I’ve been reading about mindfulness and stress reduction lately, trying to get my mind wrapped around how to bring this into everyday life without it feeling like another “rule” I needed to follow – it’s a delicate balance. It’s funny how life steps in sometimes to help you see something new; I was stopped at a light in downtown traffic, and normally when I would have very efficiently kept up with the flow of traffic as it began to move, for some reason I paused. I can’t say why, but I did, and it was gently enough to ensure no one behind me was impacted, but long enough to keep me from rolling into the car in front of me as it unexpectedly slammed on it’s breaks. That pause saved me time, money and the stress of having to file an insurance claim (and an accident report…and get my car fixed).
It made me wonder where else a gentle pause would be beneficial in my life. I decided to experiment. In a meeting my pause left room for someone else to take on work that was new for them (and freed up time for me to work on something else). At home, pausing meant that I didn’t jump down my son’s throat about an incident (for which I received a “Wow Mom, I was expecting you to be more upset about that…” in a very relieved voice). Pausing has very tangible benefits for everyone. And I can say it has reduced my stress.
But back to my original concern, how to incorporate more pauses in my day without it becoming “one more thing I forget to do”? Gentle reminders for gentle pauses seems to be the answer, especially since I already have many more rigid reminders telling me what to do; my life (like many people’s) is full of prompts and pings, so one more felt like the proverbial straw that would break the camel’s back (my calendar reminding me where I am supposed to be and how long it will take to get there, my watch telling me to stand, or to breath deeply, every hour). So instead, at the close of my workday I think back on one or two things I am grateful for in my working day, and when there has been a beneficial pause, that is usually top of the list. In honouring it in this way I find myself pausing more often, not because I have to, or because of reminders or notes telling me to do so, but because it has meaning for me; it just makes me feel better.
It’s a simple thing that is entirely in my control. One simple, discreet change that has rippled benefits out not just to me but all those around me too. What do you have to pause for? How would it benefit you? We are all worth it.
“It's not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause and reset, or a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.” ~ Kristin Armstrong
Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash
Work-life balance is a phrase we throw around a lot. Ever since the industrial revolution made possible the adaptation to work en mass, employing millions of people, our western societies have had a distorted definition of balance (when it comes to work). As an example, since that same revolution we’ve made it illegal to work people to their early deaths with punishing hours (10+ hour work days, 6+ day work weeks, etc.)…and yet there are many in our “enlightened” society today who work punishing hours of one kind or another (often voluntarily). Are you one of them?
The concept of balance has enormous appeal; it sounds like something to aspire to, to master, something that is on our control to effect (you just need more balance). Like our ancestors who ushered in the industrial revolution, we often think we can solve the problems we face today by breaking things down into their components and re-mastering them in new and different ways, thus allowing us to become far more efficient. We conveniently forget our ancestral innovation was with respect to materials and processes; breaking things down into simple steps and motion so as to re-order work, yielding unseen results (for the era). The happy by-product of their results was that by becoming more efficient you could also save time, giving life to a fairy tale we still believe in today. Except, you cannot continually achieve greater and greater efficiencies with something finite, like time.
Balance, in our 21st century world, has become the “holy grail” of time management. We acknowledge we control what we do and how we do it, so it makes sense that if we pursue organization skills that allow us to plan our days mindfully, logically, we can do it all. In this process we have completely forgotten the essential definition of balance, we’ve skewed to to fit the 18th century fairy tale. It’s time for a re-set. Balance (within the context of work and life) is essentially following the common sense of all things in moderation. When you look at it that way, doesn’t the pursuit of continually striving to do more with less time seem ridiculous? This 18th century notion we carry also assumes we are machine-like, not living beings. We forget that in addition to not being able to iteratively become more efficient (past a certain point) we also have a hard-wired need to be effective in what we do. In other words we need to make a difference through our work or we lose access to hope, sacrificing wellbeing.
You cannot make as meaningful a difference moving through life at 185 kmph, as you can when you slow down and attend to what is happening in each moment, allowing the moments in life to guide your work (immersing yourself in the meaning and purpose of what you do). When we only have access to high-level “surface” meaning (proverbially checking the box), we derive no lasting joy from it. It doesn’t feed our soul, which brings on anxiety, self-doubt, vulnerability, and many other emotions we thought we’d avoided because hey, we got the work done. Not so. No one can avoid the impact (or collateral damage to our families and communities) of continually ignoring his or her deepest ambitions and potential. So, try this instead. Look at your day from the perspective of what purpose your effort serves (rather than how much time it will take). You may find with this approach that what you thought was really important…just isn’t. Saving you time and supporting your wellbeing.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash
"A healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your friends, your dreams or your dignity." ~ Dinkar Kalotra
What does it look like when you have a healthy relationship with your working life?
