An average nights sleep being constant, we dutifully approach each day with relatively equal amounts of vigor. We have about sixteen hours to do it all before we sink into our next bedrest. Society splits our days into two sections. Work and Out of Work. Work being a job, whatever form that takes for you, and life outside of work alluding to the common phrase of work/life balance. I’ve had a problem with this phrase for a while and I’ve landed at a few conclusions as to why.
Why It’s Broken
We Gain, We Lose
A “balance” implies that to gain any traction in one, the other must be lessened. If one wants to grow rapidly within their career, sacrifices must be made to other pursuits of life. The only way to get ahead is to commit longer hours and invest considerable energy into work projects. So much, that once outside of work, there’s none left for socializing or enjoyable activities. Unconsciously going through a dinner, TV, Facebook then bed all to repeat the cycle. Visually, we can think of it as an X on a graph. One goes up, the other down.
Work vs. Life
The work life balance also represents a dichotomy between the two. Separate entities independent of each other with no influence on the other. Some attempt to keep them separate by leaving work talk at work. However, one can’t leave the emotions brought out by work at work. Emotions are contagious. Have a conversation with someone beaming positivity and you’ll find yourself thinking the sun is brighter that day. Emotions can not only spread through others but between activities. Stress, fatigue, frustration, impatience, can be your passengers home from work. So can happiness, fulfillment, and excitement.
You Can’t Stop the Flow
Finally, is work not part of life? Whatever you do, traditional job or not, there’s an aspect of work to it. Earning an income to support ourselves or others is mandatory and we have to do it. Even if you “love what you do” you’re still forced to work at it. That’s life – and a large portion of it. Over half our waking sixteen hours. I don’t see these two parts represented as an or. We don’t have an on off switch in our brains that says “Time to start thinking about work now, life switch off.” They’re connected. Our emotions are like pipes running through us. There’s no separate connections for each section. Nor can we block a flow of emotions we felt at work when we get home. If we do, we can explode onto ourselves or an innocent bystander.
We need to rethink how we approach this concept. Instead of work and life, let’s call it what it is and replace it with wants and needs. What we NEED to do over what we WANT to do. Instead of a balance, think of as parallel lines instead of the X. This is one instance where I believe we can have our cake and eat it too. We do this by netting out our needs by making time for our wants.
Keep It Even
If you knew me well, you’d know that in times of stress or heavy workload, I reserve more time in a day for myself. I prioritize activities I want to do. Video games, exercising, reading, and doing puzzles to name a few. Instead of waltzing through free time unconsciously, I’m being deliberate in things that bring me joy. I bring my wants to the same level of needs. However, your wants and needs are limited by time. Restricted by those sixteen hours again. Luckily, it’s also our control limit, our ceiling. If I get to a point where there isn’t enough time to do an equal level of both, I know I need to adjust my needs down. If I get behind on my needs, wants are slowly brought back down. This completely breaks down the gain or lose dichotomy and instead gives it a positive relationship. If we Show Up to the things we want to do, it helps us better manage how we Show Up to things we need to do.
Timing is Everything
In order for our formula to work, we can’t push out our wants. They need to coincide with the needs. Don’t tell yourself “I’ll do what I want this weekend and it’ll make up for all the late nights I’ve been having.” Looking forward to big to-dos and vacations to be rejuvenated is a trap. It feels amazing in the moment but once we’re back, we immediately look towards the next big thing. You’re telling yourself that tomorrow just won’t be as rewarding and that the needs are going to be equally if not rougher as before the grand event. Over time, the intensity of the needs is too much and we begin cracking. I’m not saying never take extended times of wants. They alone do not net out the daily needs. We need breadcrumbs along the way.
A day requiring high need, requires high want. Time dedicated specifically for me with zero excuses of skipping. Be intentional in what you want to do. I begin planting my bread trail when I first wake up. Instead of churning the tasks, meetings, expectations, errands, chores, logistics, commitments, time constraints, and energy required of you today, define your want and at what point you take it. Whatever it is, remember it has to be intentional and to keep it all in parallel. So go on, take on life, both the wants and needs of it.