This post is part of Women’s Money Week. Today’s theme is Work-Life Balance. Visit the site to read different insights from women bloggers on the topic.
I probably shouldn’t be allowed to give advice to anyone on how to balance your personal life and your work life. I’m sitting at my computer at 8 AM — and I was here until 10 PM last night.
But is my approach really as unbalanced as it seems? It may be more reasonable than it sounds on the surface.
Balance Doesn’t Mean a Perfect Division
You don’t have to put the same exact items in both pans of a scale to bring it into balance: a rock on one side may be evened out by a giant pile of feathers. Assuming that balance in our lives is a question of dividing up time evenly means assuming that all time is equal.
The time we spend at a long brunch with friends isn’t equal to a few hours that we put in long after everyone else has gone to bed to meet a deadline, though. They shouldn’t be the same, either. At the very least, I’m going to want to devote more of my free time to those mimosas and wandering conversations than I want to spend more of my work time pulling an all-nighter.
Rather than drawing lines between the hours in my day, I focus on using my time in ways that I enjoy. Of course, just like everyone else, there’s plenty of junk in my day — things I don’t want to do, but that I would rather do than face the consequences of not following through, like taking out the trash. But most of my day is spent doing things I enjoy on one level or another. Most of my work is fun: I have the autonomy to choose what I work on and I’ve focused my career in areas I like. Writing about business, for instance, entertains me in a way that other topics, even travel or food, never have.
And even if I seem perpetually glued to a computer screen, I do take time away for other enjoyable moments. I’m notorious for my ability to turn lunch into a three hour affair if I have someone interesting to share it with.
Think about what you’re really balancing: if your job is the bane of your existence, sure, you probably want to take as much time away from it as possible. But we are defined by the work we choose to do; if your work feels painful, you may want to focus on creating types of balance other than work-life.
Now and Later are Part of the Balance
I do work in a way that I don’t expect to be able to maintain for the rest of my life. But work can be an investment: the more you put in today, the more it will be worth in the long run.
This isn’t just an entrepreneurial mindset, by the way. Consider academia, where young professors will take on hellish work loads in order to get even an inch closer to tenure. Most professors don’t exactly coast when they get tenure, but they certainly take life much easier. The same goes with climbing the corporate ladder: the top of the food chain may require a lot of work, but it also provides a lo more options for what that work can look like.
Putting in time now is usually cheaper than putting it in later on. Even if you’re just picking up some side work to get more experience on your resume, a few late nights are an investment that you can capitalize on later.
None of this is to say that I plan to retire and relax down the road. I like working and I grew up with role models who considered a seventieth birthday to be a great time to open a new business. The way I approach my work, however, and the types of priorities I balance can’t help but change. Reevaluating my approach has to be a central part of how I handle the work-life balance question. Even if you take a more normative look at the matter, checking in regularly with yourself about your priorities is always a good idea.
And if a retirement — early or otherwise — is in your cards, balancing your workload between now and later is doubly important. The more you can front load the hard bits of what you want to accomplish in the next few decades, the more likely you are to be able to actually counteract all of the craziness that goes along with saving for retirement. The numbers are clear, even if the economy’s forecasts aren’t.
You’ve Got to Live the Life You Want
Today, we have a wealth of choices that our ancestors could never have imagined. I don’t know about you, but I’m descended from plenty of farmers, miners, and other people who did the work that came to hand and hoped to have enough to eat every day. Work-life balance? The best they could hope for was to work enough to keep life in their bodies. Our world is not nearly perfect, but we still have more options than those who came before us.
So embrace what’s in front of you and look for ways to live the life — and do the work — that appeals to you. Balance what you enjoy and what you want to do in the future with your personal obligations and what you need to do now. You’ll have plenty of chances to correct your course along the way, if you need to.
Image by Flickr user 401(k) 2013