- Monday, 7 May 2018

Work-Life Imbalance

I'm on a train, I'm feeling sentimental, I'm blocking out the noises of the world in favour of my own carefully curated soundtrack, the sun is streaming in through the window as the fields rush past and I'm writing a blog post.

Déja vû? Just a little.

This is how my blog really got going. When I was at uni, having a less-than-fantastic time, trundling up to and back down from the sanctuary that was (is) Edinburgh, train journeys provided an uninterrupted chunk of time in which I could sit, write, enjoy the passing scenery and just be. In theory, the idea was to do uni work on these journeys - I did, but only so that I could then clear the rest of the journey to write.

Lately, I haven't written on here in months. Or rather, I've written but I haven't published anything. This particular train journey is taking me back down to Cardiff after a well-timed bank holiday weekend, giving me a break I don't think I have ever appreciated quite so much.

I saw a little gem of wisdom earlier today on my Twitter feed, from the Dalai Lama: "I often ask myself what is the purpose of our lives and I conclude that life's purpose is to be happy. We have no guarantee what will happen in the future, but we live in hope. That's what keeps us going."

It brought home a realisation that has been lurking below the surface for quite a long time now, which is that if something is not bringing you joy, do something about it. Change it, get rid of it, leave it behind, turn it into something new - just do something about it. Nothing ever came of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result to change. Taking a purely scientific approach, if an experiment isn't giving you the results you need, change the process.

To cut out the vague, somewhat cryptic, universally applicable waffle, in my case this relates to work-life balance. I've always been prone to diving into things head first, giving 200% (no thank you to any "that's impossible" comments (Mum), I know) and inevitably burning the candle at both ends. I don't exactly do things by halves; it's all or nothing.

In my life, this has worked out pretty okay - I go all in and usually that means doing well at something. When it comes to the world of work, however, there is (usually) no final exam to prepare for that tells you it's been worth it, there's no milestone to circle in your calendar marking the point when you can finally take your foot off the accelerator for a bit, there's no concrete measure of how much return you get for the effort you put in (maybe in theory salaries would be this concrete measure...).

This might (and probably does) seem like a really obvious realisation, but it has taken until recently for my brain to actually accept it. It's not in my nature to moderate how much time or effort I put into things, and I know my tendency is to get too invested. The world of work is an ongoing process with no end point (and please let's not talk about retirement *just* yet), so you have to be a bit more measured in your approach.

Plus, if we divide our energy more kindly between ourselves and our work and maintain a balance, we'll be much more productive when we are working. It's genuinely a win-win for all involved.

What has made the imbalance really obvious for me is that I am no longer doing the things I enjoy. I'm putting so much of myself into the working hours of my day that when I come home, I have neither the energy nor the inclination to write/doodle/play music/create/meditate/do yoga/bake/reply to friends etc. I'll cook because I need to and because it's my catharsis, but pretty much everything else has fallen by the wayside purely because I'm giving far too much to work and not keeping enough just for me.

All the way through school, if I ever decided that instead of going above and beyond, I would just do what I needed to and no more, I was instantly questioned and told off, and I think this is the mentality that has become ingrained and stuck with me. I knew at the time that this was a particularly unhelpful approach for teachers to take, but they never seemed to realise, assuming that your 150% is just your standard modus operandi. Now though, I'm saying no thanks and letting go of that belief because it's really not being particularly helpful.

I think this is a really common problem among school-leavers and graduates in particular, because of the adjustment from 24/7 work whilst in education to set (ish) hours of work in the workplace. In education, doing loads of work pays off and you can see the benefit of it in grades and exam marks, but it's not sustainable and it's not designed to be; school, college, university - they all last for a set amount of time. Once that approach becomes your norm, though, it's tricky to adjust it, but that's exactly what we have to do.

For pretty much the first time since we started school as teeny tots, our evening and weekends are completely, entirely, finally our own - we ought to be enjoying them!

There's something that isn't bringing me joy, so I'm doing something about it. My work-life balance needs attention; does yours?

Work-Life Imbalance, www.imogenmolly.co.uk

2 comments:

  1. Entering the world of work is daunting and often difficult, especially for those going into their first job. What you say is so true but I would add a very small note of caution. Whilst it is imperative that you have time to enjoy your life, at this stage w/e should definitely be your own, as should evenings, remember that you do need to establish yourself in the world of work as well. This does not and must not involve sacrificing your life for work but finding a way to prove your competence.
    You are new to this next chapter of your life, you have another 40 years or so of work to look forward to (yes, it is generally great!). It takes time and experience before you can truly find an equilibrium that works for you. Importantly remember to enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy.

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    1. Thank you Dad, I appreciate your advice and words of wisdom, and assure you I'm well aware of needing to prove myself!! That's the main reason for this post - a lot of people (myself included) are almost too aware of the need to prove ourselves, to the point that we feel we need to work harder than those around us in order to be treated the same. I think if you enjoy what you do, there will generally be an equilibrium by default because you enjoy it - it's when you don't enjoy it and you still feel you have to consistently go above and beyond that problems arise.

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