I've been thinking about this concept of work-life balance a lot over the festive season. I've always struggled with the idea so I thought it was about time I put something down online.
According to Wikipedia Work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) and "lifestyle" (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation). This is related to the idea of lifestyle choice.
My first issue with work-life balance is the idea that they should be seperated into these different aspects as though they can only exist on their own. Work-life balance assumes that "career and ambition" are seperate things to "health, pleasure, leisure, family etc" and that "work" is one thing and that "life" is another.
Excuse me if I don't get this right as I couldn't find exactly where it came from so I'm going by memory.
"I never feel the need to distinguish between work and play, as I'm always doing both"
I like to intepret what he's saying, relating it back to work-life balance as that "work" should be fun, healthy, pleasurable and should at least sometimes involve family. And that "play" should always include some sort of difficulty or challenge, and in fact "play" could actually be your "work" and "work" can be your "play".
I'm not saying that you need to always be working, I'm just saying whatever you are doing should be of great value regardless of whether you call it work or play.
So how do you apply this way of thinking to your life so you can stop battling with this work-life balance thing.
Love your work
First things first, you spend a huge chunk of your life at work so make sure you love what you do!
Most people are too willing to accept a job they don't love, are not passionate about or just plain dislike. People are strange creatures in that they will stay in a job they hate, constantly complain but never take the steps required to fix the problem. It's easy to get stuck in a rut without even realizing it. Go to school, get a job, work for 40 years and then finally enjoy life once you retire. That's a 40 year rut right there, by the time retirement comes some of the best years are gone so you might as well spend those doing something you love.
But just to be clear, there is still work to be done and there will still be things you have to do that you don't like doing. For me it's sales and marketing but without it my work is pointless.
Don't accept the status quo
People will say you just need to accept that work is something we have to do and is not enjoyable. That's just not true, there are probably hundreds of examples all around you of people who love their work. Look out for these people, you might know them personally or just know of them. Study what they do and ask them questions if you can. Avoid people who hate their jobs and are constantly complaining about work (or at least avoid conversations with them about work).
Stay off the "earn more, spend more" treadmill
The more you earn, the more you tend to spend. Personally I've been through a few cycles of different earnings since I started my career and my journey to being self employed. Early in my career I didn't earn much as a junior developer. I slowly worked my way up the ladder until I was earning a lot more. As I earnt more I just started spending more. A nicer car, a nicer house (and a much bigger mortgage), nicer clothes, more extravagant holidays.
But since I've started my own businesses there have been a few leaner years. Creating a software business requires a lot of upfront expenses and "unpaid" work with no guarantee that it will result in any real income. During these years I've cut back a bit in spending, and you know what? they've been the best years of my life by far! it doesn't even compare. Now I know that it's not the money and the things I can buy that make me happy. It's the challenges, the autonomy and the enjoyment of the work that I love. Most days, I get to chose how I spend my time. For me having the freedom of my time is better than anything money could buy.
Involve the family
Business used to be a family affair where sons and daughters worked with mothers and fathers. Finding time to spend with the family was never an issue. In many non-westernized cultures it is still that way. Small businesses in many Asian countries still involve entire families. If you've travelled around Asia you'll know what I mean, kids alongside their parents in shops and restaurants, grandparents out the back helping with the kids or the business. Involving family in your work or your business is a great way to improve both your working and family life.
It's a journey not a destination
Don't get hung up on the end result of having your "dream" job. You can't just all of a sudden go from having a job you hate to a job you love. Half the fun and the challenge is getting from A to B. You'll make plenty of mistakes along the way but that's just part of it. It takes planning, time and a lot of effort to create yourself a life where you no longer have to battle with work-life balance.
Always have a backup plan
As much as it's risky to start your own business, I've never put myself in the position where I may not be able to pay the bills. I've always kept enough reliable "paid" work going alongside my own businesses. Loving what you do is awesome, but I'd never advise anyone to throw in a job without a clear plan to generate enough money to pay the bills and feed the family. And always have a backup plan.
Here's a summary of what you can do to move towards a more balanced life.
- Learn from those who love thier work.
- Don't listen to those who say it's not possible.
- Don't rush in and quit your job without a plan. Start part time.
- Cut down your spending on things that you don't need. Avoid the "earn more, spend more" trap.
- Enjoy the process, it's ok that it takes time to get where you want to be.
- Accept that there will always be some things you have to do that you don't like.
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