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Work Life Balance – It Isn’t About Balance

Balancing poses in my yoga practice are the most difficult for me. I’ve learned that the harder I try to balance myself, the more I lose my balance. I’ve learned, from good yoga teachers over the years, that instead of trying to balance to: “Relax. Stop judging. Stop ‘trying.’ Breathe. Sometimes you’ll find the balance; sometimes you won’t. Keep practicing.”

We talk about work-life balance these days as if it is something to be achieved like running a marathon, making a sale or achieving a goal. Then when we fall short of our expectations we are critical of ourselves for a lack of balance in our life. I’ve met people who leave their offices religiously at 4:30 every day, only to go home to a life that is terribly out of balance. I’ve also met people who will stay at work until 10 some nights and actually live in a balanced way. Balance in life, like balance in a yoga posture, isn’t really about balance at all. You can’t achieve balance, because balance is not a destination. It’s a method of travel. Work-life balance is, instead, about being centered and living fully.

Keep in mind three principles that will help you find balance.

  • Sort out what’s work and what is life. Become clear about what work is and what life is, and make sure you have this sorted out. Even if work is tremendously fulfilling, it isn’t my life. In the periods in my life when I’ve been a workaholic, I had this confused. My work was my life. Work defined me as a person, so I had to work harder and harder in order to be a good person. I know today that my work is an expression of my life, but it is not the totality of my life. While work remains important and is fulfilling, it no longer defines me. My life is much bigger than my work. I remind myself these days that when I’m away from work, my life is time with my family, friends, community, being in nature, or helping others. I’ve learned that although work is critical to my development, when I define myself by my work, I am partially avoiding life. That part I need to say no to, walk away from, and learn how to be in life.
  • Clarify your Values. The antidote to exhaustion is not rest. The antidote to exhaustion is alignment and wholeheartedness. In my Authentic Leadership workshops, I have participants reflect upon their future and what matters most to them. I ask them to think about their relationships, health, contributions to others, expression of their talents, and the time they set aside for inner growth. This is an excellent exercise for you, too. From your reflections, list the top five values in your life. Then rate your life in each area on a scale from 1-10. Be honest. This is your list, not anyone else’s. At the beginning of each week, make sure that you schedule time in your day-planner to attend to each of these values. Balance is about living in alignment with your values. Feeling out of balance indicates that energy is being drained from you by living your life according to someone else’s conditions. Carve out time on a weekly basis for your soul’s desires. A key for living fully is to say “no” to the wrong opportunities.
  • Develop a positive relationship with the present moment. Being rushed, impatient, frustrated, or stressed are indicators that you are not present. You are either speeding forward or thinking about the past, without concentrating on being here now. Living fully is about fully living in the present. Next time you are stressed with a project, impatiently waiting in line, or frustrated with a co-worker, heed the guidance of my yoga teacher and take a few deep breaths to connect with yourself. Look around and see how you can be present with the world around you. Notice the beauty of a flower or plant nearby. Smile at the person ahead of you in the checkout line. Take time to really listen without judging the person you are frustrated with. It’s quite amazing how balanced you can feel in the midst of perceived pressure if you remember to stop and be here now. The best present you can give anyone is to be fully present in the present.
  • Stop trying to get more balance in your life, and enjoy your day. Stress isn’t in the task at hand or from the demands of others. Stress is in my head. Being stressed is a choice. And I’m not going to wait for tomorrow to enjoy myself. If I can’t enjoy myself today it’s not going to get any better when I’m on a vacation or retired. I can enjoy each task and stay relaxed in midst of the tasks. There is no stress except what I chose to be stressed about. There is only work to be done. Enjoy the precious moments that are in front of you right now. None of us know how many of these moments we have left. While we can plan for the future, life is lived in the now. Life will never be experienced tomorrow or yesterday. Life is what is going on at this moment. Life happens. Enjoy it.