Ever wonder why you can’t get that work life balance right no matter how hard you try?
Just recently I read an article in Forbes.com, which shared research results that showed 75% of most organisations’ workforce is showing signs of overwhelm. “Leaders know that this is a critical problem but feel challenged to do anything about it.”
This struck a chord with me as I might have guessed that same percentage. I worked in sales and recruitment for many years - first as a consultant and later as a trainer and coach. This meant that I had the opportunity to meet with many different people and companies and witnessed firsthand all the challenges they faced at all levels.
Time and time again I heard people talking about finding a better work life balance. Complaints about feeling tired and not having enough time, about constantly feeling stressed with the challenge of bigger and better were all too common.
"In our efforts to ‘cope’, what we don’t realise is that we operate daily in survival mode and then, when our system can’t cope any longer, we either just give up and zone out or crash and burn if we haven’t got out in time."
Many of us have been brought up with the idea of building a ‘career’ and we were taught that we had to climb the ladder and that, if you didn’t work hard enough or if you weren’t hungry for the next level, you were lacking in ambition. Not having a ‘five-year plan’ was career suicide so many made one up to satisfy eager employers.
I saw many people floundering on the career ladder. In the name of progression, people were put in positions they were either not ready for or not suited for. This, in turn, caused a cascade of challenges along the line. The result? Unhappiness, stress, overwhelm, uncertainty and other such emotions. I am sure you will have witnessed this too and none of this is news to you.
Stress is the order of the day and we are taught we need to learn to ‘cope with it’ and ‘live with it’. In our efforts to ‘cope’, what we don’t realise is that we operate daily in survival mode and when our system can’t cope any longer, we either just give up and zone out or crash and burn if we haven’t got out in time. This is not conducive to creating an environment where people are inspired to support each other, show their best side or do things that are adding to the greater good.
In order to ‘cope’, we have resorted to mindfulness, meditation, yoga and other such practices so we can ‘keep sane’ and can continue to do ‘the work’. And these practices are hugely beneficial but in reality, they do not always deal with the core issues we are facing.
THE CORE ISSUES
"Whilst we put our life on hold, time keeps ticking and even when we don’t consciously notice it, our subconscious is aware of all the times when we do not live the life we are meant to be living."
Firstly, what I noticed is that what many of these people and organisations have in common is our values of ‘working hard’ and ‘achieving the best you can achieve’. On the face of it this can only be a good thing, right? Yes, but here’s the rub - underpinning these values are two things that scupper our good intentions: a belief that our achievements are a measure of whether we are ‘good enough’ and a focus that in business ‘money is the bottom line’.
Everything we do is geared towards creating a level of certainty and significance. Certainty and significance are two of our human needs so it stands to reason that we would try to fulfil these needs. However, in all my years of experience working as a coach, focussing on them from a place of fear, a place of lack, isn’t always the best recipe for joyful creation.
Secondly, in order to counteract these values, we believe that, if we were only able to prioritise better, if we were only able to learn to be more efficient, we could then learn how to create a better ‘work life balance’. And that’s where I found another challenge. This term, Work Life Balance, in itself, creates an imbalance.
As a society, we have separated work from life. In effect, what we have subconsciously decided is that, when we are at work, part of our life is on hold - or sometimes even the other way around! Whilst we put our life on hold, time keeps ticking and even when we don’t consciously notice it, our subconscious is aware of all the times when we do not live the life we are meant to be living. It is knocking on our hearts, it is whispering in our ears, it is hurting in our very souls. We hear the call and then we quickly push it away because it is uncomfortable to be confronted with what we already know in our heart of hearts to be true. We are wasting valuable time and energy on that which doesn’t feed us on an emotional and/or spiritual level.
"Our soul understands wisdom and compassion but in the age of overwhelm and a life where we are spending it mostly in our heads, we have forgotten how to access it."
Thirdly we live in the information age - an age that constantly sends us to our heads. We are overwhelmed with data that we need to process. As a result, we are trying to combat our stresses with our intelligence as that is the only way we have learned to operate.
What we forget is that our soul doesn’t understand this kind of intelligence. Our soul understands wisdom and compassion but in the age of overwhelm and a life where we are spending it mostly in our heads, we have forgotten how to access it.
As we struggle, we look to our leaders to solve our problems for us and when they don’t, and might even add to the problem, we blame them. We blame them for giving us too much work. We blame them for not paying us enough. We blame them for passing us by on the promotion list. And whilst we are busy blaming, we forget that it is never our leaders but only ourselves who can ultimately solve our problems for us.
Our biggest problem isn’t our leaders, but our ability to lead ourselves. Our ability to say 'no' when enough is enough. Our ability to stand up for what we know is right in a way that adds rather than detracts. Our ability to see possibilities beyond the dilemma we often find ourselves in. Our ability to love ourselves enough to not accept less than we are worth.
However, we were never taught this. We were taught to trust our leaders, to choose our leaders - no-one told us that we ARE the leaders! Through our fear and overwhelm, we forget that we have choice and that it takes courage and wisdom to make the kind of choices that will make the difference to our lives and through it this world.
"With wisdom comes compassion and with compassion comes a connection back to our humanness."
In my explorations around finding a more meaningful life for myself, I started to understand the key things that influence and sustain us:
I found that, when we put people and purpose rather than money and achievement central to our business, we are capable of creating a more sustainable environment for all. Money and achievement are essential to a business’ survival in today’s world but we need to remind ourselves that they are always the means and never the end.
I found that, rather than looking for a balance between work and life, it is more beneficial for our wellbeing to look at life as a balance between give and receive. When we start to understand that work is part of life, we stop separating ourselves and start looking at what we are prepared to give and open to receive. Of course, life is a compromise, but at some level, we have accepted that it is ok to compromise ourselves - our very existence. In the context of creating a balanced life that is more meaningful, we therefore first need to explore and understand what we are willing and able to contribute and what we need to receive to make that sustainable for us on all levels - financially, emotionally and spiritually.
I found that, when we create space to allow our hearts to come back into alignment, we are more likely to make reliable decisions from a place of wisdom rather than intelligence. With wisdom comes compassion and with compassion comes a connection back to our humanness. We are after, all human beings and not just human doings.
For us to find a sense of balance in our lives, we need to know where we draw the line. In my best-selling book, The Art of Contribution, I share the five components that create the magic of our existence and one of these components is ‘Commit’ - to commit to ourselves and to something bigger than ourselves.
Committing to ourselves means understanding what you will and won’t accept in your life as, how can we truly contribute to this world if we are not able to contribute appropriately to our own lives? When we then also commit to something bigger than us, we are able to leverage ourselves beyond our fears and take a stand when enough is enough.
I don’t know about you, but I want to know that my life matters and that I can have a positive impact on the world and not just exist in it.
Love. Live. Lead.
Ann Skinner is the founder of The Contribution Evolution - a catalyst for authentic living and leadership, creator of The Contributionist - the outlet for her HeArtwork, and author of the best-selling book, The Art of Contribution - a Companion to Living a Meaningful Life. Get your copy HERE.