15.3   Got Balance?

One of the most important things in life is to have balance. Having balance in one's life means that you are able to sustain yourself by working a reasonable number of hours doing work that you love, while having time to do the other things that bring joy to your life. Time for family, time for rest, time for enjoying friends, time for exercise, and time for vacations, in addition to working. Time to have a life… When work so dominates your life that you do not have time to enjoy it, you are in immediate as well as long-term jeopardy. Your stability, your health, and your relationships will be at risk. Some people don't realize it until it is too late.

I often speak to professionals who work 60 plus hours per week. It worries me greatly. The huge risk for a person with an unbalanced life is that it is unsustainable and eventually catches up with you. That is frequently why individuals seek my help in finding another position.

After coaching numerous people in and out of jobs, I have come to know first hand the ravages of working too many hours. A while back I was talking with a person who works in a high tech firm. He was standing outside of my office waiting for a graduate class to start. I said, “hi” and asked him what was new in his life and if he had gotten married yet. He said "no", and I said, "How old are you?" remembering him from one of my classes quite a few years back. He said 40, and that he hadn't had time to meet anyone because he works so many hours. I said, "Do you think this life goes on forever?"

I have also had occasion to work with people who have experienced serious repercussions from working too many hours under way too much stress. Two people come immediately to mind. Both had jobs in high-powered firms, with tons of responsibility and very interesting work in genetics research. The problem is that they worked 60+ hours per week and were sitting, glued to computers moving around a mouse, for most of those hours. At very young ages, both ended up with severe repetitive motion injuries and have been unable to work for a number of years. One has been out of work for two years, and the other for four years. This is tragic. And it is all too common. They each came to me trying to reclaim and redirect their careers. 

In my classes, I preach endlessly about working in satisfying, healthful environments, and about maintaining balance between work and leisure. Unfortunately, when people start jobs, they feel extreme pressure to perform and to deliver even on the most unreasonable demands. People are also pressured when there is instability. They feel they have to do more with less, and they feel uncomfortable requesting the resources they need to perform their jobs. They fail to request help, ergonomically correct chairs, or keyboards at an appropriate level for their height.

I believe that part of the problem is that people feel that they have no options. They feel that they must deliver or risk their jobs. But the more you do the more is demanded, or so they think. Trust me, if you are reading this, you are smart, you have options. There are times when you might believe you are trapped, but you need to get a grip on reality. 

If you are in a situation that is unbalanced, you need to assess your situation, explore your options and develop a plan for changing your situation. You only have control if you exert control.

I used to drive a little blue VW Bug. It was real cute. It had an air-cooled engine. What does that have to do with balance? Well, if the fan belt that turned the fan was too tight, it snapped. Just like in life. If you work too much, you snap.