My not-a-9-to-5 quest was to try and see if there is another way to work, a way that means you aren’t constantly trying to find a “work/life balance”. I really, really, really don’t like that phrase.
I’ve been mulling over my reactions to “work/life balance” for quite some time now. I’m pretty sure that most of you have had to put up with me going on about it.
After lots of revisiting my thoughts, I like to think it comes down to the assumptions that come with the phrase “work/life balance”. Some of them are good and wise, assumptions that we should bear in mind. Other assumptions, however, are downright harmful.
Here are some of the assumptions I have found really damaging:
1) Life is all the stuff that happens when you are not at work.
Say you work 40 hours a week. That’s 2080 hours a year… 86 solid 24 hour days. If your lucky enough to be working from ages 18 – 65 then that will be a total of 4,042 24 hour days of your life that you’ve spent working. Just over 11 years.
That’s quite a lot of time to not consider part of your full and dynamic life.
2) If you work too much it is always a bad thing and it requires ‘balancing’.
One of the best bits of advice that I was given when I started not-9-to-5-ing was “Work when you’re inspired to work”. This makes me so much more productive. Sometimes I’m inspired to work for 14 hours a day* and that day is satisfying and affirming. Life should be satisfying and affirming and if your work is doing that for you, GREAT.
What do we consider ‘work’? We’re conditioned to think that we’re only being productive when we’re sat in front of the computer typing away. But as a freelancer, I need to make sure that I include reading, development, meeting like-minded people, training etc. That keeps me inspired, affirmed and is a productive way to spend my time.
*and yes sometimes I’m only inspired for 1 hour a day… I’m still trying to work out how I manage that.
3) It is good/healthy to disconnect your ‘life’ from your ‘work’ and vica versa.
This is similar to point number one but what I mean with this is that we shouldn’t have to be two separate personas: the ‘life’ me and the ‘work’ me. I’m just me. I am me in all of those areas of life. I may have different responsibilities in those areas of life but my ‘me-ness’ stays the same.
And, for the sake of this much loved balance, here are the good assumptions that I think it’s fair to recognise.
1) You should make time for different things in your life.
We have lots of parts to our lives; be it work, family, hobbies, travel, friends, self development… and we should make sure that all these things are – over the course of our lives – balanced.
There is a time for this, and there is a time for that. Those stretches of time might be days, weeks, months or years. It would be impossible to make sure that everything is equal every day. I know I would be endlessly beating myself up for not achieving ‘balance’ if that were the case.
2) Your job doesn’t define, box or validate you.
Some days this is one I find particularly difficult to get to grips with this, mostly thanks to the “So, what do you do?” question at networking events/dinner parties/any social interaction.
But when I’m having a good day, I remember this: Your job doesn’t define you, you define your job. You bring all that is intrinsically YOU to the role, whatever it is.
The same role done by someone else looks completely different. Your life, your experiences and your personality could make even the most boring job wonderful.
3) Rest is good.
Very good. Good for your body, spirit and mind. If you don’t have rest your body lets you know what it thinks about your lifestyle. My body reminded me to rest by prescribing me a dose of alopecia – as someone who takes pride in their long flowing locks, I got the message rather quickly!
What I’ve decided to settle with is a…
(This wonderful image was made for me by an amazing artist called Faizal Lulat, who I met in Brick Lane Market a few years ago. You should check out his stuff and see what he’s about!)
All of this stuff and activity is life. If I ever start to see something as ‘other to life’ then I know I’ll need to have another long hard look at how I am doing things and why this ‘other to life’ activity has become just that.
So, here’s to a LIFE/LIFE balance. May we all feel happier for it.
The inevitable disclaimer: because I always end up talking myself round in circles!
I am aware that I am developing these thoughts for the context I am in now. No doubt when I am older and with children I will want to revisit this and see if my opinions have changed.
I am also aware I have the flexibility to work doing the things I love (meeting people, supporting community-focused and social-action projects, and exploring Bournemouth in a freelancer-y not-a-9-to-5 kind of way), so my lens probably takes that for granted too. My position could be quite different if I was in a job that I had to have (to afford rent/mortgage/ever increasing cost of living/supporting a family) and that I didn’t necessarily enjoy. However, being the optimist that I am, I would hope that in that situation I could see life in it and the people I was around, even if it wasn’t “living the dream”.
If I HATED my work and the people I happened to be working with, and there was no silver lining or positive spin I could put on the situation, then I would definitely say there has to be something better out there. 11 years is a long chunk of your life to resent.
I’m going to think about this more. In writing this I’ve made a huge list of tangents to go on, books to read and ideas to develop!
What do you think?