A Few Thoughts on Work-Life Balance
Context and Rationale
When people talk about work-life balance, they usually do so in the context of some particular work opportunity, usually for some big-shot company that promotes it as part of its philosophy. However, the one thing I've learned through this kind of scenarios is that they have very little resemblance to reality, while people who work these jobs that have work-life balance in their descriptions tend to be so far out-of-touch that the mere concept of work-life balance is an abstract concept to them.
Definition and Relationship with Meaningful Work
So, what is this work-life balance in practice? Well, in my experience it is have a very flexible schedule and being able to do your work, while at the same time doing the things you love (what is referred to as "living"), without any guilt or stress. Although this is theoretically possible in a large company, I've yet to see that manifest. In a smaller company it seems more possible, though if the company is a start-up, it's pretty much out of the question. The reason is simple: work-life balance requires a lot of work and a different kind of thinking (some would call it a certain mindset), which is quite rare and not that popular among modern companies (unless they are super progressive and actually care about their employees).
Work-life balance is what the new generation calls "meaningful work" because at its essence, a work has to be balanced (and meaningful to a great extent), if it can be part of the work-life balance equation. If your work is all about maximizing the bottom line, it's a pretty straight-forward optimization that takes place behind the scenes, and you can be certain that this optimization doesn't care about anything that doesn't directly translate to cash at the end of the process. That's not to say that you have to work for an NPO in order to have work-life balance, though this may be the optimal option for some people. What is meaningful is different for each person though, so we really need to do some soul-searching before we can honestly answer that question and then proceed to find it in the work market. I say "work market" purposefully, as this kind of working arrangement may not involve a job, in the traditional sense, in many cases. The reason is that the 9-5 work rhythm is rarely conducive to a balanced work life, as it rarely involves a 40-hour week, while some kinds of work are just not meant for that many hours to start with.
Predictors of Work-Life Balance in Practice
For me, one thing that is a good predictor for work-life balance is the need for vacation time. I'm not referring to the time allocated to vacation but how much I need vacation. If I count the days to the next bank holiday or my scheduled break, then work-life balance isn't there. If on the other hand I don't care about whether I go for a vacation, be it a long weekend or a 2-week trip somewhere, then it's more likely that I'm experiencing work-life balance.
Another predictor is whether I can sleep well during the week, something quite common for the past few months. Stress is usually the underlying factor of insomnia and more often than not, it stems from some imbalance. This imbalance could be due to work. The funny thing is that less stressed I am about my work, the better the quality of the work, so there is really no practical reason to be stressed. However, stress is not rational, just like any other imbalance we experience in our society.
Getting a Better Work-Life Balance
So, what can one do to get a better work-life balance? First of all, there is introspection, particularly through meditation. That can help more than people give it credit for, since it help us realign ourselves with our essence and our core values. Also, finding ways to express creativity and derive joy from life can go a long way in getting a better work-life balance. After all, it's not just having enough time for life, but also having something worthwhile to do in that time. Finally, we can opt for a kind of work that expresses us and provides us with the resources we need, instead of focusing on its prestige primarily. What's the point of being a CEO of a company, if this entails an unhealthy work rhythm that can be toxic to other aspects of life in the long run? Besides, the world is full of CEOs nowadays, particularly in tech hubs where start-ups spawn. I doubt if most of them are particularly happy in their lives.
What's work-life balance for you? What points / personal experiences would you add to this topic?
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