American culture does not promote work/life balance, especially in this age of being plugged into technology 24/7. The norm seems to be an endless run on “the gerbil wheel of life”—a never ending cycle of responsibilities at work and home. Leisure activities like hobbies and self-care practices such as exercise are often moved to the bottom of the priority list–frequently tended to very little or not at all.
A few years ago, a lovely French woman sought therapy with me. Her presenting issue? The stress of the American culture, which leaves little time for rest or relaxation. Was this woman simply lazy or underachieving? No. She was a doctoral-level professor and published author who was ambitious and hard working. I worked with her on creating work/life balance, something she never had to do in a European culture that embraces more time for holidays, siestas, connecting with friends and mindfully appreciating the pleasures of the senses through food, art and music.
I was reminded of my own experience about 10 years earlier, when I sought career counseling. I was working as a therapist in private practice, but dreamed of creating a larger, group practice. My husband and I also wanted to start a family and I was confused about how to achieve both my personal and professional dreams. My counselor, Arlene Hirsch, said, “You must always plan your career in the context of your life, not the other way around.” She was so good, I never needed to see her again!
We must create a work life that will promote and support our LIFE life. For many, that entails doing work that is aligned with your talents and strengths and also meaningful on a deeper level. Choose work that feeds your soul, rather than robs you of it.
We must also create a lifestyle and schedule that promotes healthy balance. I named my group practice “Urban Balance,” because I wanted it to promote work/life balance in my own life as well as the lives of my staff and clients. I wanted to earn a living when I was not directly seeing clients, so that I could be at home with my children before and after school (this has come to fruition.)
I frequently lecture on work/life balance and recommend the following:
- Make sure your profession is one that fuels you in more ways than just financially. Seek work that fills your cup, rather than only tapping your resources of time and energy. See a therapist or career counselor if you need to recreate your career.
- Know that healthy work/life balance is possible. Don’t enable employers to exploit you, which they will if you allow them. Use assertive communication to ask for what you need and set healthy boundaries. Value yourself and be willing to leave a job that does not value your health. Create a vision board that exemplifies your ideal situation.
- Be creative and think outside of the box on how you could have more work/life balance. Could you work from home a couple days a week? Could shorten your commute by getting a job closer to home? Could you maximize your leisure time by reading on the train rather than stressing in gridlocked traffic? Could you work for yourself? Anything is possible if you believe in it.
- Set limits with technology. Turn off your phone during mealtimes and when you are sleeping. Get vacation back-up so that you are completely untethered while away. Check your emails only at certain points of the day. Set limits with your employer and/or yourself about when you will respond to work emails. Check Facebook and other social media once a day or less.
- Prioritize self-care. Push nutrition, exercise, rest and leisure activities to the top of your priority list. These activities reboot the mind and body and you will find you are far more successful and productive at work when you take care of yourself first.
If you do not establish healthy work/life balance, you will become exhausted and depleted, compromising your physical, emotional and relational health. Care enough about yourself to create a healthy lifestyle and be a part of a cultural shift towards wellness.