To me, the phrase ‘work-life balance’ means that at work you don’t have a life. Unfortunately this is a widely-held view – work is something you have to do to earn money, but while you’re there you have to give up ‘your’ time. An inevitable consequence of believing in work-life balance is the feeling that work is cheating you out of your life.
Hardly be surprising that so many people have little real job satisfaction, when what’s at the back of your mind is next weekend, last holiday, somewhere in the past or future you’d rather be. This is what really cheats you out of life, because there’s no life in the past or the future - past and future are mere thoughts, a second-hand dream about life.
What drives us into these dreams is emotion. Everything we do has an emotional tone, somewhere along a continuum from ‘I hate doing this’ to ‘I love doing this’. Things that we’re passionate about we can hardly be dragged away from, but life – whether at work or at home - is a mixture of things we like doing and things we don’t.
Here’s an analogy: you’re white-water rafting, and you’ve just come through some horrendous rapids. You’re now in calm water, but there’s definitely rapids to come! Life’s like that, whether you’re at work or at home: rapids and calm, and to negotiate the rapids you need presence of mind. What that means, literally, is that your mind is in the present, and being resilient means letting go of all the negative emotions that come with the rapids. Latch on to them and you’ll soon find yourself wishing you were somewhere else.
The inevitable cost of this wishful thinking is resentment and unhappiness when your attention returns to the work on your desk, and you put off until tomorrow whatever you can. Unfortunately it doesn’t just sit there quietly, but continues to gnaw away at you from the bottom of your in-tray: ‘I really must get that done’. Paradoxically, when you do just decide to do it, you often end up wondering what all the fuss was about!
Happy people work best, but happiness is not about making a distinction between work and life. To get the balance in everything we do we need to acquire the art of being here now.