There are thousands of discussions and strategies on ‘work-life balance’ out there. The corporate world started this discussion 30 years ago in the boom of the high rise, cubicle filled, glass ‘prisons’ that became the prototype of the computer laden end of the 20th century.
Work-week hours were at all time highs, aggressive performance programs and ever-climbing demands revealed their side effects: the deterioration of home lives. The discussion then began, how do we attempt to accomplish so much in our workplace and still keep a sane and fulfilling life away from the job?
‘Work-life balance’ strategies became a human performance parameter that could rival the food pyramid. Make time for this, make time for that, plan to plan; club vacations and timeshares grew like weeds. In some cases the solutions were as stressful and complicated as the problems they were looking to solve. In the last half of the century, both ‘work’ and ‘vacations’ had moved up the chart to the top 5 stressors of the American public in psychological research.
Isn’t there a better way?
Have we over-analyzed the problem and over-scheduled the solutions?
Is attempting to ‘balance’ our lives away from our jobs and our lives, at our jobs - really a solution at all?
Consider this: when we separate our physical time, energy, and emotional investments at home from the same investments at work on a typical balance scale, placing them on the far ends, apart from each other; we end up with a zero-sum scenario.
In order to have more of one, we must lose from the other.
To get ahead at the job, we must sacrifice at home. Increases in family time can hamper attendance and affect performance in a career. It’s zero sum.
So, how do we win? If having more of one means having less of the other, what is the answer?
Stop separating them.
It’s not about the job. It’s all about the work.
Why do we do what we do?
I’m not asking about our careers. What we get paid, in exchange for whatever amount of time away from our lives we give - that is the job. The job is a place, a schedule, a list of policies and procedures. The job is a title, a uniform and a time card. The job is being a landscaper, paramedic, cashier, nurse, police officer, teacher, bank teller or a firefighter.
But, our work, is truly about who we are.
Our work is the sum and substance of what we want to be. Work is the collection of our decisions and actions that align with our Purpose.
Work is something we can do anywhere, anytime and for no money at all.
Work is a calling, a commitment and a distant goal all at once.
Allow me to give a quick example.
At my community bank, there is a particular teller, Bob, that is on a completely different level than almost any other person I have engaged with, in any business, ever. Bob is that impressive.
Friendly, attentive, genuine, interested and detail oriented to service, this guy absolutely sends it, everyday at his job. Bob has nicknames for my sons, he knows our jobs and vacations, he suggests all the appropriate programs, with really, such a passionate delivery for his work that I can only believe this is the way Bob lives; all day, every day. While at home, at work and all places in between, Bob is doing his work.
Bob’s job is being a bank teller, but, Bob’s work is passionate service.
Each of us have the exact same potential as Bob. Some of us are already performing this way, but in lives that we separated to opposite sides of the same scale.
We all have Bob’s passion to do our own work, somewhere inside of us.
We have standards and values that drive our decisions. We have a direction, that deep inside, we want our life to take. We have an internal vision of ourselves and how we want to live. We know how we want to treat people and we know the changes that we want to create in the world. Each of us has a brilliant perspective of what life should be.
Then, somewhere along the way, we tried to become more than one person.
We became ‘work’ and ‘family’ and ‘public’ versions of ourselves. We would invest emotionally at home, then shut it down at work, to become drones to the procedures and then we try to turn it back on when we return home. We dedicated most of our mental band-width into our jobs, then ‘zoned out’ and crashed into a couch at home and said we just ‘want to be mindless.’
We leveraged one for the other. We became incongruent.
Integrity breaks down, when, what we believe misaligns from what we say and do in life.
Stress pours into those gaps and we begin to resent our jobs, our home life, or both. It is hard, to almost impossible, to try be different people. It eventually becomes overwhelming.
That’s why we should stop separating ‘work’ and ‘life.’
Instead, we should be integrating them.
This begins with deciding on our standards, our values and our Purpose.
We do the things in life that we do, because we have an impact that we want to make, a mark that we want to leave.
Everyone is hardwired with the need to feel useful, and I can certainly attest that this need only amplifies when we have a family at home counting on that usefulness.
These standards and values are the basis of our work - our actions in every day. When we care for our home and our family, when we are interacting with strangers on the street, when we are on the job and in uniform - our actions are the work.
Jobs can become a platform for our work, just like Bob’s. I have to believe that we could place Bob in a dozen other jobs and he will bring his incredible work, all the same. Bob is Bob, wherever he goes. That, is Integrity.
We need to stop separating who we are, in one place or activity, from another. We need to decide on a worthy and driving Purpose that covers not only what we want for our home lives, but also one that serves a need in the community around us. That is true usefulness.
Then we must be courageous enough to bring it out the front door with us, everyday.
Imagine getting to be ourselves, everywhere we go and and in everything we do.
Imagine workplaces filled with genuine and balanced personalities.
Imagine people feeling more fulfilled, as they make purposeful decisions, all day long.
Now imagine the first responders that come to your family’s emergency, living with this perspective. Next-level, friendly, attentive, genuine, interested and detail oriented first responders that experience real fulfillment in their work, because they are who they are, wherever they go. They are doing their work, they just happen to be on the job.
It’s an awesome vision.
We don’t have to be first responders.
We get to be first responders.
Better people make better responders.
Do your work.