Redefining Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance can be a misleading and narrow term.  Its worst offence is that it implies that life is separate to work – and what does that say about the culture in which we live?  Does it suggest we only work because we have to, and that there is little meaning for our lives in work?  Does it assume that work is what we do as gainful employment, that life is everything outside of that and that if the time balance between the two is not skewed too much on the side of work all will be well? 

For many people I speak to the real issues they face are more complex than this simplistic consideration implied by work life balance. Their underlying concerns are more to do with stress, dissatisfaction and lack of fulfilment, not simply overwork – in essence concerns about the quality of life, both inside and outside of employment.

So it’s worth looking a little deeper and redefining what we mean by ‘work-life balance’.  Here’s the definitions I use for these terms:

Work - applying yourself (mind, body, senses, emotion, soul) towards a useful end.

Life - the compound feeling of vigour, energy, motivation, inspiration, interest, enjoyment – in short feeling ‘ALIVE’

These definitions give a very different picture, where the first question is not about the separation of work and life, but bringing them together. In other words – how ‘alive’ do you feel in your ‘work’? It might be that moments or periods of feeling alive in your paid work are limited, particularly if you’re in a routine job, or simply bored with what you do. If this is the case the question is are you in the right work for you, or are you able to compensate with activity and time in the rest of your life where you feel useful and alive?

Another question implied by the definition of work as above is how much of yourself do you actually use in our work?  Your body and little of your mind?  Your mind and little of your body?  Your emotions?  It’s likely that the more of yourself and your talents that you use in your work the more satisfied and fulfilled you will feel.   Again, balance is a matter of compensation. If you have activities outside your employment that use different parts of you, you’ll feel more balanced and fulfilled. 

As a third area stemming from these definitions is: do you see your work as contributing towards a useful end? Is it a useful end that you believe in? Can you relate to your work as a contribution towards the betterment of society? The more you can say yes to these questions, the more fulfilled you’re likely to feel. It’s interesting that there is an increase in people working in the voluntary sector. Maybe this is an ultimate question of balance. How much of what we do simply keeps the wheels of the economic machine going, and how much makes a positive difference?

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