Every now and then, when scrolling through social media, I see a link or a ‘share’ from friends (usually distant friends) about how the world of work is a pressure which impinges on lives. It takes some discipline from me not to comment on these posts with something along the lines of ‘Come on, surely it’s not that bad’ or ‘Surely, work and/or other pressures are only as bad as you make them?’ And sometimes, I manage to stop myself, and sometimes I don’t. Occasionally, I run the gauntlet of essentially pissing people off by appearing smug because I am a firm believer in work/life balance.
Am I lazy? No. I’m just work smart.
Do I lack motivation or commitment? Absolutely not.
Am I ever so busy that I miss out on living a well-rounded and fulfilling life? At times, but I don’t let my busy life control who I am.
How? Ongoing process, really.
Whilst training to be a teacher, and ever since, I have been told by wise lecturers and colleagues not to take my work home with me. Now, that is easier said than done and sometimes those books need marking, and those children and their complex lives come home. It’s perfectly natural.
Yes, there are deadlines which absolutely need to be met. But, there are jobs which actually can wait. They can wait whilst you go to the loo, whilst you eat your lunch, when you want to celebrate a friend’s birthday and when you want to catch up on your choice Netflix entertainment. And that doesn’t mean that you are lazy. It just means that you have that work/life balance in check.
But, what is the cost of these ‘extravagances’? The answer is, essentially, nothing and everything.
It’s taken a long while to get there. It’s taken so long because, like a lot of people, I get scared. Stemming from passion and genuine care, I worry that I am never good enough to do what I do. This worry used to be consuming, especially at the start of my career when I so desperately wanted to impress, and above all, as I was coming to terms with the immense responsibility that my job comes with. And I am not alone. People that genuinely want to do well will always have that pressure that comes from within. That niggle that sees you log on to check your work email ‘just in case’. That horrible pang of conscience as you put your feet up after a hard day at work, which plants that lie-seed that tells you that there is something that you should be doing. That inability to switch-off.
Switching off is vital to our well-being and is a discipline that we all need to learn. I totally believe that this will make us more productive because we won’t start to resent the hard work that we do.
This said, there is great pleasure to be had in throwing yourself wholeheartedly into what you care about. I often wonder if these Facebook moaners actually love what they do, and if not, why is this the case? I suppose that it is easy to blame the government, box-ticking and the idea of target-driven working environments that seem to stifle individuality, autonomy and favour instead percentages, numbers in the sky, and neat little categorisations of our productivity and skill-sets in tick-box tables discussed in monthly meetings with a line manager, set on some ‘curve’ that we must align with.
It’s frustrating, and at times, can feel inhumane and robotic. But it doesn’t have to change us. That spark, or guiding star that steered us into our current path may be waning, but it hasn’t gone out. We need, I think, to step back and remove ourselves from the minutiae of every day and re-evaluate what our priorities are.
So what am I learning, and how am I using it?
A major recent lesson that I am learning at the moment is that I am a person who works with people. Stupid, isn’t it? But, those photo-trinkets that adorn our desks mean everything to us, and are something to bear in mind, above most other matters, when at work. I am not just working with people to get ‘stuff’ from them. Yes, I need that information from them, but do I need it now, when there are fifty other memos that my colleague is wading through, or can it wait a few hours? Usually, I find, it can wait, or I can just do something about it myself. I am not a fan of the passive-aggressive ‘CC’ er whose main hobby is, it seems, to make your email life an absolute chore. Luckily, where I work, this isn’t an issue. But, my friends all know and understand what I mean by the CC brigade… I wonder just how big an impact our small, petty, actions have on other people. Our work-family should be a unit. God knows we spend most of our lives with these people; these actual humans, who have limits and who can hurt like we do.
Prioritising is a key skill that we all need to learn and I am still working hard to make sure that I am getting my priorities right. Previously, I would waste time spending hours on one task at a time, when I could kill more than one bird with that stone. Logistically, Post-its are a must, as well as a diary. Equally important is the flexibility to move those dates around a bit when you need to and not beat yourself up about the omnipresent to-do list. The list may not go away, but you must not fear it. Instead, accept it, and keep up your hard work to shift it.
A huge truth that I am learning – and it’s quite a tricky one for us to take on board and to utilise as it does wholly depend on our openness to trust other people – is that it is okay to ask for guidance and support. I have always been a quiet ‘doer’. It has seemed easier to only rely on myself to get things done, when in reality, asking for help would have been a lot more effective, less time-consuming and less stressful. You are not a failure if you need help, but rather a human that doesn’t operate as an island. Do yourself a favour and just ask. This will save you a sleepless night of worry and show that you care enough to do the right thing.
Finally, it is important to focus on the positives. What are the moments that you work for? What is it that a colleague said that built you up? Are there moments when you have helped someone out when they needed it, or done something innovative or inspiring of which you are proud? Come back to those moments before the day closes to leave yourself on a positive.
Don’t get bogged down in jargon and paperwork. Smile, be kind, work hard and ace it. Then go home, hug a loved one and crack open that beer you deserve. No additional hidden ‘cost’.
It’s not that bad. It’s only as bad as you make it.