In a memorable and thought provoking speech, Bryan Dyson, former CEO of Coca Cola said:
"Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them - work, family, health, friends and spirit and you're keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls - family, health, friends and spirit - are made of glass. If you drop one of these; they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life."
Over the years many have read or heard about these words, and hopefully some have implemented it as well, but for those of us who are wondering and trying to find the way to achieve the elusive work-life balance, here are some thoughts...
When We Lose Balance
First of all, let us understand what really happens when we do not have this "balance" - typically, without balance, one is focussed on one area of life at the cost of another. For example, working so hard that one doesn't have the time for friends or family; on the other hand, one could be so worried about family that s/he may not put in the required efforts in their professional life, failing to reach targets and missing out on promotions.
When the above continues, we reach what is called burnout - the fatigue, frustration and even apathy resulting from being depleted of one's resources (physical, psychological and emotional). Although a condition fairly common amongst sportspersons and mental health professionals, this is now found to afflict almost anyone. A stay-at-home mother whose entire life revolves around her children with nothing else to focus on could be a prime candidate for burnout. And so would be a young bachelor, who doesn't have anything to fill his days and spends his entire waking life at office.
Preventing burnout would require some sort of balance in life - where we are not so focussed on one area of life that everything else is forgotten. That said, there are also some other aspects that define what balance is (and what it is not).
1. Balance is Not "Equal"
What would you say if someone told you that you need to spend an equal measure of your life at work and each of your personal activities? Unrealistic isn't it? Well, fortunately, balance does NOT mean equally dividing one's time towards each area in one's life.
2. Balance is Not Constant
Do you remember how different life was when you were in school and college... and then when you got your first job, how did life change for you? And perhaps after marriage... and after your first child was born? Didn't each stage bring along changes in your life, priorities and hence how you spend your day? Similarly, the "balance" in life changes as we traverse through the different stages of life; expecting the same balance to remain steady over the years is like expecting life to remain the same.
3. Balance is Different for Different People
Have you ever wondered how is it that your neighbour Mrs. Gupta manages to have the time to prepare hot parathas in the morning before going to office? Or how is it that your colleague finds the time to work out every evening? And why is it that you would be satisfied even if you got your full night's sleep half-the week?!
Well, the fact is, Balance means different things to different people - what works for one, may not work for another. There is no perfect one-fit solution to the quest for balance. So if you would rather sleep an extra hour, even if it means having cornflakes for breakfast - that is Balance for you!
How to Maintain Balance?
Having understood what balance does and doesn't entail, let's move on to the deceptively simple and yet profound concepts that not only give us an idea of what work-life balance means, but also the direction where we need to focus our efforts. The two markers that point the direction towards a fulfilling work and personal life are Achievement and Enjoyment.
1. Achievement: We are all familiar with what achievement is - it is any accomplishment as a result of effort, ability, persistence or even courage. Completing a project can be an achievement, and so can finally buying one's dream car. It can even be an achievement to be able to teach one's child how to cycle!
2. Enjoyment: The experience of satisfaction or pleasure. Although sometimes elusive, enjoyment can essentially come from anything - having one's favourite chocolate cake for dessert, from spending time with one's friends and sometimes the satisfaction of knowing that you have done something to the best of your ability.
While there is a degree of overlap between the two, it is entirely possible (and unfortunately frequent) for these to exist independently. How often have we enjoyed something, for example, watching a favourite TV show, only to feel guilty about wasting time in an activity that doesn't help us ‘achieve' anything? On the other hand, there is no dearth of people who blindly pursue achievement and success without a moment to spare, to look back and enjoy what they have achieved? Buying a state-of-the-art home theatre, only to never have the time to watch your favourite TV show?
It is when these co-exist that one can truly lead a Balanced Life. So start today by asking yourself:
And then take it a step further by asking yourself "Did I achieve as well as enjoy myself at work today?" and "Did I achieve and enjoy myself with my family today?" so on and so forth...
It is also not necessary that the achievement and enjoyment comes from separate activities. Imagine, how great it would be to ‘achieve' your dream car and really ‘enjoy' the experience? Or for that matter, if you have to make a presentation at work, what if you thoroughly enjoyed the experience and then basked in the glory of achievement when your co-workers praised your efforts! Or imagine if you spent time with your little ones, just telling them the story of the hare and the tortoise, enjoying the time spent with them as well as knowing that it is an achievement to be able to take out the time to invest in their upbringing.
Sometimes we need to do tasks that are not enjoyable, but take us towards some achievement - for example, there might be aspects of your work that you do not enjoy. At such times it would also be important to complement these tasks with something enjoyable in the same sphere of life. So after completing the not-so-enjoyable part of your job, you could have a cup of coffee with your friendly colleagues to "enjoy" the work. The main idea is to have some achievement as well as enjoyment in every sphere of life.
So make it your motto to "enjoy the achievement" and yet "achieve something during the enjoyment" and the elusive balance in life will be yours to stay...