February 18, 2015

The Massive Barrier to Work-Life Balance that Nobody Admits.

stressed work rush

I know many people whose energy for life is sapped by giving too much of their time and attention to work and not enough to other areas.

This is the classic work/life balance dilemma.

The biggest, least talked about reason we fall into this trap is because of our addiction to our careers, “success” and the material goods they both pay for.

We must be addicted. Or obsessed at the very least. How else can we explain getting it so backwards, waiting until our deathbed or a catastrophe to learn the sobering truth—that pouring the best of ourselves into our careers and being “successful”—reserving only scraps of energy for our children, family and our health—is not the point of life.

Big rocks and small rocks:

Stephen Covey’s metaphor of filling a container to the brim with small and big rocks is a great analogy applied to how we fill our lives. The big rocks and small rocks represent what’s most and least important and the idea is to discriminate between which rocks go in at what time.

If we start by filling the container—our lives—with the small rocks that represent the stuff that doesn’t really matter, we run the risk of not having room for what’s most important: the big rocks. Common sense dictates that we must start with the big rocks and then fill the gaps with the small rocks to ensure we don’t miss out on what’s most important.

But common sense isn’t so common.

By and large, we’ve become a society which fills up our proverbial container of life beginning with the small rocks—5-star career, owning big homes and being surrounded by lots of stuff—barely leaving room for our big rocks, the ones that matter most.

I’m not bagging on careers. They are an important outlet to express our passions, talents and making a difference in the world. I know I am a better person for having a career.

I also know that I am a better, happier human for staying awake at the wheel of life to ensure I don’t get caught up chasing what doesn’t really matter and filling my container with small rocks.

Two caveats:

For countless people, work is a necessity, not an addiction—putting shelter over their head and food in their belly. It’s an addiction when we have the luxury of making different choices about how we devote our time and energy, yet do not.

Everything has timing—working hard early in our careers is an important step in order to enjoy some freedom later—once we start having families—to adjust how we fill the container.

Not knowing when to stop, or switch how we define our big rocks, is where we go astray.

My career addiction:

Stepping down from a thriving career to be at home part time with my kids was a pretty tough time. I felt like a fish out of water. I experienced withdrawal from the high I got from work.

Suddenly, I felt all kinds of discomfort—vulnerable, lost, scared and worthless—without my full time career to stand behind. I wanted to go back to work full time in order to avoid it.

While all of that crazy-making was going on, deep down, I somehow knew that the weight of my regret later in life for not standing two feet in this mess would be greater than the discomfort of the feelings themselves. So I went with it.

In the end, it was all worth it.

It is liberating not to have my universe consumed by small rocks. A natural balance and contentment seeped into my life as a result.

Two strategies to stop our addiction:

The good news is that we have the power to transform our relationship with career and success and start filling our container with more big rocks.

But first we need to take these two steps:

1.  Realize That We Are Enough

The single most important thing that we can do to strike a more sustainable balance is to realize that we are enough, as we are. When we realize this, a natural order and ease begins to permeate our lives.

Yes, life still gets busy and yes, we can still lose balance, but it occurs much less often and with much less severity.

2. Get Aligned: Walk Our Talk

The second thing we can do is to live with greater alignment between what we say is most important and how we spend our time. We might say that our children, families and health are what’s most important, yet we can barely fit them into our busy lives. To get things in alignment, we need to change that.

It’s never too late to clarify what our big rocks are and to start prioritizing them. We know what to do.


Relephant Read:

The Truth About Work-Life Balance and How to Really Have it all.


Author: Kristen Buckley

Apprentice Editor: Hilda Carroll/ Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Image: StarsAlive/Flickrflickr


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