Priceless and More Easily Achievable than Work-life Balance
The term “work-life balance” has always sounded boring to me, just as the 1930’s concept of “mental hygiene” sounded way less juicy than the human potential and personal growth movements that have enlivened so many of us since the 1970’s.
Achieving work-life balance has always seemed to take so much work. Maintaining it seems even harder and so unnatural, like trying to maintain balance on a high wire when I’m really such a klutzy sort. Meditation and relaxation strategies are wonderful, but how can I stay balanced whenever a lot of energy or exertion are required?
And then there’s the awful implication that work-life balance requires a separation between what we do for work and what we do for life. Kind of like those folk-art weather houses (hygrometers) in which a boy emerges to signify rain or the girl comes out to predict fair weather. However beautifully they are carved, the boy and girl are forever kept separate and distant. Perfectly balanced, but not much fun.
The term “work-life excellence” popped into my mind during a shower, which is one of the best catalysts for work-life excellence anywhere.
Years ago, some executives were asked where they did their best thinking. Nature and religious settings tied for second place. The bathroom overwhelmingly took first place. No big surprise, considering the many excellent virtues of the bathroom.
Einstein was said to get his best ideas while shaving. Louis Armstrong touted the thronely release that’s necessary to keep music and life flowing. I, like most people, am in love with the shower. While writing Work with Meaning, Work with Joy: Bringing Your Spirit to Any Job, I ran to the shower when walking wasn’t enough to clear my thinking.
Showers are great. Where else are we so rewarded by being willing to come clean? Where else is there absolutely no reason to put on an act? Where else can we awaken and delight body, mind and spirit without leaving the house?
Obviously, I didn’t take the name “work-life excellence” into the shower. Instead I took the essence of what needed a single name. Eventually as I washed and just received the joy of the water, the name emerged. Since you already know the name, I’d love to tell you some of the essentials of work-life excellence.
Work-life excellence means that excellent workdays lead to excellent home life which leads to excellent sleep which leads to being prepared the next day to have an excellent day of work … and so on.
Instead of having to force yourself out of bed because you’re exhausted, you awake refreshed. Rather than being frenetic with morning preparations, you relax, knowing your clothes and other necessities are ready. Rather than jump out of bed, you take a moment to let every part of you enjoy the transition from sleep to wakefulness.
Perhaps you take some time for meditation, to listen to the music from the birds outside or something beautiful on the electronic player of your choice. You take the wonderful consciousness of your shower into your day. You breakfast mindfully and nutritiously. Your commute is a conscious journey from one place to another, one pilgrimage in the journey of life along with many others.
Rather than leave your true self — including your vision, values and faith — in the parking lot, you bring them into work. Thus, every task reveals its opportunity to become a more satisfying mission, another opportunity to stretch your talents and enjoy serving others.
Throughout your day, you practice small ways of integrating your spiritual self with your work. Maybe you offer a moment of gratitude for your work (including as necessary, the work of looking for work). You find moments of prayer or reflection throughout your day, including a moment to release your workday and prepare to go home.
By practicing work-life excellence, you may be tired at the end of the day and need rest. But you won’t be stressed out or burnt out, even in hard times.
Instead you’ll bring home what the great work storyteller Studs Terkel once called the daily meaning along with the daily bread. You’re invigorated by your work, blessed by the camaraderie of fellow workers and others who are impacted by your work. You’ve got time and energy for a real life. You’ve set yourself up for relaxing sleep, perchance to dream and further enrich tomorrow.
Over the years, I’ve found work-life excellence in the best of times and the worst of times. Some of my richest challenges have been to learn to tolerate more joy and meaning in my work. Some of my deepest joys have come from practicing habits like the ones above during hard times when my husband was out of work and three relatives were dying across country.
Rather than my saying more about how I see work-life excellence, please share how you see it. What practices help you create excellence in work that leads to excellence in the rest of life, and vice versa?