Is Work-Life Balance Achievable?
Many people come for therapy because they notice their lives are getting out of balance. They feel stressed about work, and their personal relationships start to suffer.
I understand when my patients complain of grueling hours, cutthroat competition, and the sacrifice of personal and family time. Today's competitive culture forces many people to confront a real-life conflict between personal and professional goals, productivity versus pleasure, work life versus family time.
Achieving a healthy work-life balance means becoming more aware of the choices and tradeoffs you are willing to make to get ahead. It means knowing what is important to you and what you are willing to sacrifice for added income or prestige. It means acknowledging your particular strengths and weaknesses and not trying to fit into a workplace culture that doesn't suit your disposition. It means making work a place where you feel recognized and valued and can manage relationships successfully, and acknowledging when a work environment is negatively impacting your life.
Here are a few things to think about when you face work-life conflicts:
• Don't let inertia set in. If you feel stressed in a way that is affecting your mood, keeping you up at night, or causing conflict in your marriage or with other family members, then it is time to do something about it. Focus first on your relationships at work- with a boss, colleague or even an assistant -- to better understand if there is underlying tension. Strained work relationships can undermine self-esteem and impede productivity, but they also increase tension at home. If you notice work relationships are a frequent source of conflict it's time to address them before the problem gets worse.
• Re-set priorities at different stages of life. Tradeoffs change at different stages of life, so at each major life event -- marriage, children, elderly parents, illness, death of a loved one, or any traumatic event -- take a pause. Ask yourself if more money or added prestige is worth missing important life events. Think in terms of short- and long-range goals and responsibilities. What do you want or need to achieve today? Where do you want to be 5 years from now? Think of each decision as a tradeoff between present and future goals and personal and professional commitments.
• Talk to someone. It's vital to remember that the simple act of talking to someone can bring relief and improvement in your lifestyle and mental health. People often seek counsel because they experience symptoms of distress, but are unsure of the cause. Marital problems may be caused by work conflict and vice versa. By talking it through will you gain insight into the source of the conflict. Find someone you trust -- a mentor, a counselor, friend or family member. Seek support if you feel that something is off.
• Be realistic about how you manage stress. Not everyone is the same when it comes to their ability to tolerate and cope with stressful events and a demanding work environment. Some people thrive on the competition and pressure, but it's not for everyone. Don't feel the pressure to conform to someone else's way of working unless you are prepared. As Socrates said: "Know thyself."
• Examine what success really means to you. Does success mean a large bank account, the acquisition of skill or expertise or being of service to others? Make sure you define success for yourself, not others. You don't want to look back on the sacrifices you made and ask: "Is that all there is?" Make sure that your definition of success is your own.
The bottom line? Don't feel pressure to conform. Listen to the signs of stress and take a step back and evaluate your priorities. Don't be afraid to make a change that reflects your individuality and needs.