I've been on a quest for the past several years to find a peaceful balance between work and life. Through some wrong turns, I really think I've found it.
I used to live in Chicago, and I had a stressful job at an investment firm where I would help put together stock-market performance reports for rich people. I couldn't have been more out of my element. I would stare out the window of the 29th floor at the beautiful skyline and wish I could be anywhere but there.
Sunday afternoons would roll around and I'd start to feel physically sick about having to go back to work the next day.
Then one day on the train to work, I had a moment of clarity: When you get there, it's time to say goodbye and come back home.
I walked around the office and said goodbye to the friends I had there, telling them it was turning my soul too black, and I simply left and felt a weight lift off my chest.
One friend gave me a standing ovation and sent me a card with a tiara soon after.
I thank God for that soul-sucking horrible job because it's armed me with a lens to see what is not acceptable. What is not acceptable is a job that gets its grimy little fingers on my life and starts choking the joy from it.
If you're struggling to balance life with work, ask yourself: Do I even like my work? Is there anything I'm getting out of this aside from money? For me, if it's just money, it's a deal breaker.
I know I won't be on my death bed saying I'm glad I made so much money. I'll be talking about family, friends and ridiculously awesome adventures, just like you.
If you hate every aspect of your job, of course that's going to bleed into your life because you feel unfulfilled and miserable with how you're spending most of your waking hours. That's huge, right?
I knew I wasn't cut out for work in investments, and with a move from Chicago now to Ohio, I have a day job that doesn't match the dream job in my head, but I've made peace with the fact that my job affords me to have my life back.
And to be honest, my move actually DOWN the corporate ladder has been the best decision for me.
Everyone hates parts of their jobs, right? I don't care if you have the exact job you set out to conquer--there are still going to be things that you allow your job the power to take over your sanity.
That. Is. Life.
Here are some things that help me deal with the fact that I have to be at work all day instead of writing away all day at a dreamy coffee shop listening to Simon and Garfunkel.
1-Tackle the Crud First
We are all good at putting things off, right? To make my days feel better, I tackle the tasks I like the least first. I make that phone call to the grump. I run the boring report that makes me sleepy. I get the parts of my job out of the way that I like the least, so they don't hang over my head the whole day.
2-Use a Timer
Please say I'm not the only one with a short attention span here. I cannot focus for the life of me at times, so I've turned to a timer. I'll set the timer for 45 minutes and make a game to see how much work I can plow through while having steely focus. I do this at least 3 times a day to keep me on track. It's like a really lame video game for adults, but it works for me.
Not everyone can do this, but I have a stand-up desk at work, and I can't tell you what a difference it's made in my life. I stand up nearly all day, and my energy is a million times better than it used to be. I'm in a good mood, and I'm more motivated to do my best.
I'm about to get super dorky on you, but I have weights I keep at work, and when I'm feeling stagnant, I go do some squats with the weights. Anytime I take a restroom break, I do a minute of cardio like push ups or running in place in the stall.
(Sidenote--Maybe you're cringing at the fact that I do pushups in a public bathroom, but I am an extreme non-germaphobe. Bring it on.)
Is there any way you can involve more activity at your job? If you're already active, think about how you can schedule in 3 10-minute sanity breaks where you just breathe.
I fail miserably all the time in life, so please don't think I'm calling myself amazing here, but I do think the best way to tackle a job is to give yourself the challenge to always do more than what is asked of you.
If you do the bare minimum, that's fine, but if you set your self-imposed bar higher and you keep reaching for that bar, your mood will be better because you will feel like the work you are doing matters, whether you're digging ditches or teaching children.
If you phone it in, you will find your work to be drudgery. A mind in motion, stays in motion, so keep challenging your mind to dig deeper, even when your work isn't stimulating.
If you are excited to connect with others, you will connect with others and see why you--only you--can do your job the way you do it.
5-Stop and Reflect
For me, it's helpful to take a step out of the fast lane and observe my life sometimes. We often get so swallowed by routine and chaos that we forget we can take a step off the robotic conveyor belt and think for a minute.
The negative aspects of our jobs are so easy to pinpoint. If I were to ask you about your job, you'd have a few on the tip of your tongue, but now think of the positive aspects. Take a look and see if there are things that add value to your life that make it worth it.
I know my life would be a million times more stressful if I didn't have a job, so that alone makes me lean towards gratitude and wanting to bring positivity and focus to my work. Not being able to feed and clothe my children or myself is something I don't want to know, so it's helpful for me to pause daily to wade in gratitude.
That being said, if you take a step back and observe that your job really is sucking the life out of your personal space, then it's time to take brave steps toward a job that makes you feel more like you. When work tips the scales harder than life does, it's time for a timeout and assessment, which I've done in my life and can say whole-heartedly, I have never regretted.
Now how does all this help solve the age-old work/life balance mystery? It doesn't magically make it go away, but if you tackle the hard things at work first, stay focused and energized all while aiming to do your best and trying to be grateful for the opportunity to not be hungry or naked, you will find that when you leave work at the end of the day, work has zapped less of your energy and maybe even sometimes left you proud of your accomplishments instead of focusing on the job you wish you had.
If you put in 100% at work, and you're proud of who you are, then you can go home and put in 100% there with more energy and pride because the positivity and energy you purposely tapped into at work will be what naturally spills over into the person you are, on and off the clock.
The more you become a person you can be proud of, the less it matters what your title and paycheck say, and the less you pay attention to that, the less your job takes over your life, therefore leading to....ah, yes...balance.
These are baby steps that lead to big steps that help you breathe and realize work is life and life is work, and both can be rewarding if we put our best selves into it.