work-life balance: just what is it supposed to look like?

comic on this modern life showing 3 panels: work (on computer), home (on computer), play (on computer) and sleep (dreaming of being on computer)

Last weekend my friend Norah and I took off from our busy lives to spend a weekend at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in western Massachusetts.  We are lucky and grateful for the privilege of the resources (time, control, money) to be able to take such a nice vacation.

Kripalu has limited internet access and strict rules against cell phone use in most of the building. The idea is to create an atmosphere in which people can take a break from their regular lives and from the regular stream of information and demands coming in over the airwaves (to use an old twentieth-century expression).

We both took full advantage of the break, enjoying lots of yoga, cooking, eating supremely yummy and healthy-to-us food, meditating, strolling in the woods, resting and reading.

Yeah.  We should all run–not walk– to such places.

three stick figures--standing with no, walking with no, running with yes

But here’s the thing: all of the lovely activities that Norah and I did– the woodsy strolling, yoga, cooking, reading, meditating, chilling and hanging out– can all be done at a much lower price AT HOME.  So why don’t our non-vacationing non-getaway lives look more like this?

Here’s one reason:

graphic of the word "work"

We all work.  We work too hard.  We work too long.  We work at home. We work on vacation. We work at all hours of the day and night.

Contrast last weekend with this week:  Norah went to Florida Monday morning for big work meetings for a few days.  She was steeling herself for having to do regular job tasks on top of these extra meetings.  Let me clarify here:  her job required traveling and going to a bunch of all-day and into-the-evening meetings.  But there was also the expectation, nay, requirement, that she complete tasks that she would be doing normally at her job while not traveling.

And get this:  the schedule for the work meetings included breakfast at 5:30am–7am, whereupon employees would be shuttled to the convention center for the big meetings.

5:30am digital image

Good God.

Some of you who read the blog (and everyone who’s ever met me) know very well that I’m not a morning person.  But seriously?  Starting the work day at 5:30am?  I can see getting up early if the goal is to commune with nature that looks like this:

early morning sunrise over marsh and water

But I suspect Norah’s day began looking much more like this:

people eating breakfast at a convention ballroom

But wait– we forgot about the work tasks that Norah had to be BEFORE her day began.

working on tablet at night, colors in background

No, it probably didn’t look or feel like this.  The image was too pretty, however, not to share.  Likely it felt more like this:

stick figure working at computer

What does my rant about working too much have to do with fitness?  With feminism?

the word "everything"

When work life takes over every waking (and many of the sleeping) minutes, we are unable to cope, to take care of ourselves, to take care of others, to move in ways we love, to sit still alone or with others, to cook and eat food that nourishes and delights us, to think about how to make the world better and then do something about it.

This year I’m paying more attention to when and how and how often I work.  I’ve planned to go to some conferences, but fewer than last year.  I’m planning fun activity trips with friends and family and fun activities at home.  Sam and Tracy have blogged about their approaches to scheduling activity during their week.  I had, over the past couple of years, lost my rhythm, and am paying some attention to getting it back.  Or rather, finding a new rhythm.  I can say now it will not involve getting up at 5:30am (except for special outdoorsy activity occasions), but I am looking for something that can stand as a bulwark against the constant encroachment of work.  I know, something like this might seem like overkill:

a stone bulwark-- defensive wall

But some structural help, to keep me from letting work seep into all the cracks, is needed.

I don’t have concrete plans yet.  But my weekend away helped me wake up to the need to make some concrete plans.  So for now, I’m at this stage:

work in progress

Readers, what sorts of ways do you cordon off time and space for life outside work?  I’d love to hear some of your plans and structures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About catherine w

I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

5 thoughts on “work-life balance: just what is it supposed to look like?

  1. tracyrwdeboer says:

    Thanks so much for this post. It comes at great timing (for me personally), as I have been working hard (har-har) to have a more balanced life in terms of work, exercise, personal projects, leisure, etc. Since January began, I had been doing well. I would wake up early to have the extra time in the morning to sit with my partner, have coffee, listen to CBC and chat. He leaves for work, and then I do some house chores, emails, work from home for a few hours, then break for lunch. After lunch, I change locations (cafe or public library) and continue to work on various projects until the evening, and sometimes meet my partner or a friend downtown, go to a movie or commute home together and do dinner, etc. However, last week I had a deadline and instead of maintaining this balance while steadily plugging away at the work for this deadline, I let my routine go to hell and let the deadline consume me. I became cranky, tired, and lost perspective. Anyway, it always amazes me how important it is to maintain that balance and how quickly it can slip through our fingers… For me, there is almost an element of guilt when I have balance…as if I am not working “enough” or “hard enough”. What’s the deal?!

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  2. ainsobriety says:

    I desperately want to go to Kripalu. I’m jealous.

    A few years ago I reduced my work hours. I now work a 70% schedule. One week I work Monday to Wednesday. The next Monday to Thursday. I am an engineer at a major oil company working is regulatory affairs. Government regulations move slowly.
    I love it.
    It allows me to teach yoga on Friday mornings. To do errands at non peak times. To take the kids to school a couple of days a week (they are in grades 6 and 8 so this is becoming less and less a thing as they need me less).
    I hope to never return to full time work. I have 10 years to retirement. I like my job, and I do it well, but I am done with trying to win in the rat race.

    I also pay someone else to do the housework. We have had a live in caregiver since my oldest was 1. She takes care of the house and laundry. This is a huge support. It’s worth every penny.

    I tried to do it all for a long time. I evened up having a breakdown. It’s much better when I recognize I don’t have to do things I don’t want…and instead set my life up to make it as enjoyable as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sam B says:

      I love this approach. It’s not an option for everyone but for those of us with big jobs we have choices. I see so many people tied to their big hours and big incomes and then they complain about how much they work. Work less! Have a life!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Mikaela Song says:

    I’ve been contemplating about this for the past year. To promote work-life balance not only for myself but for my family, I’ll encourage everyone to pursue their interests this year. Starting from myself, I’ll attend that Mandarin class I’ve always wanted.

    For my family, rather than spending a lot of time at home watching movies, we’ll bond together in aquuatic centres/gym or any physical activities.

    For my friends, we’ll discuss more sensible topics and pursue those extra curricular activities/business plans we enjoy doing together.

    It’s the year to be proactive!

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  4. Such a great post. This is something we all need to consider more. Thanks for sharing 🙂
    https://oflashesandleith.wordpress.com/

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