The following writing is based on my own experiences and opinions on developing a balance between my work, college and personal life. We have all likely run into this challenge but overlooked dealing with it.
There are plenty of books and articles on how to achieve a work-life balance, but we seldom take the time to read them. It’s hardly addressed in college, rarely discussed in the workforce or in our professional lives. We hear whispers of it. No one truly urges you to be mindful of it or speaks on how to achieve a work-life balance.
To a majority of us, who have worked hard on our professional careers and are motivated to succeed, we consider our professional careers a part of our identity. It’s not just a means to an end, it defines who we are.
When you meet someone new, the second or third question they ask you is “what do you do?” None of us ever answer “Well, I cycle, go out with my friends, build model planes and write a blog.” We are all wired to describe our work. We define success in our lives to some extent by our profession.
Let me be clear. Ambition, drive, and dedication are excellent traits to have.
I crossed oceans to follow my ambitions. It was my father who taught me good work ethic and dedication to my work. I credit that ambition, dedication, and strength for my professional and personal achievements. When I transferred from the University of Kentucky after just one semester, I only had $600 to my name. I credit those traits with helping me pay my way through college and graduate school while still working and gaining valuable experience.
With this kind of ambition and dedication, comes a habit of continuously looking ahead and setting goals. Therefore, it was not just the expectations set for me, but what I set for myself that always drove me.
What I know now is, how conscious you have to be when reaching for achievement and success, with how you bring balance to your professional and personal life. If you are not careful, either your personal life or professional career will suffer, and you will find your life spiraling out of control.
I am aware, that depending on whether you are married or single, your age, male or female, the challenges you face in finding this balance differs. What I hope to do is convey what I have learned from my own experiences and hope that you find my advice helpful in some way.
Appreciate where you are now.
Looking back now, one of the lessons I learned was, that while setting these high expectations and planning ahead, you need to take stock of what you have achieved.
Take the time to look at how far you have come and what you have accomplished. Don’t look for your manager or your work colleagues to validate your accomplishments. They won’t know your struggles or the journey you have taken. Take the time to appreciate the challenges you have overcome yourself and be content with how far you have come.
I believe once you realize this, the amount of stress you put on yourself to succeed, will be lessened. This will enable you to set attainable, pragmatic goals that do not overwhelm you.
Having a hobby, “You time.”
One major reason why we consider our professional achievements so vital to our identity, is that we consider our work achievements as the defining feature of who we are.
Having spoken with a few colleagues, some with families, some in relationships, and others that are single, they all mentioned the importance of having a hobby or project. These are interests and hobbies separate from your work or family. It shouldn’t just be relaxing, but something that contributes to your personal growth. It should be an accomplishment, something that you are proud of and that you see as being your accomplishments. This hobby should not be a chore, something that would not stress you in any way, or put any time constraints on yourself.
One of the challenges I faced and failed miserably at was in disconnecting from work. It’s easy to say that you work a 9 to 5 job. But due to the nature of the work I was doing and due to working from home, I never disconnected from work.
This is harder to do when you are single. Even when I wasn’t in front of my computer, I would constantly plan and think about work. This was partly due to fears about my performance at work, ambitions, and the stress I was putting on myself.
It was a state of mind I had never dealt with. I felt I was strong enough to handle the workload. At the time I had just ended a long-term relationship and thought it was a good distraction. I willingly buried myself in work.
In life, in general, it’s important to have a support structure. However smart and independent you may see yourself to be, life can be challenging and overwhelming. At these times you must never be afraid to seek help, whether its a friend or professional support.
For some time I saw seeking a professional for advice and counseling as a weakness. As admitting to a vulnerability. But now I believe it is a strength to be able to know that you are not able to cope and strategically seek help. It is what is best for you, your work, and those who care for you.
We all need someone to speak with and vent to, to cope with the challenges we face. It might be a significant other, a group of friends, or family. Isolation is the worst place to be when you are stressed and dealing with workplace pressure.
It’s important that the person you speak to be separate from your work colleagues. You might not always open up to your colleagues because you are trying to maintain your professional persona, no one feels good showing the cracks in their armor or being vulnerable. But we all need people who can give our life some meaning outside of work.
In this day and age with all of the social media platforms, we seek validation from our friends, family, and colleagues. We hope that this validation will finally be enough, platforms such as LinkedIn are built for this purpose. And our professional achievements are a reflection of ourselves. Again I reiterate that accomplishment and success are worthy of admiration. But life is not all about your resume. It’s also not about a paycheck or the number of digits on it. There is no substitute for you being content and happy with the life you live. You might have heard this phrase many times, but its relevant to anyone who works in a fast paced, stressful profession.
“Don’t live to work, work to live.”
Organization, Leadership and Management Perspective.
Organizations and their leadership should understand that their employees family life, personal life, and mental health have significant effects on their professional performance. But in most cases, most organizations ignore these factors of their performance. Family and personal life, and professional performance are not “cause an effect” but are interdependent determinants.
Some organizations do provide access to counselors or therapists, but in most cases, it’s not widely known or seeking professional assistance is treated with a sense of taboo. For example, teachers in ND are given 8 free sessions with a counselor.
From a supervisors perspective, it can be a tough issue to address.
Supervisors and co-workers are rarely encouraged to have personal close relationships. Therefore understanding or assessing the personal well being of an employee, or someone you are managing is a tough ask.
In some cases, it is a line that some employees wouldn’t want their supervisor crossing.
How would a supervisor keep his or her pulse on the well being of his employees? Once I was asked what hobbies or interests I had outside of technology interests. Even though I answered the question truthfully, I had not followed up on any of those interests during or after graduate school. I know there are several professions and occupations that provide access to therapist or counselor on site for their employees.
I believe the following steps would assist managers detect an unhealthy work-life balance in those they lead and assist them to overcome it.
Directly manage your expectations for your employees/ team members.
You have to set realistic expectations and obtainable goals. There is a reason they were hired, it’s up to you to utilize their skill set. If they are overworking or struggling, that would mean they need help and assistance. They can be retrained, provided mentorship, set up with peer groups, and other tools that would help them succeed.
Build a personal relationship.
As a manager, one of your tasks is to find what motivates those who you manage. Then motivate them, get the best out of them and help them grow. In this, it’s not unreasonable to spend time with those who you supervise and build a relationship. A good manager must be approachable to have his or her employees reach out to them when they are faced with professional or personal challenges. The manager can draw the line when they cannot assist them directly, but you would still be aware of their challenges and direct them to obtain the necessary help.
We must all understand that our professions and work achievements are only that. They are just a part of what we do. They don’t define who we are. The greatest achievers, those who changed the course of the world, while being known for there achievements by the rest of the world, to those who were close to them, were a lot more than what they achieved professionally.
Work hard, work well, be dedicated to your work. But at the end of the day live your life.