Balance: Does It Really Exist?

Whenever I find myself in a room full of aspiring young leaders – the conversation eventually moves to the discussion of the desire for balance in their lives.  So, why all the commotion about the topic?  And if balance is all that important, what are people doing to achieve balance?  And for those of us who love our work, where does that end so we invest in our personal lives?  I’m a poster child for the “workaholic” – but it’s largely because I love my work, I have many friendships I’ve developed within the healthcare industry, and a thoroughly enjoy spending time solving problems and dreaming up new business ideas. 

The intensity of work in a digital economy head led many of us to search forways to alleviate stress.  At one level, extreme jobs encourage extreme sports.  But more rationally, working in a 24/7 world takes its toll even when the rewards are high.  But balance means more than just time allocation or throwing the “switch” and going from professional life to personal life.  There was a time when individuals showed up for work Monday through Friday.  The work day was eight- to nine-hours. The boundaries between work and home seemed clear then. But our world has changed and the boundaries have blurred for most of us. Here’s why:

Global economy. As more skilled workers enter the global labor market and companies outsource or move more jobs to reduce labor costs, people feel pressured to work longer and produce more just to protect their jobs.

International business. Work continues around the world 24 hours a day for some people. If you work in an international organization, you might be on call around the clock for troubleshooting or consulting.

Advanced communication technology. Many people now have the ability to work anywhere — from their home, from their car and even on vacation. And some managers expect this.

Longer hours. Employers commonly ask employees to work longer hours than they’re scheduled. Often, overtime is mandatory. If you hope to move up the career ladder, you may find yourself regularly working more than 40 hours a week to achieve and exceed expectations.

Striking a work-life balance isn’t a one-shot deal. Creating balance in your life is a continuous process. Demands on your time change as your family, interests and work life change. Assess your personal and professional situation every few months to make sure you’re investing your time in those things that matter – what is important to you in building your professional and personal experiences.  Balance doesn’t mean doing everything - examine your priorities and set boundaries. Be firm in what you can and cannot do – or wish and do not wish to do.  Don’t accept personal invitations and take on commitments out of guilt – those are as damaging to our life balance as spending too many hours at the office.

If you find yourself spending time on the things that matter to you – both at work and outside of work – you’ll find life to be much less stressful.  In the end, that seems a logical view of work life balance.