Steven Lake examines the pressures of a multi-tasking world and how we can fight back to save our relationships.
Do you know anyone who has a balanced life? I don’t. And what is a balanced life anyway?
In today’s world, we city folk are not constrained by night and day, the seasons, or even the clock. Graveyard shifts, overtime, management expectations, and work from home means that we can work any time and any place.
We conduct business from the cell phone while driving to work, eating lunch, and on the way home. A laptop means the office is with us 24/7, always there and calling like the sirens calling Jason and the Argonauts – waiting to wreck us on the rocks of false promises.
It is not only a matter of work, which we do now more than ever, but of constant stimulation. We never get to rest and recuperate. Once work is done, it is either time for TV or back to the computer. We even eat while watching TV. In some homes the TV is the guest who never leaves. It is on from morning until bedtime, even if no one is watching. Noise, noise, noise.
Within the last ten years the computer has surpassed TV as the main object of distraction in many homes. Whether it is pornography (the biggest dollar making business on the internet), games, entertainment, or research, the computer and TV stimulate us into disconnection with our self, friends, family, and our partner. Where is the balance?
It gets worse. We have smart phones, tablets and phablets. An older trend that I still see is having a wireless cell phone ear appliance glued to one side of the head or the other. I can now feel hooked into the outer world without removing phone from pocket.
There seems to be an obsessive need to feel connected. We know something is missing and we are trying desperately to fill that hole. The problem is that we are filling the hole with air time or texts, and they have little or no substance. We are losing time and gaining little in return.
The question then becomes, how can we have our life in balance if the underlying structure, our relationship to ourselves, our soul, is so bereft of substance? We can’t. That is why we search endlessly to acquire the newest technology or gadget to distract ourselves from the hollowness of our lives.
The gurus on work life balance say pretty much the same thing on overcoming this problem.
- Set priorities by defining what is truly important,
- do work that you like,
- take time off to treat yourself,
- eat healthy foods,
- have supportive friends and family, and
- have a spiritual practice.
This is all well and good. Unfortunately, society and producers of distracting products, do not want us to truly take care of ourselves. They want our time and money in exchange for work and distraction.
Technology has become the new opiate for the masses. If anyone doubts the power of computer games or flashing lights think about VLTs (video lottery terminal). Of all addictions, gambling and specifically gambling associated to VLTs, has the longest withdrawal period – longer than alcohol, cocaine or heroin.
Like any change, the commitment to a balanced life will take – awareness. Many men I know think that working ridiculously long hours is the norm – what is expected of them (and it may indeed be expected). It is a sign of our responsibility, concern for our family, and a badge of courage. It is what a man does in this new age (unfortunately, many women face these same pressures).
If you want to gain back your life and re-define what it means to be a healthy person, you need a commitment to change. Then, identifying what works and what doesn’t. Follow this with win-able plans for change. Then, start the change process. Finally, monitor, and adapt or modify as needed.
And we musn’t forget to avoid the old paradigm of male problem solving – doing it on our own, without help. Involve others, and if you have a partner it is critical that they be involved in the process.
Starting is the hardest part because decisions involve consequences. In a family with both partners working, will one, or both, cut back or give up the job to spend more time with the children?
These kinds of questions thrust us deeply into rarely explored beliefs, judgments, and existential questions like what is the meaning and purpose of life. Indeed, what is it all about? What are your values and how do you want to live your life?
Our consumer society would rather have both partners in a committed relationship working, and buying non-stop without complaint. This is nothing new. However, it seems that the pressure to acquire is reaching new heights. This is accompanied by the increase in self-absorbing activities that separate us from self, our partner, and society.
I see this on a daily basis in my psychotherapy practice – addictions, stress related illness, men and women hooked to the computer, broken marriages, and children lost with no direction. I also see it in myself. I am on the never-ending treadmill of higher and higher expectations. Where is the balance?
Despite what might sound as a negative disposition on this subject, I do believe that a work life balance is possible. It’s just hard. Most change is difficult and takes courage. In order to bring my life more in balance, I am writing this article on the beach. I am taking my own advice, at least in part – I am still working. Oh, the irony!
Photo: Flickr/Ryan Ritchie/caffeinating, calculating, computerating