Balancing Work and Life
How many times have you complained about not having a good work-life balance? The funny thing is, you hardly ever hear anyone complain about having too much life and too little work, making this a rather lopsided “imbalance.”
I’ve mused on this topic often, usually when I’ve overburdened myself with work and left myself insufficient time to enjoy life, and I have a few ideas to share with you that I hope will be valuable on your own work-life journey.
To start, I have a question for you: How often do you drive in the middle of the road—precisely in the middle? Well, not really the middle of the road, but in the center of your lane?
Undoubtedly, you’re a good driver, and your attention never wanders, and you’ve never been distracted by a conversation or a text message, so your answer to my question is, naturally, “always.” You always drive in the middle of your lane.
But let’s examine this a little closer.
Truth be told, you hardly ever drive exactly in the middle. You’re almost always on one side or the other, shifting from being a little too far over to the left to being a little too far over to the right and back again.
Good drivers continuously and smoothly make minute adjustments, often subliminally, to correct their positions. Bad drivers, on the other hand, make wild lurches and swing their cars from side to side.
I’ve come to see work-life balance in the same way.
Just as it’s rare to drive in the middle of the lane, you’re seldom truly perfectly balanced between work and life. Instead, if you’re managing things well, you’re continuously, smoothly, and often subliminally making tiny adjustments to ensure that you’re adequately balanced.
So what else can we learn from good drivers about how to master the work-life balance?
Good drivers know the areas that are dangerous, the places on either side of the lane where it is simply unsafe to drive. On one side, they run the risk of hitting oncoming traffic. On the other side, they run the risk of ending up in a ditch.
More than this, good drivers have two additional lines that they pay attention to; let’s call them the “lines of tolerance.” When they reach one of these two invisible lines, they realize it’s time to take quick corrective action…before it’s too late and they find themselves in the danger zone.
Experienced drivers don’t stress about staying in their lane because they’re subconsciously aware of and responsive to these invisible guiding lines that keep them far from oncoming traffic and the ditch.
Similarly, you needn’t be stressed about your own work-life balance.
The trick is to define your danger zones and lines of tolerance, and simply correct before you get into big trouble.
I suggest that you be very deliberate about defining the lines of tolerance in your life. How many hours do you want to spend with your children, and partner, and hobbies? Is it okay to spend quality time with your family only in the morning or evening? What about your friends? Is once a year enough to see them? And how about your favorite pastimes? Is it sufficient to squeeze in five minutes for them once a week? Or do you want more? Choose your lines, and watch them closely.
Good drivers also concentrate on their driving. Once you’ve deliberately set your lines, periodically examine how you’re doing. Over time, you’ll learn to correct before you get into trouble. As for the good driver, deliberate attention to detail soon becomes second nature. Maintaining balance becomes easy and stress-free.
You can also count on your fellow travelers to help you. How often have you had to flash your lights or honk your horn to warn another driver that their attention is wavering? Or has your partner in the front seat next to you ever given you a gentle warning to return to your lane? Contract with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues to alert you when you’re beyond your lines of tolerance.
Don’t stress if you feel that you’re out of balance. You’re not alone; remember, we’re all at least a little out of balance most of the time. Like the driver, we’re seldom in the exact middle of the lane. Instead, we smoothly glide from one side to the other, finding an overall balance as we stay within our lines of tolerance.
Finally, if you’re ever in doubt about a work-life decision, I recommend that you apply the rearview mirror test.
Imagine you’re at the end of your journey, or at least well into your life’s journey. You glance in the rearview mirror to see the history of your life receding behind you.
I know too many people who have looked back only to be shocked at how tiny the images of their children and loved ones appear. Instead of seeing friends and family occupying retrospective prominence, they are devastated to notice a giant commitment to work obscuring their view.
It’s certainly not my place to tell you where to put your focus, or where to draw your own limits. But I do want to remind you that there will come a time when you can’t go back. The decisions you make today profoundly affect what you’ll see in your own rearview mirror many years from now. And the images will become smaller and smaller as time passes.
Next time you’re contemplating a decision that affects your work-life balance, take a quick look in the mirror. That should help you to get it right.
So drive confidently down the road of life, knowing that you have all the tools you need to create the perfect work-life balance for you!
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Dr. Roddy Carter, MD, has over 30 years of experience working across a range of medical disciplines and corporate settings.
At the height of his successful career, Roddy experienced a personal health and happiness awakening. During this profoundly transformative time, he began applying his deep knowledge of performance neuroscience to his everyday life. He discovered that, in moments of stress, the brain develops intricate psycho-protective adaptations to ensure our short-term survival; however, these adaptations often impose substantial residual limitations, create profound (and often hidden) distress, and prevent us from reaching our innate potential.
Today, Roddy is an executive coach and author dedicated to helping others unlock their full potential throughout their lives by applying compassionate neuroscience and sharing his unique approach to Personal Mastery™.