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  • Writer's picturePeter Greedy

Life Balance vs Work Life Balance

We have all heard and probably been challenged by the phrase “Work Life Balance”. Another one trotted out too often (mostly by celebrities or podium speakers who seem to have it all together in their dream job) is “If you love your work, you’ll never work another day in your life!” I’ve come across both of these several times in the last few days.

To the first I ask - since when was work not a part of life? And to the second I call bullshit!

Let me explain…

I want to explore the (unhealthy) relationship we have to work. The two phrases above typify an underlying attitude to work that tends to separate and toxify work as something separate to life or that is a necessary evil in life - unless of course you do have that dream job - which just further alienates us mere mortals from the gods of fame and celebrity (OK with me btw).

From the beginning of our existence work has been an inextricable part of life - finding and preparing food and shelter to survive. These are the basic Physiological and Safety needs of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (See illustration)

The currency may be different but working to provide these basic needs is still a given, we have just moved up Maslow’s pyramid over the millennia.

Great work environments are set up to meet people’s belonging and esteem psychological needs and a tiny few may reach the pinnacle of Self Actualisation, but this is rare. I’d suggest extremely rare in large companies, but more likely in the micro business, self employed, sole trader set up where those involved probably started the enterprise out of a passion for a skill or cause of their’s. Ironically the same place every big business started from

So what is the relationship between work and life - do you work to live or live to work? I say neither of these is true either. I say “work is life”. For all of us, work - whether paid for or not - occupies the biggest part of our waking day. Work is just as much a part of life as sleeping, eating, drinking, socialising, playing, exercising and resting. Anyone ever heard the term “Sleep Life Balance” or “Play Life Balance”. So why treat work any different? We should neither demonise work nor romanticise work. Whether you love or hate your work, it’s still work. It’s extremely difficult if you hate your work and we want to optimise our work situation (or if you’re in a hopeless situation where that’s not possible consider changing jobs), but even if you love your work, it’s still work.

The best of the best at anything - sport, performing, leading, finance, law, healthcare etc - are probably the best because they love their work, live their work and work really hard at it.

My observation of the celebrity world we live in is that some of the people who achieve most fame and success are not necessarily the best at anything, however, they are obsessed (I’d argue addicted) and they love their work, live their work and work harder than anyone else. These are also people who almost certainly do not have balance in their life!

I heard a great discussion recently between Steven Bartlett (Diary of a CEO podcast) and Marcus Buckingham (Author of First Break all the Rules). Marcus was the first person I heard verbalise my thoughts about this topic and made some really interesting observations about the benefits of loving your work from a neuroscience (a fascination of mine) perspective, and indeed he has just written a book called ‘Love + Work’. He prefaces these comments with a statement that really resonated with me “Any work done at excellence has a lot of love in it. Any work done at average is loveless”. I see this all the time. I have many colleagues who are truly excellent at their jobs and really love the work they do, and of course the opposite is true for fear too many of us.

The neuroscience bit: Research shows that when we work at something with love and the creative juices start to “flow”, there is a giant neurochemical cascade released (norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, endorphins) that are the same as those released when you are in love with someone - the measured brain activity is very similar. These are all performance enhancing neurochemicals helping you think better, have better memory, are more creative, recognise emotional signals better and are able to concentrate more - less mind wandering. As a result, not only is your actual work better, but your experience of work is better, and what’s more those around you (your team at work and your family at home) experience the benefits of you being better. Instead of taking your negative work frustrations out on those around you they experience the better, happier and more self actualised you.

I’m now guessing a lot of you may be asking, “so how do I get to that place because right now my job sucks’ or something similar? One answer is - that’s where I come in! Which is partly true as many people will struggle to do this on their own and will certainly benefit from coaching to get to this place. However, there are some things you can do to start…

Notice the positive moments. Even the most self actualised people have times of grit and grind. They are not in a permanent state of bliss. However, noticing the times when you get this little sense of flow, when you loose yourself in a task, when time flies, when you’re unaware of noise and activity around you; these are the times when you’re most engaged with the work and these are clear signals of where your sweet spot for work may lie. Dig in to these! Get curious; ask yourself what it is about these moments that help them fly by; think about how you feel in those moments; share the experience with colleagues and your boss; ask if you can do more of that work each day. All of this will feed in to your own job creation project. Make the job your own. You will benefit from this but so will your employer and boss because you’re doing more of what you love, which means you’ll be doing better work with more efficiency, productivity and creativity.

When you see someone who seems to have the perfect job and think “how did they find that job?”, put a new perspective on that thought ask “how did they make that job?” because the chances are that the job they were initially hired for looked quite different to the job they now do and love.

Then ask yourself: “How can I make my job one that I love?” You will not regret it and you’ll certainly benefit from a better LIFE BALANCE!

(For more information and coaching enquiries about how to achieve better life balance and make your job one that you enjoy and love more, please message me.)


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