The work/life balance shouldn’t seem like an illusion! Here’s how to strike that balance.
I live in Silicon Valley, the capital of the high-tech world and home to companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook. It’s an innovation center (think iPhones, Pixar movies, and high-tech start-ups) that attracts driven, creative, high-achievers. It’s the perfect breeding ground for workaholics. Software engineers are notorious for around the clock coding sessions, barely seeing the light of day.
But, of course, you don’t have to live in Silicon Valley to be a workaholic.
Americans love to work. We boast about how many hours we work, as if it’s a medal of honor. Our cell phones have become mini-offices allowing us to be on call constantly. We have no boundaries with our bosses. We respond to emails while on vacation (which we only took because we’d maxed out our vacation time). We’re on conference calls with India at midnight. We work through lunch (and maybe dinner, too).
We may complain, but most of us think this is normal.
And let’s be honest. It’s not just us. It’s our kids, too. The pressure to succeed in school and competitive sports has got our kids by the throat. My middle schooler routinely has four hours of homework, meaning he spends over 11 hours per day on school and homework. Look, I studied hard, went to college, and then to graduate school.
I’m all for hard work and education, but this is out of control.
Working 60-80 hours per week isn’t healthy or sustainable. I see the burnt out professionals. They call me in desperation, needing to go on disability leave because of the stress. I see insomnia, anxiety, depression, and heavy drinking in adults and teens alike. You may not have noticed that your frequent headaches, eczema, or high blood pressure flare up right in sync with your stress levels. Stress frequently manifests as physical ailments.
Unfortunately, by the time you have physical symptoms, your stress has already reached a critical level.
But the worst outcome that I see isn’t physical health, mental health, or relationship problems. It’s actually a loss of confidence. You can’t perform at your best when you’re over-stressed, surviving on caffeine and fast food, and your only exercise is walking to and from your car. When your work or relationships start suffering, you internalize it. Your thoughts become, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I keep up? Everyone else seems to be coping OK.” You end up feeling like you’re not good enough. You’ve lost your self-confidence. Maybe you just need to work harder. And so the cycle continues.
Let me assure you, you aren’t alone in feeling burnt out. There’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is our workaholic mindset—the mindset that tells you that you should work on weekends and come in even when you’re sick.
If you’re going to figure out how to move beyond burn-out, it helps to understand your individual reasons for overworking.
These are the most common ones that I see:
- You’re working toward something. You’re putting in 80 hour weeks in order to get ahead. After three years with the company, you’re finally getting some attention. You’re looking to make partner and attain the stability and financial rewards that come with it. This usually works best when it’s time limited. In other words, it’s OK to burn the midnight oil until you finish your degree or pay down your credit card bill, but if you do it long term it may cause as many problems as it solves.
- You’re working to avoid something. You’re working every weekend to get away from your problems. You barely talk to your wife. Your teenage daughter is cutting school and flunking half her classes. It feels like there’s just a bunch of problems at home, so it’s easier to stay at the office. “I have a big deadline” is a convenient (and acceptable) excuse for avoiding the rest of your life. Sometimes what you’re avoiding isn’t so obvious. It may be some uncomfortable feelings or a big decision. If you recognize yourself in this pattern, it’s time to dig a little deeper, perhaps with the help of a supportive friend or counselor.
- Everyone’s doing it. Sometimes it’s the company culture. Dinners brought in with the expectation you’ll work well into the evening. Promotions and raises only go to those who show up early and leave late. Get honest about your work environment, workload, and company culture. If it isn’t right for you and can’t be changed, it may be time to move on. Use your values to help you decide. For example, if you value close family relationships, but don’t make time for them, you’re going to be unhappy. Is this the kind of work you really want to be doing? What are your career goals? What are your personal goals and how does this job support those goals?
- You’re a perfectionist or Type-A personality. If you’re a perfectionist, you may be creating more work for yourself by perfecting, correcting, and redoing work. You don’t know how to relax and feel most comfortable working. Remind yourself that all of your work doesn’t have to be done perfectly. Opt for getting it done rather than spending extra time making it perfect. It’s helpful to detach your self-worth from your work. You’re more than your job. Base your self-worth on your entire self, not just your work achievements and accolades.
- You don’t know how to say “no.” You’re a people-pleaser and you want your boss, co-workers, and customers to like you. You take work home, volunteer for extra assignments, and agree to cover for your coworkers even when it’s inconvenient. When you’re too available, people will take advantage of you. Setting boundaries shows others how to treat you. For example, try delaying your responses. Most things aren’t urgent and usually don’t require a response on weekends or vacations. Over time, your boss and colleagues will learn that you only handle non-urgent business during regular business hours.
Once you’ve identified your reasons for overworking, you can start to chip away at them.
Work-life balance may seem like an illusion.
Perhaps it’s less about balance and more about finding ways to integrate them in a way that works for you.
Photo: Dennis Skley/Flickr