We think of our career and self-care as a binary between work and life. We talk about work-life balance like that’s all there is. Work stuff, and life stuff — an even split.
But it’s not 50/50. This is not a two-mode thing where sometimes you live and sometimes you work.
Balance means that the two sides of your equation are matched with consideration to the weight and importance of either side. And when it comes to balancing work and life, a lot of us are doing much more working than living.
Your work should support your life. But it should not BE your life.
A quick challenge on work-life balance
You’ll need a timer and a pen and paper.
Think of the things you do for work, both domestic and to make money. Think of things that you have done in the past seven days that are WORK. Labor of any kind, not just paid work. Set a timer for 60 seconds and make a list of all the work you’ve done in the past week.
Examples: Laundry, going to work, managing your household budget, writing a blog, volunteering, caring for a sick kid…
How many things could you list in 60 seconds? I listed 12.
Now we’re going to do the same thing but this list is things you do just for yourself. Things you enjoy. Things that are for you. Things you have done in the last week that are JUST FOR YOU and nobody else. Sleep doesn’t count because sleep is for survival.
How many did you list for this category? I had 4.
I listed actions I take that are for me. And the hard thing was that I wanted to write things like “take a hot bath” or “do yoga” or “paint” but I haven’t done those in the last week. Even the last month.
So let’s assume, if my ratio is pretty average, we’re doing 3x more work than life.
Is that balance?
I don’t think it is. I think that’s a life that’s 75% work and 25% breaks.
What does work life balance mean?
According to our good friend capitalism, work life balance apparently means balancing as much work as you can into your schedule with enough time to eat and sleep.
I do not enjoy this definition.
Work life balance must take into account your life’s work, which may not be the same work you do to make money. My life’s work is helping creative people unpack their pre-installed capitalist beliefs about value and work and worth, helping them realize that their deep down dream deserves attention and priority, and helping them build the boundaries they need to keep it prioritized.
What’s your life’s work? Can you support your passions within your existing “balance”?
It’s important to not fall into the trap of trying to shoehorn your passion, your life’s work, your deep-down dream around your existing work-life balance without taking the time to evaluate everything on your plate and make sure you have the space, time, and energy in your life for it to take more priority.
Work-Life Balance to Avoid Burnout
Fact: you can burn out doing your life’s work. All work can lead to burnout.
So you have to know what your burnout signals are.
When I’m headed for burnout, I get irritable and snappy, I don’t eat consistently during the day, I have trouble sleeping because I’m thinking about work, and I feel a lot of guilt about how much work I’m getting done (or not getting done).
I still deal with this stuff all the time, because the beliefs installed by society about work and productivity and value are deeply deeply ingrained into all of us. It’s a practice to work through the beliefs that tie us to our work like work is the most important.
Work is not the most important.
YOU are the most important. What you bring to the world is important, and you can’t do that if you’re burned out from working all the time.
How often do we think “Well at least it pays the bills” about a job that leaves us completely drained?
We’re up against a societal belief that we must toil in order to survive, and that rest is a luxury we cannot afford. This is a lie.
What we can’t afford is to work ourselves to death, existing only to pay bills and buy stuff.
Money mindset helps you rethink work-life balance
Remember that you are not a bad person for having or wanting money, and you can create money in your life more easily when you work through your money hangups.
So if you believe that money will come to you simply because that’s your relationship with money, what does that open up for you with regard to this concept of work life balance?
Can you say no to a problem client, raise your rates, or quit a job that’s burning you out? Or can you approach those stressful situations with a different mindset that isn’t tied to money?
Career vs. Self Care
I have a friend who is a very experienced, very well respected attorney. She could essentially have her pick of jobs in law. And she recently came to me and asked if she was betraying her career if she turned down a second interview.
Your career isn’t something you can betray — it’s a choice you make about your life and your work and your priorities. We’re up against societal messages that if a parent chooses to stay home with their kids, they’re giving up their career. Or if a parent chooses to stay put at a career level without pursuing promotions and new opportunities, like my friend, they’re stunting their career.
