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We’ve all heard the phrase “work-life balance”. It sounds wonderful, the ability to balance your life with your work and be happy, right? That’s what it means, I think. Here’s the problem. It’s a little out of your hands. Okay sure, you can control your life. You can dedicate so many hours of your free time to working your passions. You can allot a certain amount for your spouse, your children, your best friend, your drinking buddies, your sports teams, cleaning your house, cooking dinner…..whoa – we barely scraped the surface here, but good luck balancing that!
But here’s the truth. You can’t (always) control work. If you work for a boss, they control the hours you’re in the office/shop/etc. You can try to control the minutes leading up to being in there – waking earlier, moving closer, ensuring you enjoy your job, etc. But the hours you’re there? They belong to the people who write your paycheck.
Work for yourself? It’s actually worse. You think you own your hours. You don’t. Your customers and clients do. They dictate the days, the hours, the rush to get things done and the stress of finding new ones. You can try to dictate those hours, but I’m not sure I’ve met a self-employed individual who didn’t feel the anxiety of a client email sitting in the inbox too long.
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How do you find work-life balance?
The short answer is, you can’t. It’s a made up construct by society to make you feel like you have control over your life. It states that you must resort to time blocking (don’t forget to buy a wall calendar), and schedule books (the bigger the better). It says you need to make income equal to the amount of time you get to spend with your family so you can then spend it on keeping them alive – you know; food, mortgage, the white picket fence so you can live the American dream, etc.
Do you see the pattern? Work-life balance is the beautiful dream we’re sold to buy more things. They are selling us the illusion of balance, and we are buying it up – literally.
What’s the reality?
The reality is, the people who claim to have it – don’t. What they actually have is a ‘balancing act’ that favors life. When that happens, you have more time, more money and more love for life and its easy to think “I’ve done it! I’ve achieved work-life balance”! But you haven’t, you’ve simply denied the construct of work-life balance in favor of one or the other.
Another reality check is the people who say “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
I get it. I do, I’ve been there. My first business was an etsy shop selling digital party supplies and I was blissfully in heaven. Looking back, I worked 14 hours a day to make a measly $100 (if I was lucky) and then half that went to taxes. Sure it was fun. But I was a college student living at home. The real world full of bills and reality checks hadn’t caught up to me yet.
The truth of that statement is, there is always a part of the system that feels like work. It’s another unachievable line fed to us to make us feel in control of something. Work is not a bad thing. It makes us better people. The harsh truth is, even if our creative work is our work, there will always be parts we don’t enjoy as much as the creating. Maybe it’s bookkeeping, or web design, or customer service. Whatever it is, work shouldn’t be a word with a negative connotation.
Work is the reality of life, remove the stigma and you’ll never feel the pain of ‘Monday’ again.
The crazy part is, it goes even deeper than that. People categorize our existence into two lists: work and life. Everything we do falls into one of those two categories. Not only does the work bucket tend to be full of resentment and stigma – the life category doesn’t. Here’s where it gets interesting. Why not?
Life is full of trials and tribulations. Friends who stab you in the back, significant others who leave, family members who die. Hobbies we don’t have time for, natural phenomena that destroy whole towns- the list goes on! There’s a massive range of ups and downs. But why does ALL of it gets thrown into the same bucket, and still considered positive? If anything, work is where we can hide away from all of that reality and should be considered our safe place!
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How boundaries can change our lives
The secret to finding happiness in your LIFE (because yes, work does fall into the category of your life) – are boundaries not balance. Balance is giving equal time to work to family to sleep to hobbies etc. Boundaries mean you don’t push too far in one direction.
Boundaries are where you put up parameters around each segment, think of these as putting your core values into action. Instead of chasing the idea of a balance, you chase the idea of enjoying your life from all angles – not just one (IE: life vs work).
And guess what. Boundaries give you time for the things you enjoy. They don’t leave you stressed about what you’re not achieving because simply living is achieving.
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How to create boundaries instead of work-life balance
Boundaries start by being 100% present in your life. No matter what is going on, where you are and what you’re doing. Show up. Do your best, make the most of the experience (good or bad) and move onto the next when you’re ready. Whether its work, family, fun or anything in between.
These boundaries are telling external forces “sorry, not now because I am currently doing XYZ”. How you incorporate this boundary is up to you. You could separate work from personal entirely, or keep them together if that’s more comfortable (IE: leave work early to go to your child’s school play, but come back later to complete work).
Whichever works better for you, remember, the key is being present in that moment. Not dreaming of the next, not reminiscing for the past. Stop dragging your feet, or stressing yourself over the time.
Side effects may include increased concentration, focus, motivation, and productivity. Use at your own risk.
There will be a HUGE learning curve here. This will not happen overnight. Fighting the urge to ‘not want to be at work’ will take practice. But after some time it may open your eyes to the situation. If you are truly dragging your feet at work – maybe its time to start looking for one you don’t feel that emotional cliff with. Be open to the universe guiding you – not in a silly way, simply by opening your mind to listening to what your heart has been trying to tell you.
You may be happily surprised at the results.