The first place we all seem to go in our minds when we think and talk about balance in our work is lifestyle; the balance of the hours spent in our place of employment with the myriad other things in life we hunger to do with our time. While lifestyle is indeed central to the equation of achieving balance, holistic balance starts with lifestyle and evolves to deeper levels of our process and life fulfillment.

Holistic balance is in essence a state of being and doing in which we are in a place of calm acceptance, empowerment and inner fulfillment, achieving according to our innermost values and desires, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination. It is not a process of slogging through a work-life that we do not enjoy or find fulfilling only to achieve an intended result down the road. It is not a state of being in which stress and our acceptance of it has become commonplace. Nor is it accepting anything less than a vocation that brings fulfillment, wonder and prosperity.

In my personal search for holistic balance in my work and personal life as it pertains to my work, I have broken the components of this quest down into four categories of focus: lifestyle, ethics, relationships and fulfillment.

“Holistic balance is in essence a state of being and doing in which we are in a place of calm acceptance, empowerment and inner fulfillment”

Lifestyle balance seems on the surface level the easiest to wrap our minds around, as the concept of balancing our working hours with home, personal, health, family, leisure makes so much sense and seems completely logical. Moreover, for those of us who have or are in a line of work that is so all consuming that we can never seem to catch our breath, we so yearn for the ability to play hooky from work, take a nap in the middle of the day, go to the gym instead of the staff meeting, get a massage instead of finishing that report, or calling in sick and taking a long walk in the forest.

We simultaneously yearn for these ‘self indulgences’ as we think of them, and feel guilty when we do actually take time for ourselves. For some, and myself in at least one past position, we work for bosses that have so completely lost their sense of lifestyle balance that they think that if their staff members aren’t in the office past 7 p.m. nearly every day that there’s something wrong with them.

In order to overcome the imbalance of working too much, we must first examine how we got to where we are in the first place, which can be a lengthy exploration, yet in short I will say that for any career that requires steady consistent hours of greater than 50 hours per week, there is something wrong at the core of either the business model, with management, or with you.

There are professions, such as medicine and law, in which 60 to 70 hour per week are considered the expected norm, and while this can take a significant toll in the long-term, there is also the unique attribute of these careers in that they compensate these professionals at significantly higher levels that most other professions, which for most is an acceptable tradeoff.

Professions such as medicine and law aside, or project work with short-term lengthy hours, there is no reason why anyone should have to toil for more than 60 hours per week on a consistent basis, or even 50 hours per week. Considering myself a recovering workaholic, I can say that there was once a time that I would have argued strongly against this statement, and would have provided all sorts to business reasons why my unhealthy work-life was not only justified, but necessary. Yet, I can say now with complete confidence that it is not only not necessary, but reflects an imbalance in the thinking of those that work this way, or in those that require their subordinates to do so.

Therefore, the first step to achieving lifestyle balance is being willing to ask oneself the following questions:

  • Am I consistently working more than 50 hours per week?
  • Is it necessary to work as much as I do?
  • If yes to the first two questions, do I find the rest of my life to be in balance with my work life?
  • What would happen if I worked less? Would I loose my job/business, fall out of favor with management? Would I make less money? Would I have to cut corners that would make me feel uncomfortable?
  • What would it take to restructure my work/career to work fewer hours?

After processing these questions for a few weeks, there is a second line of questioning that will need to follow:

  • Truly, honestly, what is my real motivation for working as much as I do? Is it money or something else? Is it fear? Is it Ego?
  • Do I feel validated as a human being through my work? Do I feel important as a human being based on the work that I do?
  • Do I identify myself by the work that I do? When asked what line of work I’m in, do I say ‘I’m a such-and-such.’ Or do I say ‘I’m in this line of work.’ Do I say ‘I’m a writer’ or ‘I’m an accountant;’ or do I say ‘I’m in publishing’ or ‘I work for an accounting firm.’
  • If I could walk out of my job today and spend the next six months lying around my house, or on the beach, or spending time in the mountains, how would I feel about myself? Would I feel less of a person than if actively engaged in a career?
  • And here’s the really important question to ask, without my career, who am I?

While the first grouping of questions is a critical examination to begin with, it is not until we get to the second grouping of questions that we can explore the true drivers of our imbalance in relation to our work, and this self-exploration can take time, effort and the willingness to be completely honest with oneself. It’s not an easy process, but it is simple.

Then there are those that have this first part of the equation already worked out. They know they’re not their work. They say ‘I work for such-and-such company.’ They leave the office at 5 or 6 every day. They go to the gym, or take morning walks, or frequent weekend trips. They have hobbies. Moreover, they identify themselves as father, mother, husband, wife, partner, or in relation to their religious practices, or a particular sport.

“…this self-exploration can take time effort and the willingness to be completely honest with oneself.”

As lifestyle balance is only the first step to achieving holistic balance I will have to leave next three components to subsequent posts. Until then, if you answered yes to the first two questions in the first grouping of questions, I sincerely hope that you will take time to ponder both the first and the second grouping of questions in the order presented with honest reflection, and would also recommend that you discuss these questions with a mentor, spouse or trusted friend or colleague. This exploration has brought far greater happiness and fulfillment in my own life, and I know that it can in yours too.