There is something oddly enticing about a workaholic. We characterize workaholics in the movies as the men or women married to their jobs, making lots of money, and outperforming everyone in their fields. Their excellence is a forfeiture of all balance and normalcy, and thus we have a juicy plot. The movie ends with a romance that puts the world back in order and the loveable workaholic lives on to prosper after finding “the one.” But for most of us, working too much and finding work — life balance looks much different. Like anything, putting in an extra 10 to 20 hours a week has its appeal, especially with the “American Dream” whispering sweet nothings in our ears…
– “Just put in a little bit more — earn that promotion.”
– “I can be superwoman — I can do it all.”
– “I can sleep when I’m dead.”
– “The money will make this worth it.”
– “One of these days, my boss will notice.”
Ordinarily, I am not a fan of blaming culture for all of our hang ups and fears. Our American culture cannot force a lie upon us unless we ourselves choose to accept that lie. In most cases, we accept these lies with open arms.
In February of this year, the nation’s most loved deodorant brand, Secret, launched a campaign to crown the “Busiest Woman.” Secret found via market research that women are packing an unbelievable amount of activity into their day. Being the savvy marketers that they are, Secret capitalized on this trend and developed a contest to see who consistently crams the most into each 24-hour period. Weighty isn’t it? The winner of this contest will surely be an impressive specimen. She has worth. She is important. She is busy.
We are made to be fools if we think achievement is all about the money. No, it’s so much more — it’s the bragging rights; it’s the significance and the “I’m busy, thus I’m important” mentality. Subscribing to this narrative is nothing if not toxic; robbing our lives of true peace and balance. The truth is, to admit that we can’t do it all is an admission of our own humanity, and a big reality to swallow for the modern independent woman. It is difficult to accept because it rips from our clenched fists a tangible, although empty, source of worth and importance.
There is nothing more satisfying than leaving the office after a good day of work. Our work is a necessary part of life and pursuing excellence in our work is very important, but I do believe in the law of diminishing returns. There comes a point when putting in the extra hour is not only unproductive but also destructive to our physical and emotional well-being. Good work requires a clear mind, and in order to put forth your best work you must take time to rest.
If you have ever seen a true visionary work, not all of their time is spent furiously pumping out emails and spreadsheets. Great leaders take time to think; they find ways to get their heads out of the day’s minutia and develop a true strategy.
So what does a life of balance look like? It is one that admits a few crucial truths:
1. You are not Superwoman. You can’t do it all and bringing in others for help or choosing to say “no” can restore sanity in your world through incredible ways.
2. Your job is not your defining work. You are not the sum total of your week’s output. You are not defined by a career or a salary. Spend time developing qualities of lasting value. Be a confidant, be an encourager, be a loyal friend. These qualities will restore satisfaction in your life.
3. Take time to feel small. It’s an excellent exercise in perspective to pause and remember the world has bigger problems than your own. Considering others has a certain medicinal property for the stressed out soul— so do it often.
Embrace what is means for you to lead a well lived life.
Image via How I Met Your Style