How to Change the Way You Think About Work-Life Balance

Career Development

Photo by Colleen Eversman at 2ndTruth Photography

“What makes you humble, down to earth, and hardworking is also what kills you. The inability to say no. To prioritize your own needs. To maintain a healthy combination of work and life. To ask for a rate that you deserve and can afford to live on. To work to live and not live to work.” – Mridu Khullar Relph


I check my email within fifteen minutes of getting up in the morning. I’m not proud of it. But, it’s something I “have” to do. My company gave me the phone. They pay for it. I run their social media accounts. I have to be available. So, I look at my email. Just to be sure!! I rush to work. I have multiple 8:00 a.m. meetings a week. My phone vibrates and (ope!) I have an email from my boss. I’m instantly stressed. It’s the first thing I have to get to when I arrive at work, but I think about it the entire way there. When I get home at night, I check my email once before dinner. Just to be sure!! I check on weekends and once before bed. Just to be sure!! I check on vacations and sick days. Sick days aren’t even sick days because I have a laptop and opt to “work from home” instead. I feel guilty if I don’t. I have to be sure!!

We’re always expected to be on.

This behavior has plagued me for some time. I call it my “ever-impending work guilt syndrome.” I never truly check out from work. And if I’m absent and aloof, I blame myself. If there’s anything in this world that makes me feel raging guilt it’s working from home, calling in sick, requesting PTO, and taking an hour and a half for lunch if I need it. On the flip side, if I’m pounding away at my laptop at 9:00 p.m., I feel guilty I’m not paying attention to my fiancé and cats. I’m always apologizing, one way or the other. The other day, I didn’t respond to an email for twenty-four hours and the first sentence I typed in response was (get this!!) “Sorry for the delay!” There’s no way to win.

If there’s anything in this world that makes me feel raging guilt it’s working from home, calling in sick, requesting PTO, and taking an hour and a half for lunch if I need it. On the flip side, if I’m pounding away at my laptop at 9:00 p.m., I feel guilty I’m not paying attention to my fiancé and cats. I’m always apologizing, one way or the other.

Always on. Always on. Always on. 

But that’s just the thing. While we’re expected to be “always on,” we’re also encouraged to live our lives. Our society glamorizes the demonized “hustle.” I was taught the values of hard work at a young age and I believed them. If I wasn’t working hard, I was lazy and incompetent. If I wasn’t living to work, I was never going to find success. 

According to a survey in Harvard Business Law, 94% of service professionals put in 50+ hours a week. It’s the expectation. Companies pay for cell phones and laptops. People receive emails all hours of the day. It’s no wonder the hours pile on so effortlessly. When do we have the time to live a complete, disconnected, guilt-free life? 

We’re defining ourselves through our work.

And we’re not just putting more time into our work. We’re offering our identities. Work has quickly become an element of self-identification—how we define ourselves. In college, when I was asked to declare my major, there was so much of myself that wanted to define what I loved as equally as I wanted to define a career. Love and work needed to work hand in hand. While that can be really great (I can write and make money?) that can also be really bad. Our passions can start to feel like an outside job, instead of the spark that made us successful in the first place. Essentially, work and life bind together, like sharing pages in a book. And I don’t think it’s effortless for them to coexist together like one story.

I hate the term work-life balance.

Work-life balance presumes that work is the counteraction of life. What I mean by this is life has become the antagonist to work and vice versa. One is unsympathetic to the other. However, who we are and what we do merges so deeply with our work. We become the work. So, we act like we need to straddle two opposites in perfect harmony. It’s easy to let it get to us when the high expectations of constant goal attainment and communication aren’t met.

On a totally normal Tuesday recently, I googled “the five regrets of dying” (as if my normal daily anxiety isn’t enough)!! I discovered that one of the most common regrets of terminally ill patients reflecting on their lives is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

If for some reason the work-life balance ideal doesn’t seem awful for you, it is for most. And it has been. On a totally normal Tuesday recently, I googled “the five regrets of dying” (as if my normal daily anxiety isn’t enough)!! I discovered that one of the most common regrets of terminally ill patients reflecting on their lives is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” And it shot my heart guts like a human-sized t-shirt gun into a fear-galaxy.

“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

We need to learn to separate work from life.

The modern-day expectations of a workday do not meet life balance. I’ve gained weight. I’ve lost weight. I’ve felt extremely disconnected from my body, eating pizza in parking lots at the grocery store in between countless work meetings and checking my email every six minutes. We need to redefine work-life balance. If anything, rename it entirely. We must separate work from life.  

PSA before I get too far in my own writing hole: I completely understand that some people find balance in their work and life equally because they can master the overwhelming aspect of both with no guilt. They love the work. Working odd hours and deep into the day gives them energy. They are their own boss. So many factors play into a positive work-life balance, too. I’m simply saying society has made the “balance” difficult to attain. 

So what’s the solution? How do we find some semblance of balance?

Work-life balance is unfair because I like the idea of “balance.” I practice physical balance in horseback riding and in yoga. Balance is stable footing. It’s steady. It offers a sense of poise and rest. However, work doesn’t always offer me all those things. So, how do we find it? How do we find balance in our work and life?

In the book Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up, author Jerry Colonna wrote about the rule his Buddhist teacher suggested to him to better his quality of life. Instead of the stark half-and-half, he was advised to use the one-third rule: One-third of your time for the external you. One-third of your time for the internal you. And one-third of your time for the Other.

When applied to the work-life ideal, we can think about the breakdown as the following: one-third for work and business, one-third for the care of the inner and physical you and the final one-third for family, friends, and the community.

. . . one-third for work and business, one-third for the care of the inner and physical you and the final one-third for family, friends, and the community. How’s that for balance? To me, it feels more manageable. It seems fair. It feels a lot like a deep breath.

How’s that for balance? To me, it feels more manageable. It seems fair. It feels a lot like a deep breath. Also, it doesn’t hold the pregnant expectation of work versus life. It doesn’t pit one against the other. It simply offers the opportunity to organize a life that has everything. Here are tips that could help you apply the one-third rule to your life:

Now, I realize these things are some heavy hitters. Asking for more money is scary. Boundaries are terrifying. Saying “no” can be a RIDE. However, I truly think they will help eliminate some of the work that plagues us and open up more time for actively separating pieces of our life into snackable delights. Because above all, that’s what life is about.

BY Brittany Chaffee - February 20, 2020

6 Comments  +

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  1. Ellie says:

    I love this post! I totally agree, why are we always expected to just be ‘on’ – I’ve started putting my phone on airplane mode when I need time out

    http://www.petiteelliee.com

    Ellie

  2. Lucy says:

    I loved reading this post! It’s so important that find that work-life balance otherwise you run the risk of complete burn-out. I loved when you said that we’re always meant to be ‘on’ . It’s so true! x

    Lucy | http://www.lucymary.co.uk

  3. Ellie,

    Thank you so much for your comment! Airplane mode is a GOD SEND when we’re on the ground, too 🙂 I completely agree.

    Have the loveliest week!

  4. Thank you so much, Lucy! Totally agree with you. And the most unfortunate part is I don’t want to risk burn-out with something I love doing 🙂 Sending you all the good **life vibes** this week!

  5. Eva says:

    thanks for this awesome post.

  6. Eva – thank YOU so much for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed 🙂

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