Recently, I was asked to be on a panel at work to discuss work-life balance. Apparently, the organizers felt my tendency to travel whenever possible qualified me for the position. I was skeptical and not anxious to participate. However, I did not want to be rude, so I reluctantly joined four other coworkers to answer questions and discuss how we balance our personal life with our professional one.
The reason I was skeptical about being part of the panel was that I did not feel qualified to offer insight and provide advice. Most of my acquaintances have a job, spouse and children. Every day, they struggle to meet the demands placed on them. Although I have a lot of hobbies and interests, I am not pulled in nearly as many directions. It seemed rude to talk about travel when some of my coworkers are barely keeping their heads above water.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. The panel went well and I think I was able to provide some useful insights. Best of all, I learned some tricks myself. R suggested I share some of those insight and tricks. Of course, like everything we write here at Jane Sees the World, it will focus on travel. But feel free to apply it to any part of your life you feel needs a bit more balance.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
That was the first question asked of the panel. To me, work-life balance means I am content both professionally and personally. That does not mean I am not facing challenges and trials. That does not mean I am not stressed or worried. There are so many things in this world we cannot control. But I have control over where I work and I have control over what I chose to do in my spare time. So as long as I am content with my decisions concerning those two things, I feel like my life is balanced.
Not surprisingly, my biggest priority in life is to travel as often as possible—and my job affords me that opportunity. Luckily, I love my job and the company I work for. I am content with the professional side of my life. Sure, I get stressed and annoyed with certain coworkers. But I also gain a lot of satisfaction from the work I do. In addition, I am blessed to work for a company (and boss) who supports my need to roam and use up all of my vacation hours.
Be honest with yourself
It would be easy for me to say that I am not content in my personal life. Ever since that darn travel bug bit me, I have not been able to get my fill of trips and adventures. There is definitely a part of me that longs to travel full time and continually explore this big old world. I suppose I could quit my job and teach English in a foreign country somewhere. But upon further introspection, it is not that simple. As much as I enjoy a fun trip overseas, I also enjoy health insurance, a retirement plan and Christmas bonuses. My profession provides a level of security and satisfaction that is difficult to measure, but is very important to me nonetheless. So for now, I work to travel and I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Perhaps that will change in the future. But for now, I am content to go to work and travel whenever possible.
What do you do if work and life are out of balance?
If you do not feel content either professionally, personally or both, it is time to do some soul searching. If you are content professionally but not personally, could it be that you are spending too much time at work? It amazes me how many people do not use their vacation hours (to the point of losing them). That was one piece of advice I offered as a panelist: use your vacation hours! On the other hand, if you are not content professionally, could it be that you are not being challenged enough? The only person who can answers these questions is you and taking a hard look at your life is the only way to identify what may be off-balance about it.
What advice would you give to others about balancing work and life?
Much like a trip, finding work-life balance starts with a good plan. First, you have to have that hard talk with yourself and do some prioritizing. Next, you have to set some goals. You will never achieve that balance you are looking for if you just sit around waiting for something to change. I recommend setting small goals. They help keep you focused and make you feel good when you accomplish one. You do not want to go too big too soon. That will lead to feeling overwhelmed and you will probably quit.
If you want to travel more but just do not know where to start, then start small. Take a road trip over the weekend. Fly to a neighboring state and visit their capital city. Book a cruise (by far the easiest form of travel). The trick is to just do it—make a reservation, put a deposit down, ask for time off. Do something. Waiting around for the right time? Yeah, that will never happen. You control what you do in spare time. So take control.
Find your tribe
Another key tip to work-life balance is finding your tribe both professionally and personally. R and I enjoy many of the same activities. We have similar tastes. We are at the same place in life. Most importantly, we both make travel a priority. The other panelists talked about their spouse and kids and the activities they enjoy doing together. Find those friends and family members who enjoy the same things you do and then go out and do them! I promise you’ll feel better.
On the work side of things, it is just as important to bond and make friends. You spend a lot of time at work and studies show that fostering relationships at work lead to happier, more productive individuals. I enjoyed this article about why having friends at work is so important and suggest you read it. I am lucky enough to have an excellent group of work friends. So great, in fact, that we sometimes hang out outside the office. If you feel out of balance, take a look at your relationships. Some discontent at work may be solved by fostering a friendship or two.
Tools and technology, use them
Another piece of advice I offered up while on the panel was to use the tools that will make your life easier and/or help you accomplish your goals. The example I shared was about saving money for Australia. I set up an automatic deposit into a separate savings account in order to save the money I needed for that trip. It was the single-most important thing I did to save money and it worked like a champ. After I shared that example, two of the panelists shared similar examples. Although their efforts were not focused on travel, they used similar tools to save money for a specific purpose. With all of the technology available today, it is stupid not to let it work for you and help you accomplish your goals.
What advice about work-life balance did I take home?
- Try not to think of work and life as separate, competing things. The more you enjoy your work and the people you work with, the happier you will be. The more time you spend outside of work doing the things you enjoy, the happier you will be. Find a way to do both. One does not have to trump the other.
- Do not compare yourself to others. You really have no idea what is going on in either their professional or personal lives. You might know some of it, but you don’t know it all. Envy is toxic and the more you compare yourself to someone else, the more unhappy and discontented you will feel.
- Set boundaries. This is especially important if you have trouble saying no.
- If you are not getting the kind of assignments you want, maybe you just need to ask. One of my fellow panelists is a manager and he said it is important to communicate your needs and desires with your boss. Otherwise, they might just assume you want a particular type of assignment when in reality, you wanted to do something else. If you do not speak up, you are doing yourself a disservice.
- Finally, recognize that you cannot have and do it all. You will have to make sacrifices. That is why it is so important to prioritize your needs and wants in life. Work toward those top priorities. You may not get everything you want out of life, but you will get a lot more than if you tried to do it all.
Work-life balance is a tricky thing. And it is different for everyone. The key is to find what makes you happy and go for it. For me, that is travel. As long as I have an adventure or two around the corner, I can deal with just about everything else.