What does work/life balance actually mean? Seriously? Does anyone really know? If you figure it out please get in touch.
Companies love to abuse this idea like it’s something they’ve hard coded into their corporate DNA. They plaster it all over their websites, their job postings, and quarterly reports. The problem is, it’s meaningless because nobody has done a decent job of actually defining it. You know why? It’s because it means something different depending on who you’re talking to.
To start with, you have to try and define what types of activities fall into each bucket. One called “Work” and the other “Life”. Is work defined as something you’re paid for? Does it mean commuting to an office? Does working from home count? What about a side hustle outside of your 9 to 5? It’s never ending.
In my own life I would argue that work is defined as the work I do that provides my main source of income and benefits for myself and my family. That source of income should not have unreasonable expectations of how much of my day will be spend in their service. As an example; putting in 12 hour days when I’m being paid for 8 would not be a reasonable expectation. However if I’m running my own business on top of my 9 to 5 out of my home, I’m responsible for the hours I decide to work.
My last employer looked at unpaid overtime as some kind of badge of honour. If you had too much on your plate and had to put in extra hours that was a sign you were committed, not that your employer had unrealistic expectations. I had a superior actually comment on the overtime I’d put in as a positive during a review session. Sadly this is not the exception, rather the norm for most people.
Jeff Bezos likes to call it work/life harmony. As if changing the name somehow changes the idea. “Look, you just need to be happy at work!”. Easy to say when your a billionaire. Not everyone has a job they find emotionally and mentally fulfilling. Also just because you love what you do doesn’t mean it’s ok to work insane hours and to be on call 24/7.
It wasn’t just Bezos. I saw a lot of this sentiment when researching this topic.
In my experience, work creeping into the rest of your life is something that gets worse the higher up the leadership ladder you climb. As you get promoted there’s an expectation that you’ll always be available. You’re just a text or phone call away.
I’m just getting tired of companies using work/life balance as some kind of recruiting tool when they have no idea what it really means. In most cases if you ask them they’ll refuse to try and define it. It’s almost as bad as the “wellness” trend. That deserves a whole post on its own.
I found this fantastic resource called People First Jobs. Companies that provide flexible work hours, remote work, professional development. There are companies out there like this. I just wish they were more common.
Ok, I’m starting to think the “universe” or something is trying to tell me something because I keep finding these articles that hit me over the head with a mallet.
This blog post about career transitions for creatives is just perfect.
Back in my parents or maybe grandparents generation, what you did for a living was just your job, the way you earned an income. Now our work is seen as part of who we are. It helps define us in the eyes of others. I’m not saying that’s a good or bad thing, it’s just the way it is.
One of my personal struggles has been with negative self talk and story telling. I have a hard time remembering that simply because I’m telling myself something or spinning a narrative in my mine, doesn’t mean it’s actually true.
Inspect them [your stories] with curiosity and replace them with something true. I’ve been doing this continual work, and it’s enabled me to say ‘I love you’ to myself and mean it. That’s been a game-changer for me over the last decade. — Chris Jones
Comparison is another one. I will often compare my inside to everyone else’s outsides. It’s not a fair fight and you’ll never win. Social media in particular can make it look like everyone else has it figured out while you’re still failing and falling behind.
Anyway, read this article. If you do any kind of creative work for a living or as a hobby, it will help you push past some of your mental blocks. It’s nice to realize that everyone struggles with this stuff. It’s not just you.
I can still vividly remember seeing Fury Road in the theatre. It was one of, if not the greatest movie going experience of my life. I grew up with the original films and I went in without any expectations. What I experienced was a visual and audible feast that didn’t let up for its entire two hour run time. I felt like I was holding my breath until the credits started to roll. To this day I wish I’d gone back to see it again on the big screen.
If you haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road, stop what you’re doing and rectify that problem now. Once you’re finished go read this fantastic article interviewing those involved.
I left the design and development world because I felt like I needed something more “stable”. My then wife and I had our first child on the way and I was looking for a regular paycheque and benefits. I left work that I loved for something a little more stable, a little more bland.
One constant theme I’ve noticed since then is I tend to find companies and people I love working with/for until I don’t. I need to explain: I love working for small to medium sized businesses. Companies that are moving fast and looking for creative ways to do more with less. Companies like this tend to attract creative and driven people, the kind of people I like to surround myself with. Small organizations give you the freedom to throw things against the wall to see what sticks. They let you take risks. However, the other constant is that these companies are usually swallowed up by one of two things; another larger company, or their own success.
They just care about whether work = growth. I love writing, and I love designing and I love making stuff, and yeah I derive a lot of value and meaning in my life from doing that and doing it well. But when growth is all that matters, that work doesn’t have innate value just because it’s great work. It only has value if it makes the graph point up and to the right.
Let’s start with being swallowed up. I was doing technical training and development for a small satellite TV company. We were owned by a larger cable TV/internet company, but still allowed to operate independently. To this day that team is probably one of the smartest, most creative, and fun group of people I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Eventually, our parent company took us over completely and we were forced to join their HR team in their building. Over the ensuing years, one by one, each of us either moved to a different department or left the company entirely. The culture was entirely different, we didn’t have the creative freedom we once enjoyed, we felt like cogs in a much bigger machine.
There is a difference between being, and doing. The difference between caring about what you do, and caring about what you’ll be. The hardest part of accomplishing anything is always getting through what must be gotten through. Doing the work that sits on your list for weeks on end, and ticking off the jobs that you hated doing, but still finding a way to do them with care and with focus. The work of an artisan. The work of a chef, who must prepare and cut each ingredient before the art that is truly great cooking can come together. The work of an apprentice, whose work matters in its tedium, because it enables the beauty of the finished design.
This leads me to the second, which is being a victim of your own success. Every job has shit that you don’t want to do but needs to be done. The tipping point is when the shit takes over and it feels like it’s all you do. This tends to happen when companies turn into the 800 pound gorilla they used to be fighting against. This is exactly what happened over ten years with the last company I worked for.
You can still be a dreamer, but you can’t let those dreams depend on a point of success and happiness. You have to let them be dreams about doing things, not being.
I was so focused on “being” that I lost sight of what I was actually doing. I was focused on my title, on getting promoted, on moving up the ladder. The thing is, there is no final destination. No point in our life or careers where we can say “I’ve made it”. If you take that approach you’ll always want more, nothing will ever be enough.
Getting back to creating has been hard for me. I can feel my anxiety rising just thinking about it. It’s been so long, I have so many doubts. My anxiety lives in the “what ifs” and it’s been doing cartwheels during this pandemic. It tells me it’s been too long, you’re too old, it’s too late. What drives me past these thoughts is I know I can’t keep living my life the way I have been. It will eventually kill me, or at least kill my soul. That’s worth a little discomfort and anxiety for the moment.
I came across this today via Daring Fireballand I just love it. It perfectly describes the design process and I may just end up using this illustration with future clients.
The research phase is the toughest. It’s the beginning, the starting point, where everything you’re coming up with feels like garbage. You have this far away concept of how you want things to look but you can’t quite pinpoint it yet.