Seeking Balance in this Crazy World

Seeking Balance

Image Source: Carlow University

Dr. Jim Ice –

In our busy lives, there never seems to be enough time to get things done. There are too many demands on us. No matter which way we turn, we are flooded with requests for our time and resources. Every day there are so many urgent matters to address – at work, school, home – and it’s difficult to find time to invest in accomplishing important tasks such as upgrading our job skills – which we know will pay long-term dividends. How can I balance the oft-conflicting demands of my personal life with the demands of my job, we ask?

Forbes recently reported the results of a Harvard Business School study that found that 94 percent of working professionals work more than 50 hours a week, and more than half reported to be working 65 hours a week. Most of us work for financial stability and personal fulfilment.  However, the 24/7 availability afforded through technology – along with the ever increasing flood of information to process in the pursuit of one’s career and personal aspirations –  adds significant stress to our daily lives.

Over the last several years, the term “work-life balance” has become a rallying cry challenging us to learn to carefully consider the allocation of our time and priorities at work and beyond in order to put our life in “balance.”

Is work-life balance achievable? Is it even desirable?

While the call to balancing our investment in work is admirable (and needed) when considered within the larger context of our complex lives, it can be quite misleading to describe our lives in such simple terms of “work” and “non-work.” Consider this quote from the commencement address at Georgia Tech in 1991 by Brian G. Dyson, former President and CEO of Coca-Cola:

“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them Work, Family, Health, Friends and Spirit … and you are keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that Work is a rubber ball – if you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – Family, Health, Friends and Spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered.  They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

His insight illustrates that there is so much more to balancing our lives than how we allocate time and priorities related to our employment. Add the challenges of mounting debt, maintaining our physical health, a desire to upskill our professional capabilities, community and political pressures, and the demands of maintaining healthy relationships, and we have to become master jugglers just to keep all these balls in the air. Our lives are more complex than just work and non-work. In fact, we often purposefully choose work-life inbalance – when we work overtime to generate income for an anticipated expense, or take extended time off to care for a loved one, or decide to invest in continuing education to enable new career opportunities. The “right” balance also may be very different person to person. You may enjoy working 60 hours a week, but that level of commitment for another individual may have him or her looking for a new job.

The reminder to balance our investments in work and non-work activities is important for today’s professional. However, we need a better framework and practical tools – to help us move beyond “work-life balance” to “life balance.”

Well-Being: Redefining a Balanced Life

The Gallup organization, best known for polling populations to understand trends and preferences, launched a global study exploring the question, “What makes living worthwhile?”  Collecting data from over 150 countries, they asked hundreds of questions about health, wealth, jobs, community engagement, spirituality, goals for the future and relationships. From this research, five distinct factors emerged, which they call the “currency of a life that matters.” The researchers suggest that each of these “five essential elements” are universal across cultures, religions and nationalities.

In their 2010 book “WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements,” Tom Rath and Jim Harter outline these five factors:

  1. Career Well-being: Liking what you do every day, your work life
  2. Social Well-being: Building and maintaining strong relationships, your personal life
  3. Financial Well-being: Successfully managing resources, your economic life
  4. Physical Well-being: Good health and energy to get things done, your fitness life
  5. Community Well-being: Engagement where you live/work, your service life

Although they do not define it as a well-being element, they also explain that there is a sixth factor that drives all of the others:

  1. Spiritual Well-being: A core sense of worth, faith and purpose, your life’s mission

Think about your life for a minute. Where would you rate yourself on each of these factors on the scale: Suffering (area of high risk); Struggling (inconsistent, moderate risk); or Thriving (consistent, progressing, low risk)? For most of us, we may be thriving in a couple but struggling, or even suffering, in others. Although 66 percent of people report to be doing well in a least one area of well-being, only 7 percent report to be thriving across each element.  We need to recognize that our individual well-being and personal identity is intertwined with each of these factors – not just career and non-career.

Well-Being: Moving from surviving to thriving

Considering life balance in terms of these six factors of personal well-being helps us to realize the interconnectivity of our daily lives. We carry concerns about our work/career with us in the evening after we leave the workplace. We carry them with us in every interaction. Similarly, we all recognize the impact that our social or financial well-being level can have on our productivity at work. We are constantly juggling all these balls.

This well-being perspective helps us to move from perceiving ourselves as a victim of our busy lives to taking more control as we create action plans to move from “surviving” to “thriving” in each area of well-being. Even those of us who may define our financial well-being as “suffering” can put in place processes (pay off the credit cards every month) and tools (family budget) to help us improve our overall financial health.

The multifaceted well-being perspective reminds us that as we shift the balance of our time and resource investments to meet short-term goals, we must remember to keep our eye on our long-term wellness across each area. These six categories of well-being are very similar to the “juggling balls” described in Dyson’s commencement speech. The level of aspiration for well-being in each factor is unique to the individual and will change as conditions in our life change. However, we can achieve a better life balance if we carefully consider our goals and action plans for each of these factors – and adjust them as priorities and life situations shift.

This blog is dedicated to helping you learn to thrive across each area of well-being by providing you with insightful tips and practical tools along the way! 

SOURCE: Dr. Jim Ice – Carlow University