I always knew work-life balance was a big issue, but hadn't realized how big until I Googled it. Guess how many results showed up? 32.4 million! With so much help available on the topic, the balance continues to elude those who seek it the most. Perhaps it is time to take a different perspective on it.
I find the entire debate (of work versus life) fascinating because the term work-life balance seems to suggest that when one is working, one is not living. In other words, you can either work or live, you cannot do both. Does this mean a vast majority of the workforce is lifeless? Okay, I know I am taking this a bit too far but I am trying to make a point: If one looks at work-life balance as a problem in isolation, it can never be solved. In fact, the perceived lack of work-life balance is a symptom of a very different problem, and not a problem in itself.
One father I know of was so deeply involved in his work that he did not do full justice to his duty towards his son. In fact the son died as a pauper even while the father was still alive. Another father I know routinely visits his daughters' school when they perform or play a sport. This father even volunteered to coach basketball as a substitute coach when the school sent a note asking for a temporary replacement. Which one of the two fathers did better with work-life balance? The answer might seem obvious, but consider this - the first father was Mahatma Gandhi, and the second is President Obama. Even though both leaders chose very different approaches with their children, neither of them complained about the lack of work-life balance. The fact is, everyone has exactly twenty four hours in their day; no one has twenty five. The key is to take ownership of the choices you make in life.
Over the years, I have noticed that the people who complain the most about the lack of work-life balance are those that don't have a clear sense of their purpose and their values. One of the many benefits of developing full clarity of purpose and values is that it acts as a prioritization framework. Those that are unclear about what they want and what they stand for live a very reactive existence. For them, even the smallest of disappointments becomes a matter of life and death. They don't have a big picture frame of reference to put things in perspective. On the other hand, those who are clear about their purpose and values happily make conscious choices (and sacrifices) to stay on focused their chosen paths. They are alive both at work as well as at home.So, "how can I achieve better work-life balance?" is the wrong question to ask oneself. How will you decide how much work and how much life is right for you? What is the guarantee that you will be happier by reducing your work hours? To solve the problem of work-life balance, one needs to ask a very different set of questions - questions that ultimately lead to better clarity on what one wants to achieve in life (purpose) and what one stands for (values). When asked to describe their purpose and values, most people struggle to find the right words because they haven't thought about it. Imagine not having the time to think about your own life's purpose and values. Should that also be attributed to the lack of work-life balance?
To finally get rid of the problem of work-life balance, one has to clearly define what is work and what is life. To do so, think about the following six questions:
1. What few things are most important to me?
2. Do I want to:
• lead a simple life rich with everyday small pleasures?
• achieve great success in an individual endeavor? Or,
• lead others towards a better future?
3. What results do I want to create?
4. How do I want people to experience me?
5. What situations cause me to feel strong emotions?
6. What values will guide my behavior?
Careful reflection on the first three questions will eventually provide clarity of purpose. The remaining three help in defining deeply held values. When you find honest answers to these questions, the problem of work-life balance will go away.
For More on Career and Life on genConnect:
- Paula Silver: How Women Can Have It All
- A Philosopher's Notes: 10 Principles of Optimal Living, by Brian Johnson
- Making a Decision - The Meditative Way
Rajeev Peshawaria is currently CEO of the ICLIF Leadership & Governance Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which provides executive education, advisory services and executive coaching to professionals and board directors in Asia, Middle East and Africa. He is the author of the latest book
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