Photo by Magnet Me on Unsplash
Don’t use work as the barometer for ‘worth’.
As a young, eager to impress, marketing executive in my early twenties, I recall my surprise when a senior manager announced he has never worked on a Sunday and never intends to.
We were working on a major project at the time and our CEO asked us all to work over the weekend. I, raised by a workaholic and unconsciously developing a soon to be lifelong habit of using my achievements (or lack of) to define my self-worth, jumped at the request. Cancelling a long-planned family Sunday lunch seemed acceptable, and I willingly set off bright and early that Saturday morning for a weekend of work. Offering not only my time, but a cheerful disposition for all to access.
Fast forward by 20-plus years and I am hard pushed to disagree with that very manager that seemed to have his priorities misaligned.
Rightly or wrongly, work is the one ‘relationship’ I have not struggled with too much. Though, ironically, I did not make a roaring success of my career. My personality at work is quite different to that shown in other aspects of my life. My sensitivities tone down; I am more willing to compromise, and expectations of others are lower. Basically, the more attractive aspects of my character come out more freely in a work environment than others.
The negative part is, I base a lot on my work achievements or lack of. Work defines me. I judge myself and others on attitude and dedication to work. Something I did not realise I was doing until recently. Coming from a family of hard workers, I thought everyone used work as barometer to Success! Don’t they?
In my late 40s, I realized I had little to show for something that had consumed almost every hour of my every day. Materialistically, if I was thinking this from the deck of my 50-meter yacht in the Caribbean, things might have been different. But the epiphany arrived on a winter’s morning, gazing out the window of my rented basement studio flat. Emotionally, I felt harder on myself than ever before.
Whilst in this haze of enlightenment, I typed up a list of ‘wants’ evolving into a colourful pie chart. Each segment brightly radiated what I lacked and so wanted in my life. Surprisingly, the wants were nothing spectacular, I did not want to tour the moon, summit Mt Everest, or buy a holiday home. I wanted what I realised many people already have: a healthy relationship, stronger connections with family and friends, physical fitness, spiritual well-being, a satisfying job, to name but a few. What became apparent was work was not the problem, I was! My life was completely out of balance with work dominating it. To my astonishment, the energy and time I put towards work was not being asked of me or even benefiting anyone.
I needed to bring in some balance! I no longer wanted to be the person who only talks work and uses that as the sole measure to understand herself and others.
I saw a quote today in the Financial Times that read, “The Covid-19 crisis has shown us there is more to life than money”. Gus O’Donnell, A former UK cabinet secretary.
Here are my top 5 tips to bring in more balance to your life:
#1) Log your time
My new pie chart highlighted where and how my time was being spent. It showed days in the office being followed up with evenings on my laptop finishing bit and pieces of work. Evening calls filled with work politics and gossip.
To introduce the change, I became frustratingly regimented. Measuring exercise, meals, water consumption and sleep activity. A bore to family and friends, no doubt. But it was not long before my evenings got enjoyable bursts of soulful time in the kitchen. I blessed the park with my attempts of a brisk walk progressing to a slow jog, my new fitness watch encouraging me to step it up!
#2) If you still need ways to define yourself, use grounding barometers
Whether it be exercise, strong relationships, giving back to society or following your passion, I highly recommended these over something like work.
If you are not sure where to start, I recommend exercise. Anyone that has known me all my life will laugh at me saying this, as I fought doing any sort of exercise my entire life. What I discovered is, it is an easy barometer, a lot kinder, and I guarantee you the ‘feel-good factor’. Not only from the dopamine effect, but the sense of accomplishment. Doing the couch to 5km in 8 weeks made me feel like a superhero throughout the set period. Work has nothing on me now I can run a 5km ‘marathon’ is 40 minutes.
#3) Surround yourself with those that matter and, better still, make you feel better about yourself
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is realising who really does matter to us. I cannot believe how much time I used to spend with people and activities I did not enjoy. Life is too short, surround yourself with who you want to be with!
#4) Switch off from work and technology for at least one day a week
I have one day off a week, from work and technology. I do not check my blog, my emails or talk about work. It is my day to relax, reflect, love and be grateful. Not only is this benefiting my health and well-being, but the energy also I can offer to all the aspects of my life (including work) is so much more impressive than before.
#5) Be kind to yourself
I know we hear it all the time, but it is true, no one cares as much about you, your achievements or lack of as you. So why not be kind to yourself?
It is a slow, but fulfilling process. Make small changes and eventually you change the entire picture.
I have noted two significant changes so far: Time with family and friends; I am so much more present. They also seem grateful for the exclusion of mundane work predicaments. And secondly my sleep quality. With my days becoming fuller and more balanced (physically, mentally and emotionally) I am noticing my sleep has improved enormously.
Work still matters to me. A childhood teaching that will most likely stay with me forever. But now with a more balanced scorecard. My original questions that were solely around work (did I work hard enough? Is my work perfect? What if I was fired?) are now: have I spent quality time with loved ones; have I found enjoyable ways to get 150 minutes of moderate-intense exercise weekly; What nourishing delight shall I whip up in the kitchen; and have I shown my gratitude for this newfound love called balance, to name but a few.