It’s Monday morning and you wake up feeling good about the day ahead. You enjoyed a weekend that offered you a break from your work and now as you think about your schedule today you are curious, and have ideas about how to approach some of the interesting challenges your work provides. The morning routine (whatever that is for you) is not stressful or overly rushed (even when you had to hunt down a lost item for a loved one) and your commute isn’t getting under your skin either because it gives you time to continue to think about the day that lies ahead (or just enjoy the sights along the way to the office).
Once at work you share smiles and greetings with respected colleagues and when your boss comes in he/she stops by to ask you how your weekend went. That’s all, no pretense to follow up on a deadline or a task, just to see how you are. Work comes and goes with its challenges and hiccups (no job or workplace will ever be perfect). That prickly client called in again (ugh) and a colleague was dismissive about your ideas in a meeting (and that hurt), but you also received the go-ahead to do something at work you’ve always wanted to try, and there is even an on-line training resource to help you figure out how to do it with more confidence (and only 45 minutes…with a video!). A peer drops by to offer his/her support if you have any questions as well (they did something similar last month).
At the end of the day you still have much to do, but you are at a good stopping point and the rest will wait until tomorrow. You head home at a decent time and you look forward to the evening ahead. You’ve been able to “park” work and start thinking about commitments at home, sorting out schedules and the evening meal. You have some interesting tidbits from your day to share with loved ones and you are planning to head out for a nice walk or run after supper (or maybe a fitness class). As you get ready for bed you feel relaxed and ready for sleep, and you haven’t checked your work phone since you got home (it’s charging in the living room to be ready for tomorrow).
Sound idyllic? Not everyday can be like this, but when we have a healthy relationship with our work MOST days offer interesting work where you can exercise your talents and abilities, the opportunity to make a difference, growth and development through challenges and (best of all), no unhealthy compromises that leave you depleted and lethargic at the end of your working day. A recent article from the BBC (How Your Workplace Is Killing You) outlines research that points to the many ways our working lives are not supporting our wellbeing. Which begs the questions…what would wellbeing at work look like for you? If you don’t know what it looks like it’s hard to make changes that support it.
Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash
Most of us don’t think about what we do for a living as a “relationship”, this is not how we frame our approach to our work life. Jobs, career, professions are viewed as many things; a right of passage, a means to an end, a way to finance the things we want, a way to provide for our families, something we have to do, etc. But as a relationship?
Considering that what we each do for a living has a significant impact on us as human beings, this lens of reciprocal interconnectedness has merit. Like any other important relationship we need to pay attention to our working life in intentional ways for it to sustain and nourish us. After all, it has all of the key characteristics of a relationship:
And that doesn’t even touch on the financial implications of work and livelihood. Over our working lives we will have complex and dynamic experiences within what we do for a living, which shapes both how we relate to what we do in our work and how we relate to ourselves (providing yet another key aspect of a relationship – how it makes us feel about ourselves).
Looking at this more holistically, working life is a concept that encompasses all aspects of what it takes to be a part of the work force; it’s your commute, your compensation, your skills, talent, expertise, attitudes, beliefs, values, feelings of self-esteem, self-actualization, your employer, your job duties, your manager, your peers and colleagues and the amount of energy it takes to be at work (and what energy you have left when you return home). It is the hours it takes away from doing other things and the financial return it gives back to you. Sounds messy doesn’t it? See! You are in a relationship with your work. All of us are.
What this means is the only person who has ownership over ensuring the keys to having a healthy relationship with your career are present in meaningful ways is you. It’s true there is much within your working life you don’t control and don’t own. Your employer may not appreciate your gifts, provide suitable opportunities or have your best interests at heart at work. It can feel like you are a speck of sand on a vast beach, of little consequence and bearing little influence. Except you are 100% in control of you. You are in control of your choices and your choices determine your options. What one simple choice can you explore today that would improve your relationship with your working life? This is about evolution, not revolution; finding the small but impactful ways you may have at your finger tips to make your working life work better for you.
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I believe in empowering others in many tangible ways. When I learn new career strategies or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website.