Friday, August 26, 2011

The Cry of the Young Professional: I Want a Better Work-Life Balance

I’m not even sure what work-life balance is, but I’m pretty sure mine needs to be balanced. I know I work and I know that I have a life, but recently it just seems that I’m “working for the weekend”. And when I get there, it’s never long enough. During the week, I get up, go to work, come home, eat, go to sleep and then do it all over again. So boring, so routine. Makes me wonder how I’m ever supposed to change this routine – especially if I need to work so I can have money for the weekend!

Recently I heard about a concept called the Cycle of Sacrifice and Renewal1 that really stuck with me. When we go through a busy time at work (putting out fires all day, early mornings, late nights, dealing with sick kids, etc), we are in a period of “Sacrifice”. That is, we are sacrificing our emotions and “giving them up” and focusing all energy on the task at hand until it’s done. When we are done, we are exhausted, drained, and full of negative energy. Then the weekend comes along, and maybe we go out to dinner with friends, play with the kids, read a book for an hour (fat chance if you have kids!) or visit a relative. These are periods of “Renewal”. They are times when we are relaxed, having fun, laughing, and getting lots of positive energy. However, 2 Renewal days vs. 5 days of hardcore Sacrifice really don’t balance each other out, do they? This is why we walk around “stressed” and “exhausted” all the time. Makes sense, huh.

The theory is we need at least 3 periods of “Renewal” to counter-balance just 1 period of “Sacrifice”. I’m pretty sure the theory does NOT recommend that you work 1 day and then take 3 days off or anything like that (although that would be nice). Renewal periods are defined as events we participate in that last more than 15 minutes and contain positive energy- like happiness, hope, laughing, and feeling joy. These Renewal periods can actually come in bursts and you can even have them the same day that you have a Sacrifice period. A Renewal could be going to lunch with an old friend, having a brief but uplifting phone call with a relative, sharing a funny or positive story with a coworker, or sitting down to breakfast with your kids before work. What is important is that we are AWARE of when we are in a Sacrifice period and AWARE of when we are having a Renewal period so that we can help keep ourselves in balance.

Learning that these types of feelings that I have (working and feeling drained and then having fun on the weekends only to return to working and feeling drained), are actually defined and that there are professionals who spent all day long thinking about it really helped me understand that there is a bit of science to all of this. And that there is hope- there is a way to get out of the vicious daily stress cycle. The first step is realizing what you personally need to balance it all out, and then the second step is acting on it. So I wrote down the times I felt Sacrifice in one week and the times I felt Renewed. Then I counted them up…and it seems my work-life balance is indeed a little out of whack. I am currently working on this and acting on it….trying to get busy laughing, playing and “renewing”. This is just week one. Stay tuned for results!

1 Richard E. Boyatsis and Annie McKee, 2009, Resonant Leadership

Post created by Alexis Rizopulos

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