It’s 4AM. On a Saturday. And I’m working. Most of the people who care about me tell me I’m crazy, and insist that I go back to bed and get more rest. They try to persuade me that an eight hour day is “normal”, “right”, “healthy”. More than that, they claim, is obsessive and dangerous.
Here’s the thing: I want more than that.
I chose this life, and I love it. That’s not to say that it’s easy. It doesn’t mean I don’t get tired or even downright demoralised sometimes. But this I choose to do.
Wikipedia, that vast web oracle and curator of various versions of truth, describes work-life balance as having enough time to do one’s work and enough time to live one’s life. I don’t agree. A definition like this puts “work” and “life” into two separate boxes, with the implication that the boxes never really touch one another. Each hangs on the opposite side of a giant cosmic scale, and adding to the one detracts from the other. This definition disregards what many have discovered for themselves: to a large extent, we are defined not by what we believe, but by what we do. And that includes what we do for a living.
Why does it matter – if it matters at all?
Focusing too heavily on just one area of one’s life leads to lop-sidedness. We can’t be all we can be if all of our energy goes into only being one aspect of ourselves. We begin to lose ourselves. This is especially true if all of your energy goes into doing a job you don’t enjoy. You have nothing left for yourself, your family or your friends. Your conversations become one-dimensional and social interactions are taxing as you try to find new topics of conversation, but fail for lack of material. It is important to do what you love. On the other hand, if lifestyle is the sum of your daily focus, in time you’ll begin to question the value your life offers, and a sense of emptiness begins to permeate your activities.
How do I achieve a work-life balance?
That’s a good question, and one my illuminative writer colleague and I get asked a lot. Why that should be is sometimes a mystery to us. We’re not exactly Life Coaches. Well, not professionally, at any rate. So why do people ask us this question? I think it’s because of the fact that we love what we do, and we do what we’ve chosen to do. In many ways, we’re living our own personal dream
In my experience, trying to separate “work” from “life” has proved disastrous. There are too many cross-overs from one to the other. But more importantly, I missed out on too many opportunities. Each incredible, fleeting window in the soul of my growing child – an unquantifiable, unpredictable moment of pure privilege for any parent – had to somehow be timed to fall strictly between 5PM and bed time two hours later. Each social media opportunity could only be grasped between 8AM and 5PM SA time – no matter what time the other side of the world woke up. And a lot of things had to be abandoned as unachievable “nice-to-haves”.
What I do now is to work for myself, from home, while home educating my children. I get to spend all day with my kids nearby, and I get to spend all day immersed in my work. I have the flexibility to pick up on every opportunity as it arises, to defuse every problem before it ignites. And I am fulfilled.
I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy, or that every day is fun. In fact, this very week we had to pause and assess whether the late nights, long hours and intermittent pay are really worth it. The conclusion? A resounding yes! We chose to work for ourselves. We chose to hire a fantastic team, and to commit to developing these ladies to their full potential. We chose to home educate our children and give them the best possible start in life. We chose to be present, engaged, involved in the lives we lead. And even though living out that choice can be hard sometimes, it is worth it.
Achieving a balance between what you do for a living and how you live your life probably looks different for you. We have traditional roles and responsibilities to consider. We have conventional jobs in established businesses with “regular” working hours (and the benefit of a “regular” pay cheque!). Sometimes circumstances simply don’t allow all of us the kind of freedom we’d like to live life on our terms. And sometimes it’s a good thing to have a place to go called “work”, a place to leave each day, and come home to a place called “life”. But if we learn to love what we do (even if we can’t always do what we love), and we work at building a rich and meaningful life outside of office hours, we can achieve that balance. The key is to prioritise: we demonstrated what we value by what we sacrifice. My colleague and I have chosen to sacrifice long, lazy days in bed for every other thing on the list of what we want from life. How about you? Choose, today, right now, what you value most highly, and build the rest of your life’s work around that. Balance, then, comes from perspective, from a clear sense of what really matters.
The sun is rising outside my window. The sky has gone from indigo to magenta to pink and is now a pearly orange. It’s a beautiful day, and I got to see it in – doing what I love. For the rest of the day, I plan to watch fantastic movies and read great classics with my kids, while I keep a handle on my web projects. My daughters are learning that if a mom wants work over and above her role as home maker, she can have it. They’re learning that it’s more than okay to find fulfilment in a range of activities. They’re discovering that it’s possible to contribute to the world by giving to your family and the world around us. And they’re learning graphic design and website construction at the same time.
Can we have work –life balance? Yes!
How? By choosing what matters, and boldly facing the consequences of that decision.