There’s a price for ambition, and it’s been fodder for situation comedies for as long as any of us can remember, the young professional struggling to manage their work, social, and love lives. The young professional is immortal in the world of fiction because so many people can relate.
The source of the problem would be simple enough to see if you were to graph the hours you spend at home alongside the hours you spend at work. Most of us spend more time at work than we do sleeping, or doing anything else, for that matter. It’s never going to be equal, which is part of the reason why even the phrase “work/life balance” seems like a fairy tale.
While certain parts of our lives are always going to take precedence over others, balancing your work and personal lives is not so much about seeking a perfect dichotomy as it is about maintaining a certain mindset. It’s a way of living and carrying ourselves. It’s objective and abstract, rather than anything quantitative that can be enumerated and written into a day planner.
So what are the secrets of becoming a well-balanced professional with well-sorted priorities and clearly delineated work and social lives? Unfortunately, there is no one solution. Everybody is different, and so too are the methods for attaining balance in life. Even so, there are some basic things to keep in mind if you’re having trouble.
1. If you don’t like your job, it’s time to move on.
Change can be scary, but it’s also necessary. Most of us will have a number of jobs in our lifetime, but it’s pretty easy to get stuck in a comfortable routine along the way. If you suspect that you’ve been in the same dead-end job for too long simply because of the effort involved in moving on, you need to sort out your priorities.
Here’s some food for thought, roughly paraphrased from Confucius, “If you love your job, you won’t work a day in your life.” There’s a lot of wisdom there. A great deal of the stress in our professional lives tends to stem from our deep dissatisfaction with our employment situation. While stability is a good thing, job satisfaction is even more important, and it’s something that more often than not is totally within our power to change.
2. Leave your work at work.
I’ll apologize in advance for anybody who works from home, where the lines are a great deal more difficult to draw. For everybody else, it’s time to start thinking about your commute to and from work as a resolute drawing of a line in the sand. If you allow your work and all of the related stress and anxiety to follow you home at the end of the day, you’re going to find out just how capable it is of infecting and derailing your personal life.
Take time for yourself. Binge-watch your favorite TV show. Take a long walk. Whatever you’re into in your time off, make sure you take the time to do it, no strings attached. Make time for yourself where the stresses of the workplace have no power over you. It’ll go a long way toward helping you create a sense of peace.
3. Make an effort to be social.
It’s tragic that we’re more capable of making friends when we’re children than we are at any other point in our lives. For children, it seems almost effortless to approach somebody else, to ask candid questions until you find out what you have in common, and then walk on with a new best friend in tow.
As young adults, the process can seem much more difficult, though potentially even more important than when we were children. Friends serve a purpose that even family can’t. They’re a support system that every professional needs to be able to count on in the good times and the bad.
The thing is, making new friends is hard. Sometimes it’s easy, as when we start a new job and nervous small talk leads to meaningful connections. Other times, it may require more effort. Creating a shared office space, for example, could help you find like-minded people with which to build meaningful, long-term relationships.
Why Is this Kind of Balance So Essential?
While it may have sounded like you should totally isolate your “work self” from your “personal self,” you should know that you’ll never be able to do so. In fact, that’s the very reason why maintaining this type of balance is so essential. The two can never be totally extricated from each other. There will always be an overlap, and sometimes it will come in unexpected forms.
There’s a lot of well-documented evidence about the connection between workplace stress and our physical health. Letting the demands of our professional lives get the best of us may be taking an irreversible toll on us, aging us faster than we think.
It’s also no secret that happier employees are the ones who make a point of taking time for themselves, and as a result are more productive at work.
It’s plain to see, for better or worse, that the personal life of the 20-something professional will always be linked to that same person’s work life. Recognizing that fact and then acting on it will make a world of difference in the long run.
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