Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind.
A lot of folks talk about the nonexistence of work-life balance. That somehow if we’re happy in our careers, it automatically bleeds into the rest of our lives, and that there is “no such thing” as work-life balance.
I sweetly – or not so sweetly – call bullshit on that.
I love what I do. I’m good at what I do. I’ve been wildly successful at what I do as a solopreneur, helping small companies build recruiting processes and find talent, and helping individuals build job search strategies to get closer to where they want to be. I put in the hours it takes to get the job done, but refuse at the same time to let it take over the other areas of my life which are of even greater importance. My marriage. My writing. My friendships. My sanctuary known as home and garden. My quiet time.
Having my own business, the tactics I take in protecting the balance are very different than when I worked a Monday through Friday job. I decide my own schedule and therefore, it is up to me to create boundaries rather than leave it in the hands of others, as most regular jobs have us doing. It is up to me if I want to go to yoga classes, or take the dog out for a long walk instead, or get on my bike, or just curl up in my chair with a book or my journal. It is up to me if I want to work on my husband’s days off or in the morning before he leaves for work – and it is up to me if I want to match my schedule as much as possible to his.
It’s harder to create your own structure in this type of work, but it’s been so good for me. I’m only accountable to ME at the end of the day. Yes, I have client relationships of course, but as a consultant it is up to me to shape my day, my approach to what I do, and to how I can get my work done while also not killing myself along the way.
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves in our work – pressure we’d often never put on those around us. Many of us beat up on ourselves for not being perfect, for not meeting our own goals – no matter how unrealistic they are – and yet if we stop to think about it, would we be this hard on our peers in the same position? Most would not use the words on others that we use on ourselves when we feel we are not doing well or living up to a particular standard. And when we need to take a break, to ensure we are being healthy, the culture we live in beats us up for being selfish. In a frequently “what’s in it for me”, instant gratification society, ironically we are chastised for being kind to ourselves on our own.
The concept of “selfishness” is an interesting one. If we practice self-care, the things that bring us health and peace in our lives, there is a societal message out there that this is an optional need – or my most hated term, “splurging”. As if getting a massage once a month instead of working an extra hour is somehow related to vanity rather than ensuring you are relaxed enough to go back to the job. As if taking a bike ride is somehow frivolous rather than ensuring you are strong and healthy enough to get through your life without injury. As if writing or painting or building something in your backyard is somehow cruel to others rather than refilling your tank so that you can continue to give to others.
We can spend a hundred bucks a month on cable television and that’s seen as normal to many, yet if we spend the same going to a therapist or to get a massage, somehow we are being full of ourselves.
At one point in my work I encountered an executive who demanded I stop promoting work-life balance at her company in my hiring efforts. This person said in no uncertain terms that those seeking this were not hardworking. I was dumbfounded, and after finishing the work, have never sought to work with that company again. This statement to me was a blatant show of disrespect to the humanity of their team, that somehow in this person’s mind, if they didn’t devote their life to the company, they were somehow lazy with no work ethic.
It’s an interesting thing that in many sectors of the workforce, you are looked down upon for leaving after 8 hours of work. I’ve found the healthiest, happiest cultures are those who provide the flexibility to their employees to get the work done how they see fit, offer great time off and health benefits so that their people can take care of themselves and those they love, and who I know I won’t hear from over the weekend or late at night if I happen to send them an email! My schedule is such that I often work in the evenings to fit with my husband’s schedule as well as accommodate my candidates and coaching clients, but in return that means I am rarely available in the mornings because I realized as I got older that – gasp! – my time is important as well! I learned, as many of us do, that if I don’t do what I need to do to take care of myself, I am less successful at work and less happy in my personal life.
Some don’t want to create boundaries. But we are at the end of each day accountable to ourselves. Knowing who we are, our own unique priorities, and building a deep understanding of what makes us happy – not anyone else, not what society defines as happy – is vital to defining balance. As I’ve talked about before, feel free to lean whatever way you want. “Leaning in,” as Sheryl Sandberg defines it, is not the only way to find fulfillment professionally – or personally. It may work for some but is not a cookie cutter solution. My life is not all about my work, and I have found, the better I am at protecting the parts of my life that, at the end of my workday, are the actual reasons I work in the first place? That’s when I have that bliss, that energy, that…(yep)….balance.