As we continue on our journey of life, it is important to evaluate and assess the balance in our lives. While many do not contemplate this question until they have been in the workforce for ten to twenty years, it is imperative that all young professionals learn to identify factors that contribute to an unbalanced life and learn how to achieve while enjoying other aspects life has to offer. I challenge my readers to engage in self-examination by considering the habits you’re forming now because it is more difficult to break them in the future.
A truly balanced life will look different to various people depending upon their values, circumstances, and environment; but in all cases it should encompass a healthy physical, mental, spiritual, intellectual, social, and work life. An unbalanced life may lead to illness, emptiness, failed relationships, and depression: a balanced life should produce well-being, confidence, a sense of fulfillment, and leisure. To examine your own life, review your schedule by looking back over the period of months and do the same for the future. In DC, the culture of the Hill means that the workdays can be normal or extremely long and the workflow ebbs and wanes accordingly. Many pursue advanced degrees while working. Sometimes at the start of a new job, the work can be overwhelming and intense while you figure out the role. The circumstances may delay the realization of a balanced life by years so it may feel like you’ve been placed on a treadmill with no way to exit. If these circumstances continue beyond a reasonable period, there may be a problem Having been there and done that, I assure you the consequences are less than great!
I caught up with a friend of mine over drinks. He works for a major law firm that selected him right out of law school. The path from associate to partner included long hours and paying his dues, and once he became partner he had to keep up the pace to stay at the firm and afford the lifestyle he had created. I asked him if he was happy to which he related that he rarely sees his wife and his son and daughter do not know him well; also, his health was an issue. It seemed as if he had become a cliché.
Obviously, attorney is not the only job in town where someone can work long hours and lead unbalanced lives. Plus, it is not only work that can consume time: anything that is done to the extreme and detriment of a balanced and healthy life. Sloth, extreme exercising, too much socializing – there are a number of ways to fill in the blank of something you do too much! So, why do we threaten our quality of life with an unbalanced and extreme existence? Here are a few (but not all) reasons why:
Learned Behavior: We often mirror what we saw and learned as a child. If our parents led an unbalanced life, we may be continuing that pattern. Although we may have disapproved of our parents’ choices, we can inadvertently copy what we learned. Perhaps we assume that this time we are in control and that the outcome will be different.
Perfectionism: Do you know anyone who needs to be perfect in most things they do? Since perfection can never be reached, they spend an over abundance trying! They may be trying to impress something to someone and never quite get there.
Control: This group needs the security of control and often doesn't trust others to help them achieve it; therefore, they spend time micromanaging or just doing the work themselves. They work long hours because they need to do it themselves.
Escaping: Some run from one part of their life by pouring their energy in other parts to escape or forget. Grief (a death or major event) and loss (the end of a relationship) are two examples of this. If not checked in time, it can be extremely unhealthy.
Recognition or a badge of honor: Early in my work life I thought that being the first to turn the lights on in the morning and the last to leave was a measure of success. Instead it was a measure of how big my ego was and the need for recognition or a badge of honor. Although a good work ethic is valid and needed, an extreme one is problematic. What suffered were my health, personal and family life, and other areas of my life!
Financial: I am close to people who work two or more jobs to make ends meet. Interesting enough, some of these still find time for family and a balanced life.
Passion: Some rare individuals exhibit extreme passion for what they do. They do it day and night and never experience anything else. While some may admire them, they rarely live a normal life as we know it.
If you are currently living an unbalanced life it doesn't mean that you are that abnormal. It really depends on the extent that you are doing it and for what reason (s). The bottom line is that if you are hurting yourself or others, you should do some serious self examination and determine if you are being honest with yourself over your true motives. Awareness is the first step. If you want to follow my example, you could make many of the mistakes first; face the consequences and then correct them along your journey, but I recommend that now is a good time to look at the rewards you are seeking leading an unbalanced life and determine:
1. What is your real motivation or reason (outside opinions may help)
2. Are you willing to accept the possible consequences for the rewards
3. Is there a point when enough is enough – If so, when?
4. If others are involved are they part of the discussion?
5. The habits you start now are difficult to break; therefore, I challenge you to start healthy habits like doing periodic self examinations of what you are doing and why. If you are uncertain of the consequences, seek someone you trust or a mentor with experience and get their opinions. Often we are blinded to our motives and alternative options. Socrates said that a life unexamined is not worth living. This wisdom has many meanings.