No Shortage of Answers!
The most recent of the many articles on Work – Life balance that crossed my path or screen was entitled: ‘Don’t take work Stress Home with You’. As justification for the importance of the topic it cited that 43% of days lost to illness were stress-related. I take it the article meant days lost by business to illness, not the days lost to life by the poor person with the illness. At that point, I kind of gave up on the article. It seemed to me that the author believes in only one of the sides in the balance – Work,… or, more probably, Business. But I continued reading and nothing I read gave me any confidence of finding any form of balance because the recommended cures all seemed to come from the same world and mind-set of work and management:
- “Develop good mobile device habits
- Establish a good support network
- Have an end-of-work habit
- Create a third space”
“Because I love it!”
That same evening, while out for a stroll I met a man, Tommy, who had been working in fields nearby all day preparing fodder for winter. It was 10.30 at night and he was on his way home, not having had any dinner or anything to eat, except for “a few sandwiches”. Neither the fields, the machinery nor the fodder were his own. “You must think I’m mad” he said to me. I didn’t at all but I asked why he did it. “Because I love it” he said. He told me that he had a few hundred sheep of his own and of what was involved in looking after them. He told me of one night, in the middle of the lambing season when the sheep require assistance in giving birth, he had to take his wife and their sick new-born baby into hospital. “The pressure, the stress was so awful that I actually cried on the way home.” he told me; but he told it to me in a way that was not complaining, unhappy or resentful. But that wasn’t the only reason I decided not to pass on tips from the article I had read!
Not Balance.. but Integration
I think the reason why he probably never misses a day from work for stress or other reasons is not just because he loves his work. Many stress-overcome managers also claim they love their work. I believe it’s more about integration. It is not about achieving a Work-Life balance at all but about a real healthy integration of work as part of his life. His work has real meaning for him, it is what he is and who he is. I got this impression, not only from his demeanour and tone but also by the way he spoke of getting the work done for the farmer and not letting him down, his relationship to the owner of the machinery he uses – his boss -, and the enormous dependence of everything on the weather.
Are you being YOU?
Okay, I know his situation and work are pretty unique but I think the lessons from his life could raise valid questions we should all ask ourselves.
- Is this what I really want to do?
- Why – really – am I doing all this?
- Am I the same person out of work as I am at work?
I believe if we can answer these questions honestly we will not have to worry about a Work-Life balance or using the tips from the article to deal with stress in our lives. Work/Life will do all the balancing for us because they will be one creative whole, not just something we do, but what we are – part of an integrated universe within which we are playing our unique part. That’s how Tommy sees it, even if he mightn’t put it exactly like that!