The first time I heard about work-life (im)balance was when one of my friends lost her calm because her approved leaves got cancelled for an ‘urgent’ deployment. She vented out her feelings about how her workplace was sucking the life out of her personal relationships. I didn’t have anything to advise her, so I patiently heard her rant. After she was done, we said goodbye and everything was back to normal again.
Until the day I found myself in a similar situation. My mother was suffering from varicose veins for a long time. I had applied for a few days leaves and a month of remote work for taking care of her after the surgical procedure. Just weeks before that, I got an opportunity to travel for a workshop that I had always wanted to attend. I was caught off guard between my responsibilities towards my family and my professional aspirations.
For days, I kept thinking of ways in which I could have the best of both worlds. I thought of ideas like hiring a full-time nurse to take care of my mother while I attended the workshop. I could check-in regularly and if anything went wrong, I could take the first flight home.
In the end, I gave up the workshop because I decided I couldn’t trade-off my peace of mind (and my mother’s) for a workshop. It’s not the end of the world, I told myself.
After a few months, I read this incredible post on James Clear’s blog. He had written about the Four Burners Theory. The theory says that our life is like a stove with four burners where each burner represents work, family, friends, health.
According to this theory, “to become successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.”
Cut-off, yes! Not juggle. That’s the word most of us find so hard to understand. One can’t be at work, kid’s annual sports day, wife’s brother’s wedding, father’s medical checkup, in one day. What’s even worse is that we begin to blame ourselves for not being a good parent, good leader or a good husband/wife.
Now the question is– should we cut off one burner for the rest of the life or is there a way we can hit a harmony chord?
Evaluate what matters the most
We go through various life stages in our life. When we are young and free of family responsibilities, we can turn on our career burner at full throttle while family burner can be managed even on medium flame. At the onset of our professional career, there are numerous opportunities to learn, grow and prove our caliber. There is a feeling of conquering the world with our talent and wit.
If you are currently at this stage in your life, let nothing bother you. Go all in and do your best! Stay on top of new things coming your way and keep your eyes open for new opportunities.
However, if you’ve already spent a considerable amount of time in the industry, have a family to support, and health has become a major concern, it’s time to push back a little. Allow yourself some time off work, rethink how you want to spend the rest of your life and what kind of relationship you would rather have with your partner/kids.
For instance, if you have a young toddler, you wouldn’t want to miss his/her growing up phase. So invest some time in nurturing a strong parent-child bond.
Similarly, if your health is suffering, would you want to carry on because that next promotion is more important than everything else? No, right? Make your health a priority and consider taking a sabbatical to get back in shape.
Rethink the benefits of investing your time and effort
Not all opportunities will come with a ‘made-for-you’ tag. At times, you would have to think if you have the right skills and knowledge to do justice to the role. Other times, there will be people who would deserve it more than you.
In such situations, understand that doing hard work is not the answer to everything. If you think that just because you can toil for hours, you must be given an opportunity, then you’re wrong. So, consider revising your goal. Think in terms of the number of hours you would have to invest to catch up with others. Is it worth the time and effort? Does it even help you become a better professional?
A relevant example could be jumping on to the opportunity of learning a new programming language. Before you decide to spend hours and months learning it, a better approach would be to rethink how it would help you in the future? Does the new language have some scope? Or, you’re learning just because it’s hot in the market?
Imagine your future self
A lot of people write letters to their younger selves. It’s a way of making peace with their past. In these letters, people write about their mistakes, the wrong decisions they took and the things they could have done differently. Doing this doesn’t change anything- one can’t change their past. But one can prepare for the future.
So here’s my suggestion- write a letter to your future self. Write everything you imagine yourself to be 10 or 20 years from now. Write about what position you hold in your company, how it has impacted your professional career, where you live, what lifestyle changes have you adopted and how you spend your time at work and home.
If the answer doesn’t excite you, then it’s a cue for you to change your methods, aspirations and your plans for the future. If the letter makes you happy, then you are on the right track.
I hope this helps you switch off the right burners.
Even with the above suggestions, there would be times when you wouldn’t be able to achieve work-life balance. And that’s fine. The idea is not to have it all together. Rather, the idea is to learn to make choices and achieve work-life integration. I hope the above suggestions help you make a better decision and switch on the right burners at the right time.