You can balance career and life. It’s not either-or. But you can also choose one over the other as priorities change.
But if you want to be home with your kids more, your career can reflect that.
That’s what my friend was struggling with. She was choosing to stay in a really good job with really good benefits and a really good boss so she could work from home and enjoy more time with her kids. But the message from society is that if you choose your kids you’re walking away from your career.
No you’re not. She’s not. Even if she quit her job tomorrow and became a full time stay at home mom she would not have thrown away or walked away from her career. Because your career is a choice. Your career is something YOU CREATE, not something that happens to you or is forced upon you.
So right now, she’s CREATING a life that balances her kids and her home life in a different way than it used to, compared to her job. And that’s exactly right for her, in this moment.
Exactly right balance looks different for every single person. It’s up to you to determine which things go where, and in what quantity.
When it comes to self care, it’s a similar thing. We have to CHOOSE our self care and prioritize it. We have to commit, make a promise to ourself, and follow through in order to build trust that we are willing and able to find and maintain that balance.
Otherwise you’ll always be worried that you’ll fall apart, like one of my clients.
Trusting yourself for work-life balance
A recent session with this client led to us talking about self trust, specifically around money. I asked if she trusted herself with money. With a couple of business irons in the fire, she kept finding ways to sabotage and procrastinate, so I dug in a little deeper. Not only does she not trust herself with money, she said she didn’t trust herself at all.
Well, my love, of course you’re not sticking to goals you set, because you don’t even believe yourself when you set them.
By the end of our session she was feeling better and had a plan to make a tiny promise to herself every day and start rebuilding her self trust by following through. But we may never have known that was the problem if we didn’t dig into the reasons she was sabotaging.
In working through this self trust issue about money, she can now show up better in her work as she builds trust in herself to create a business that works for her, as well as for her self in knowing that even when she falters, she will follow through with her promises about self care, work, and anything else in the mix.
Creativity Under Capitalism
It’s time to remind you about my free mini course, Creativity Under Capitalism! This course is quick – three emails in three days – and it’s also going to have an online portal so you can get the info all at once if that’s more your style. In Creativity Under Capitalism, you’ll start unpacking this career vs. self care dichotomy and figure out what the hell you actually need for balance between work, life, play, and rest. Pre-register now so you get the emails when the course goes live in November.
Rethinking work life balance
If you’ve been reading and listening for a while, you know I talk about balancing work, life, play, and rest instead of just work-life balance. So what do I mean by these things?
Work is labor. This is the work you do both vocationally and domestically, including household chores, errands, meal planning, gardening, working for a paycheck, caring for children or relatives, mowing the lawn, helping a friend move, running your own business, etc.
This is the life you are creating, made up of your values, your priorities, your interests and joys, the legacy you want to leave behind, the things that make you who you are. Life is really complex, which is why “work life balance” doesn’t cover everything it needs to cover. Life includes your spiritual practices, your mental and physical health, your creative pursuits (that aren’t work).
As children, play is how we learn. We learn how to interact with others, we learn about our own creativity and interests, we are constantly learning. As adults, this play gets set aside as a relic of childhood, but we need to keep playing.
Play is the stuff you do for fun, that brings you joy and allows your brain to stop thinking about work and worries. Whether it’s Animal Crossing, Sudoku, Dance Dance Revolution, talking to your plants, chatting with a friend, being creative and artistic without a productive end goal, play is necessary for your mind to relax and be occupied with something that isn’t stressful.
Rest encompasses the truly restorative things you do to rest, relax, and recover. Taking a bath, having a bedtime ritual, getting enough sleep, taking time off without guilt, etc. If you’re laying down and stressing out with guilt over not being productive… you’re not resting. Rest is a practice.
Delegate. Let something go. Schedule more breaks. Take a hot bath. You deserve real work life balance.
Listen and subscribe
This blog is a companion to Episode 27 of Run Like Hell Toward Happy, entitled, “The Career vs. Self Care Dichotomy.” Check it out on your favorite podcast platform and please subscribe!