Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin phrase that means “Don’t let the ba***rds grind you down.” Born in the trenches in the second World War and used heavily in the 1964 political campaign, this silly bit of humor is what you say to a colleague when you’re just “hanging in there.” In many economic circumstances, you simply do what you have to do in order to survive.
Work-life balance is a contemporary notion invented by people with cushy jobs who hate their commute. The idea is that there should be more to work than life and that life is incomplete when it is built exclusively around work. This is the wonderland of people who pay their bills regularly and work for a company that gives vacation days and health insurance.
It’s tempting to say that you need work-life balance to the precise extent that you hate your job. But, that’s not really it. When you let your work become the only thing in your life, you are taking a significant personal risk if it turns out that you hate it.
Balancing what you do for money and what you do to live is a constantly moving target. At different times of life, there are radically different pressures. What works to make sense of life changes as the circumstances change.
When things go out of whack, it’s usually because the pressures have stacked up. It’s easy to miss the fact that you are out of balance because it happens over an extended period. Sometimes, you need some life to balance your work. Sometimes you need some work to balance your life.
The first step involves coming to understand that you have a problem.
Here are 13 symptoms that you’ve lost your work-life balance. If you have more than two or three, it’s time to do something differently:
- Everyone in your life appears to need an exorcism
- Your subordinates are screwing things up and it’s all their fault
- You lose your temper easily
- People tell you that you seem angry and you don’t know what they mean
- You’ve stopped exercising
- You wake up still feeling tired
- You’re drinking more
- You’re eating more
- You’re waking up in the middle of the nightt (multiple times)
- You’ve become an expert in knowing what’s wrong with everyone else
- You haven’t been sleeping
- More idiots than usual are on your commute
- You feel compelled to fix things and people. They all seem to need it
The big indicators that something is wrong with you look a lot like something is wrong with your friends, family, colleagues or the world at large. The more out of whack you are, the more it feels like you are really, really right.
If you find yourself in this position, where you know you’re really, really right and the world seems populated with enemies, you are either Steve Jobs or in serious trouble. Most likely it’s the latter.
The situation (usually known as having ‘one’s head up one’s behind’ (otherwise known as Anal Occulitis) is a common human experience. You can’t have a problem balancing your work and your life unless you are trying to do something. It’s an occupational hazard. Here are five things you can do to get your head back out into the light and fresh air:
- Call your mentor (you DO have one, right?) Tell him or her that the world has been overtaken by demons and you need a quick head pull. This tool works if you both know that you have a problem and are willing to let someone else in on it.
- Take a long walk. It’s hard to keep your head up there after five or six miles. Eventually, you’ll start to notice that there are trees, sunlight and other interesting things on your route.
- Practice breathing exercises. A simple one is to breathe in to a slow count of six and out to a slow count of twelve. Ten minutes of focusing on your breath can break the cycle.
- Write five thank you notes (handwritten) to people who have helped you in the past month. Thinking about others in an extended way and forcing yourself to say nice things to them (in writing) has the potential to restore your perspective.
- Read a piece of spiritual literature. It almost doesn’t matter what variety. Read something familiar and inspiring.
Finding a balance between work and life is more like riding a unicycle than it is like finding the perfect marriage. Balancing is an ongoing repetitive process that is driven by the circumstances of your life.