I love a good bookshop. To be honest, every time I walk past one, I usually poke my head in to see what’s on the shelves.
One section I always like to browse is the business section. This usually includes books on self-help and psychology, amongst many others (I could get lost for hours). I like books that help me improve myself and help me improve the lives of others.
Reading this kind of literature, one thing that has dawned on me is how often we use the term “work-life balance”. Books, articles and conversations abound on this ideal and how we can achieve it. We strive towards striking that perfect balance between the time we spend working and the time we spend on everything else – our families, our personal interests, our health and fitness, etc.
The problem is, work-life balance isn’t real.
Books on so-called work-life balance may sell, and they often sell well, but it’s an unattainable goal. In the real world, nothing is ever always perfectly balanced.
Furthermore, who went and put work on the same footing as life?
Who let it onto the stage of life while the other aspects of life sit in the crowd?
My thought, we do!
Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten that work is only one part of life. It’s not separate to life, and it’s certainly not it’s equal. You could even say work is subservient to life. One element of.
Life is made up of many different, rich and meaningful elements. All play a critical role in our wellbeing and overall success as humans with all the different roles we play.
I believe life comprises six core elements:
- Work and money
- Health and fitness
- Family and friends
- Lifelong learning
- Spiritual and mental wellbeing
- Adventure, fun and growth
These are the elements of life that matter to me – and I’m sure they matter to you, too. When I want to gauge how well I’m travelling in life, these are the key areas I evaluate.
They are all largely within my control. The decisions I make and actions I take on a day-to-day basis affect my ability to improve within them, and, in turn, my long-term wellbeing, quality of life and performance.
And as you can see, work is just one of the elements. It’s important, but it shouldn’t be the singular core of our world.
You may be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, Andrew. After all, you don’t see that I work 50, 60, 70 hours a week. I spend the best part of my life at work.”
There’s no doubt that work forms a large part of our lives. We need it, much like we need sleep. But it doesn’t have to be the most significant part, the “best part” of our lives. It shouldn’t overshadow everything else, and it shouldn’t be the only way we define ourselves or our idea of success.
Managing our own expectations is key to ensuring work does not dominate our lives. When we work towards fulfilling the six key areas of life, we become mindful of what matters to us, the whole person. We gain more clarity on where we are, and on what we want our lives to be like. When we are clear on how we want to live within these six elements, we naturally learn to create a sense of flow and energy between them, in a way that is useful to us and serves us in a helpful, healthful way.
I like to use the word “flow” when thinking about how these elements work together. The below model illustrates this flow and congruence.
For me, I find I’m able to achieve the most flow by taking the time to reflect on and work through each element separately. I consider the goals, challenges and opportunities each element presents, so I can map where I am now and where I want to be.
For each element, I ask:
• What is happening now?
• Where do I want to be?
• How will I get there?
I encourage you to take the time to sit and reflect on these six key areas of your own life. Where are you now, where do you want to be and how will you get there? Write down your thoughts and goals or type them onto your computer or device. If you find yourself struggling, send me an email. I’m more than happy to send you a template to help you with this exercise.
Now, some of you may be asking, “Why bother doing this? Is it really necessary?”
Let me ask you, do you want to let your life happen to you, or do you want to create it? In the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw:
So, I challenge you to work through the six elements. Be bold. Have the courage to think about where you need to be and what you need to do to find happiness. Bravely work through the steps to make that happen. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”
I hope that through this process, you will start to take hold of your life. Don’t let work sit as an equal beside life – look at it as one of many parts of your life, no more significant than any other. In doing so, you’ll start to explore areas of your life you may not even have known existed.
I’d love to hear how you go with this process. And remember, through all of this, be kind to yourself!