These days, when you feel fatigued and dull all the time, you don’t say things like ‘I am overworked and underpaid’, or that ‘I am working like a dog’. Neither do you say ‘I have lousy habits like being a couch or chair potato’; nor do you say ‘I am not healthy’. Instead, you spout a bit of jargon that’s so generic that no one really asks you what’s wrong — you just say ‘I don’t have a work-life balance’.
It might mean you have absolutely no idea what is wrong with you.
You have a feeling that this ‘balance’ is just a question of taking off the ‘work bricks’ from one pan and adding ‘dollops of life’ on the other. You do this and voila! You have balance!
But this is obviously not true. Jargon is jargon because it tends to hide the problematic reality, obscures diagnosis, and therefore prevents corrective action. And using ‘work-life balance’ to describe a complex situation does all three. Maybe your problems don’t have anything to do with ‘balance’.
Problems at work
The reality could be that you’re suffering from bad work. There can be many causes for this.
Maybe your employer believes that to get the company’s money’s worth, you must put in long working hours, your weekends and holidays included. Maybe you hate your work. Or maybe you like your work, but you have to put in a lot of effort to get results.
It could also be that you don’t enjoy your work because everyone gets away with delays and shoddy work, leaving you to clean up after them, since you are the last in the chain. It may be that you don’t have cooperative colleagues. Perhaps a tough market is causing difficulties.
Or it is possible that your work requires you to make compromises about your values.
Alternatively, you could be unhappy outside your work as well.
Perhaps you don’t spare much thought for others, including those close to you. Or you don’t express your feelings. It is possible that you don’t have anyone whom you can confide in and share your weaknesses, fears or dark thoughts.
Possibly, you don’t exercise regularly; you aren’t learning anything new or you aren’t doing anything differently. There might be some health issues, niggles, or bad habits which you have swept under the carpet.
Others may think that you are selfish or unreliable, which is why they keep away from you. It is possible that you get more tired by thinking about the unpleasant tasks than by actually doing them.
A big possibility is that your ‘bad work’ is spilling over to your ‘life’ and is causing problems.
You may not even know why your energy levels are low, why you are irritable, or why you suffer from mood swings. When you use jargon like work-life balance, it prevents you from taking a good, long, hard look at yourself.
Unless you investigate the causes behind your bad work or difficult life, any amount of ‘work-life balance’ initiatives by your HR will be of no use.
But even before you begin to investigate, you must recognise and accept your reality. A chat with a good friend or your spouse or a professional counsellor might help. You may also consider online tools that help you find out more about yourself.
Work-life balance is not about avoiding hard work — it can’t be achieved by slogging until you are 35 to make a fortune and then retiring — in all likelihood, you will retire with a lifelong lifestyle disease!
The balance we need is not that of two pans and a pointer in the middle. That’s dead balance.
The balance we need is that of a runner who enjoys his movement, or that of a musician who enjoys his performance. The balance we need is that of working hard and well, followed by rest as one savours the sweet exhaustion that comes with doing a good job. All of us know what that is.
Whether in sports, at work, or in life, such a balance is difficult to achieve. And it happens only if we practise to set up conditions of balance and then let go.
Conditions for balance
We must work well and long — but not so hard as to get fatigued and not so little that it makes us feel worthless. We need to be in a zone that is between the two extremes.
What causes us to work too hard? Ego or pride (need to show off), fear (I will lag behind), less skill, less knowledge, less experience, wrong methods, wrong tools, and attitude mismatch are a few reasons.
What causes laziness? Fear of failure, dislike for the work, energy or health issues, and wrong attitude could make you dull.
Naturally, we need to prevent any of the above conditions that either make us work too hard or too little. If we can identify the specific causes, we know what to do to set conditions for balance.
We must also realise that there are certain things we can’t change — at least in the short term. We must learn to accept them. Such situations hold important learning opportunities for us.
We need to take responsibility for our own work-life balance. No one else can do this for us.