‘I will have a life with a side order of work.’ Said no one ever. We all want to avoid being the people that sacrificed everything at the corporate altar. But how?
Most of our lives are broken down into bits of five to six working days a week, seven for some, every week for most of the year. If you were to quantify a workday as a span of, say, 7.5hrs, it would mean that at least 37.5 hours of the 120 hours between Monday and Friday are spent on the grind leaving us with about 82.5 hours holding all factors constant. This, of course, is before we factor in about 30 hours of sleep (going by a 6 hour minimum per night) and several more to cater for the time we spend on the daily commute – often in endless traffic. So we have about 47.5 hours left if we take traffic as a one hour a day affair. That means we have about nine and a half hours left each day to have a thriving life. Possible? Realistic? Not so much.
There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.
Alaine de Botton
Between juggling additional jobs, part time classes, family and relationships, parenting and everything else (not to mention the fatigue that keeping everything running brings up), the average employee has just less than three hours of sanity a day – if they are lucky. Earlier in my career, I could hardly understand what the fuss around a work life balance was all about. I remember thinking, many times that, people just need to ‘man up’, put a little more into it and quit with the complaining already. In retrospect, my lack of experience fed my ignorance to grand proportions. I remember reading and not understanding this one article by a working parent in which an employee said that to get a few minutes of lucidity, they would drive home each day and not leave the car for about 15 – 20 minutes. These being the only minutes they could breathe before they transitioned from a worker to a parent – another full-time job. Several years later, the light bulb flicked on. Now I get it. It often, if not always, takes more than wishing to keep your head on straight on such overstuffed schedules and if the general dislike for Mondays is anything to go by, we constantly feel that there should be more to living than this repetitive cycle that we have come to know as life. The questions remain, how and where is the time?
Don’t just climb the ladder of success – a ladder that leads, after all, to higher and higher levels of stress and burnout – but chart a new path to success, remaking it in a way that includes not just the conventional metrics of money and power, but a third metric that includes well-being, wisdom, wonder and giving, so that the goal is not just to succeed but to thrive.
In essence work and life should not be, as it would seem, at loggerheads. But gone are the days when slow paced living made that a possibility. As it stands, more and more people are involuntarily forced to make a choice between the two. Whoever said that we could have it all, apparently, did not know such times were ahead. I do not have any solid answers for our big question either but what I do know is more often than not, the scales will tip towards one side, and sometimes, we get to choose which side that will be. It is never a simple decision to take. Irrespective of your place in the cycle of life – starter, working parent, established business mogul, start-up entrepreneur, farmer: anyone, there comes a time when the crossroads finally turn up and attempts to walk down both roads, though possibly successful at first can kill you in the long run.
What often remains unsaid is that no sacrifice is lesser than the other. The choice to pursue a life is often misconstrued as being the easier way out or as giving up. Be that your childhood dream to backpack all over the continent, that short or long trip across town to visit with friends and family, start/ nurture a family or turning that idea into your business start-up. You may even have a couple of friends, colleagues or family hold an intervention – largely because most of us have been cultured to know that adults must work to earn a living – which although mostly right, many times acts as our single story. I juggled a year of school and work a while back and to be honest; something had to give. In my case, work was relatively good (because we can only multi-task efficiently for a while) and life shrivelled. Now? I am almost done with school and working on watering both – it is not easy. It makes me think of what I will choose at the end when the crossroads draw near. Do we have to choose? Can we have both? Or are we the doe-eyed hopefuls searching for the unicorn we think not to exist?