It was the American First Lady, Michelle Obama, who wisely advised : We need to do a better job of putting ourselves higher on our own ‘ to do’ list. Indeed, another American First Lady, Hillary Clinton also advised: Don’t confuse having a career with having a life.
I must confess that over a long working career in senior management I often allowed my career to dominate my life to such an extent that when asked who I was I usually replied by firstly saying what I was. My identity was my job title.
When I stepped down from working for other organisations to concentrate on a writing career I was confronted with life without a job title and forced to assess who I really was. Much soul-searching led me to write my recent book- Every Leader’s Reality Guide- where I address issues of identity and workplace challenges.
There were many periods in my past life where work challenges dominated my life and became all consuming. Eventually, I had to confront myself to restore some balance to a lifestyle where all else was secondary to work.
Making a living should not be at the expense of making a life. Having a fulfilling career is important for all of us and workplaces are also places for social networking. We all face the challenge of balancing our working lives with our home and social lives. In recent years the boundaries that divided our work and home lives have become blurred .
Technology has ensured that we are hyper-connected all the time. We can feel that we are always on duty as we check work emails and texts on our smartphones. That is fine when we can control our lives . But there are times when we can feel overwhelmed by work to such an extent that it affects our entire lives and relationships. We are unable to switch off.
Working hard is an admirable trait but when work controls our entire lives it becomes a problem. Some of us are perfectionists yet we are all imperfect beings. The pursuit of perfection is really chasing an impossible dream and it can dominate our lives.
The pursuit of perfection is often driven by a fear of failure or rejection. It can mean that we predominantly value ourselves by our achievements . It was Voltaire who once said : Perfect is the enemy of good. There is nothing wrong in striving to be the best but do not strive for an impossible perfect. Striving for perfection can be an addiction which can entrap us. Breaking free from that addiction can allow us to live more balanced lives . Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without- Confucius.
What is your greatest asset? It is your health so learn to prioritise it . While it most certainly is important to like your job and your workplace it is equally important to switch off and to set boundaries. Even today I am trying to practice what I preach but as I get older my personal health seems an even more valuable asset. With age comes( some) wisdom and a realisation that life is for living and not just for working.
On my living room wall there is a poster which says ; Nobody on their deathbed ever said they wished they’d spent more time in the office. This is a daily reminder for me to work hard but also to unplug and switch off so that I can live well.
Work situations and workloads can overburden us to the extent that we suffer hypertension and a range of other symptoms damaging to our health. It is not a sign of personal failure to say ” no” when we cannot cope with an unreasonable workload. Unless, you state your case in such situations there will be no resolution.
Employers now acknowledge the benefits of employee wellbeing and often make available wellbeing courses as a staff support. They now realise that improving employee wellbeing also improves productivity. Maintaining a healthy and happy workforce is in every employer’s interest.
The EU Work Life Balance Directive was passed by the European Parliament in April 2019 and came into force on August 1st 2019. It aims to improve families’ access to family leave and flexible working and a better work-life balance for parents and carers. Member States have three years to comply with the directive.
The benefits of positive mental health are now universally recognised so addressing the causes of stress is in everybody’s interest. It is in your personal interest to maintain mental health as well as physical health as both are key ingredients of happiness. Avoid addictions which imbalance our lives. An addiction to work is no different to any other serious addiction which diminishes our wellbeing and happiness or damages our relationships.
We need to be grateful for what we have while working for what we want. Getting that balance right is your life challenge. The pursuit of happiness is a right and as Aristotle tells us: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. If your work is affecting your general life then you need to correct that imbalance as you are the master of your own destiny.
I leave the final words of wisdom to Mark Twain ; The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why. Think about that!