make Small Changes To Move Towards Your Goals
You might not be able to jump straight into living your dream life, but you can make small changes towards your goals.
Maybe your dream day involves you drinking coffee while quietly reading the paper of a morning. Perhaps you feel like this isn’t possible because you have children who run around like a hurricane from the moment they get up (no? Just me??). In order to make this happen, you may be able to get up an hour earlier to spend that time by yourself, drinking your hot coffee and starting your day in a slow and peaceful way.
The point is, by making small changes to move towards your dream, you’ll be closer and closer to living your dream life. Small actions over time lead to big changes.
3 – Take Time For Yourself
It is so important for you to take time for yourself and schedule in your self care. Maybe getting up earlier of a morning isn’t your thing, but perhaps you’d prefer to spend time at a cafe by yourself, go for a walk, do whatever you can to regularly get time for yourself and focus on you.
Treat self care as an ongoing appointment. Schedule it in and make time for it like you would any other appointment. When it becomes a habit and you schedule it, you’re far more likely to see it through.
Work out what it is you want to do for self care, then make it happen.
4 – Get To Know Yourself More
Do you know what it is that makes you happy? Do you know what it is you want to achieve? Getting to know yourself more can help you to understand what it is you want out of life and work and how then, you can (urgh, for lack of a better word) balance it all out.
For some people, their dream is to retire and not have to work at all, for others, like myself, I absolutely love the work I do and want to keep doing it. There will be a time when I’m ready to move away from being a Paramedic, which is why it’s so important for me to keep checking in with myself and making sure that what I’m doing is bringing me joy and making me happy.
Is your career still bringing you joy? Is there something you’d rather do that would make you happier? Can you do that instead?
It so easy to just keep going, to keep pushing through, and we forget to check in, get to know ourselves and what it is we want, and make changes to our lives accordingly.
Keep asking yourself – is this making me happy?
Striving for the work life balance never makes anyone happy – chasing something that doesn’t exist just induces stress and frustration. But creating a life you love, that includes both the work you enjoy and the life you want to live, is a far better version of the ‘work life balance’.