Today I went to an interesting talk by Nigel Marsh all about work/life balance. What a great speaker! One of the first things he told us is how the “work/life balance” phrase is flawed. “Work/life balance” implies that there should be an even balance between work and personal life- but that’s just not realistic. Not only that, different people need different things to feel fulfilled. Does going to the gym every day give us balance? Does having dinner with the family three times a week suffice? Will you feel happy if you get to come in to work at 10am even if it means you have to work until 8pm? No one can really answer these questions because it’s different for everyone. What may be joyous for one individual would cause depression in another. I for one would rather sleep an extra hour than get up and exercise at 6am, but others wouldn’t function without their morning cardio.
Also, we need to shy away from adding things to our routine because we feel like we “should” do them in order to maintain our sanity. Sometimes I feel like in order to be balanced I SHOULD get home before 6:30pm and I will then start to get anxious at 4:30 when I look at the clock and realise have another three hours of work to do and I won’t meet that goal. But is there really a ticking clock of happiness? What does it matter if I get home late one night if I don’t even have any plans that evening?I probably would be less stressed if I didn’t put pressure on myself to finish everything by this imaginary deadline I’ve set for no reason. Additionally, I sometimes think I would like to go to yoga more often during lunch, but then dwelling on the fact that I don’t have the time for that adds even more stress, thus fueling the feelings that I’m failing at my goals.
Nigel also made a really interesting comment about our perceptions of time. We seem to view this “balance” as something that has to happen all in a day; as if you won’t have a good “work/life balance” unless you can leave work on time, as well as get in some exercise, meditation, and time with the family – every.single.day. He challenged us to be flexible with these time frames. Maybe one will feel happier if they can get out on time to do yoga twice a week – even if they work 10 hours days on the other three days. Maybe simply refusing to answer work calls after 7pm will provide some peace. I won’t go into all the other points he made (all of which resonated so well with me) but you can hear more about his thoughts on the topic in his TED talk here.
So why am I writing about all of this? Well first off, it was inspiring and I wanted to share. Secondly, as I noted in my update blog last week, work has been crazy. For the entire month of March, there were literally only a handful of days where I worked less than 9-10 hours and at least two times per week where I worked 12 hours or more. I traveled to two countries and three states all in one day and had to get up and go to work bright and early after being awake for nearly 21 hours straight the day before. Now, some of my investment banker friends may laugh at that and think 10 hours is nothing… “oh boo hoo, you had to do it a whole month”… however let me remind you that I do not work for an investment banker salary. And it wasn’t just the long hours which were wearing me thin. Not only was I working 10-12 hours per day, I also wasn’t taking a lunch break… EVER. I would hold my pee for hours because I just had to finish ONE MORE THING before I got up and walked to the restroom. I turned down dinner and other social invites because I knew I wouldn’t get out in time. I stopped walking to work in the morning because I always had my computer and cords in my bag which weren’t pleasant to carry on a 30 minute walk, etc. I would get to 6pm on Friday and think… what just happened? Did I just live that week? I just did not stop. So when the email invite for this “How to make the work life balance work for you” talk came into my inbox- I nearly deleted it- because really, how could I take two hours out of my day to go to a presentation when I dont even have three minutes to spare for a pee break. Let’s get real, it wasn’t going to happen. That was pretty much my “A ha” moment, the moment I knew that email was practically written FOR me! And you know what? I’m really glad I went. It was like a group therapy session for researchers. Ok, maybe not, but it felt good to take time out and do something that was just for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like my job and absolutely love the people I work with. It hasn’t always been this intense. Over the last few years we’ve had busy times, even busier times, and slow times. A busy month is usually followed by a slower month so it’s easy not to feel burnt out. But recently client requests have been increasing, while the hours in my day are not. So how does one manage to keep up? Well in my case, it’s by cutting out bits of my life that make me happy. Morning walks, lunchtime or evening yoga, dinner with friends, watching TV in the evening with my husband, blogging (yeah- now you see why I’m so slack)… they all go out the window when you can’t say no to new projects coming your way. I think we’re all crossing our fingers that we’ll be able to hire some more people to manage all the work coming through (and that April will be busy, but not crazy like March), but in the mean time, my amazing (seriously, he’s wonderful) boss has been having conversations with me reminding me to breath, not to freak out and blow a gasket, and just to call him when I need help. That support makes all the difference.
Nigel mentioned in his talk that it’s not about setting big goals that may be overwhelming to try to achieve. While there are many things I’d like to do to improve the quality of “balance” in my life, for now I will follow his lead and start off small. I really want to stop checking work emails in bed at 6am when I can’t sleep. I want to stop looking at them at 11pm right before I go to bed. And weekends? I need to actually take them off and enjoy my life outside of work. I just don’t want to head down the corporate path of misery and hellfire that I witnessed my parents experience my whole life. It’s just not for me. I want to be happy. I’m sure the bottle of wine Nigel gave me at the end of the talk will help with that. Evidently I “need it more than he does.” 🙂