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So much has been written about how to deal with the lack of work-life balance that many of us face.
Eat more kale. Meditate. Get more sleep. Take up running. Plant a garden.
Those are all noble and healthy pursuits, but the problem is they don’t get at the root cause of work-life imbalance. Sure, they might make you feel better in the short term, but once you are thrown back into the blender of family, work, and life, that sense of balance often goes poof!
So how do stressed-out workers go from essentially applying a Band-Aid to the stresses they are feeling to addressing the more fundamental causes of the imbalance? According to Rob Eubanks, PhD, Capella University core faculty in the clinical mental health counseling program of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, it all starts with making a “cognitive shift.”
“Those of us who are feeling chronically stressed by the demands of work and life need to recognize that we are in control,” Eubanks explains. “Otherwise, we remain in this perpetual mode of hoping for the best, but continuing to suffer. Eventually, as too many of us know, things will breakdown, whether that be our bodies, the quality of our work, or the health of our relationships. Yes, the world is chaotic. But you need to ask yourself, ‘What am I really doing to lead the life I want to live?’”
Eubanks offers the following four suggestions to set the foundation for a future where work and life exist in balance.
This can be hard for many people to swallow, but question your own self-importance when it comes to the workplace. If you didn’t check email at 1 a.m., what would really happen? If you used up your vacation time at the end of the year, would things really grind to a halt? If you delegated some key projects to colleagues so you could get to your kid’s soccer practice, would they really drop the ball?
We tell ourselves that our organizations will crumble without us there or on call 24/7. Of course they won’t. We need to swallow our pride and understand that company life can and should go on without us or we will be in this never-ending cycle of stressors. Rather, we should focus on our importance to ourselves and our families. That’s where our feelings of self-importance belong.”
Similar to our feelings of self-importance in the workplace, too many of us cling to false assumptions about how our colleagues or managers will react or think of us if we ever ask for help or step back to focus on ourselves.
“We concoct in our own minds that our boss and colleagues have these impossibly high expectations and have very little tolerance or flexibility,” Eubanks says. “Much more often than not, they get it. We underestimate the compassion that our coworkers have for us. They are often going through the same things we are. They want what you want, a healthy balance between work and life.”
“Once the shift in perception starts, you can become more empowered and aware,” Eubanks adds. “You realize there is a lot more wiggle room than you imagined to have a better life and be better to yourself.”
If you were CEO, you’d have lots of talented people with very specialized skills to achieve the mission of your organization, right? You’d have technicians. You’d have managers. You’d have customer service representatives. But as CEO, you’d spend most of your time contemplating and making the big decisions that lead your organization toward a clear vision. Now, consider this: you ARE the CEO of your own life and career. So are you acting like one?
“Too many people spend too much time as ‘technicians’ and ‘middle managers’ of their lives,” Eubanks says. “Only occasionally do we bring our heads up to that visionary level. Rarely do we sit back and say, ‘What sort of big questions should I, as my own CEO, be asking myself right now? Where am I headed? What am I doing to get to that desired state?’”
“Start making time to think like that,” Eubanks continues. “It might sound silly, but schedule a meeting with your ‘inner CEO,’ even just 15 minutes a day or week, to ask those bigger questions. You have to give a good amount of time to this part of yourself to keep this awareness alive and actively integrated into your life.”
Setting the foundation for achieving lasting work-life balance doesn’t have to happen in a vacuum, nor should it. Like so much in life, the more you share your hopes and dreams with people you trust and are close to, the more likely they are to become reality. Those you work with almost always want the best for you. If they know and are excited about the vision you have for yourself and career, they’re likely to help you get there. If they’re not supportive, your “inner CEO” may need to direct you to surround yourself with those who are supportive of your life goals.
“To make change happen, start talking about it,” Eubanks advises. “Don’t keep it in your head. You need cheerleaders. You need supporters. Utilize the services offered through your employer to think through all of this. Those sorts of services are not just for people who are under severe distress. It’s for all of us. Use it.”
Achieving work-life balance isn’t easy, but it is possible. You just need a clear vision and path leading to the life you want to live. Create that vision. Know and believe in that path. You can achieve it.
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