Notes on the Work – Life Balance

Sometimes it feels like life really is a selection of onions, where you’re learning the same lessons over and over again for each lesson-onion while you gain that little smudge of wisdom from peeling back each failure-layer.

Recently I failed at the work-life balance onion. I worked and worked and worked, becoming more and more sick and unfulfilled, until something had to change. So I peeled back a layer and started afresh with that little bit of extra wisdom, which I’m sure will last me for another short time before I go out of balance again and need to learn another lesson.

It’s complicated, life is.

Anyway, this post was inspired by an article on Philip Bloom’s blog. In it, Philip talks about the ‘elusive work/life balance’, and how several things including the death of a close friend prompted him to reevaluate how much time he currently spends working:

I let my work get in the way of the important things in life…I am guilty as hell now he has gone

Philip Bloom is a great man, a true authority in the camera world and someone who has found their calling and pursues it with passion and depth. And I’m someone who places a great amount of importance on your calling in life. So it moved me to hear how he wants to do less work. It validated my intuition to stop working so much, and allowed me to follow that instinct instead of keeping my head to the grindstone because I might not ‘fulfill my purpose’ or ‘miss out on the satisfaction that comes from following one’s passion’.

Since this realisation I’ve spent more time with family and friends and reading fiction and doing all the things that’d normally make me feel guilty for ‘not doing something useful/important with my time’. And it’s been simply marvellous.

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What Should You Do With Your Life?

Cal Newport he talks of a student who ‘loves’ two different subjects and can’t choose between them, so is choosing to do both. The student asks whether it’d be better to focus on one subject. This is Cal’s response:

From an objective perspective, what does it mean for a second semester freshman to “love” electrical engineer or mathematics? At best, it means he enjoyed a handful of courses on the topic and/or thinks it sounds interesting.

To feel real passion for an academic subject…requires years of honing your craft. Until then, you’re pursuing an idealized simulacrum.

The reason why I love this response is that instead of treating young people and students as if they should have everything figured out, it takes the pressure off by saying:

“Hey, you’re young and pretty stupid and aren’t going to just know what you’re meant to be doing in this world, so relax and enjoy yourself and just pursue something that interests you. If you work hard and are nice to people then it’ll all fall into place.”

Or, less frankly – and perhaps inaccurately – put:

The obvious advice to this student, then, is to choose one of these topics that interest him and then invest the time necessary to learn the craft and develop a true connection to the material.

Source: The Student Passion Problem – Cal Newport

Lack of Living

Today I’d like to explore the lack of living that I, and probably many of you, have experienced. We may get things done, we may even have a job we love, a strong relationship with a healthy partner, good friends and family, yet we may feel a lack of vitality.

Co-dependence

This lack of living is strongly related to your level of independence from your family and society. Though we may become conscious of many ways that we are co-dependent, there seems to always be more, hidden in the unconscious. Only by growing in awareness, giving utterance to our most highest desires and seeking the feedback of others can we unlock and loosen these subconscious dependencies on other people.

I’ll let Joseph Campbell take it from here:

Campbell talks of Babbitt, specifically the last line:

I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life

This may sound extreme, but it begs the question: how much of your decisions are influenced by other people? If they are at all influenced, even the slightest amount, then whatever you do, it will not be what you WANT to do.

Other people will always try and influence us. We may choose to take into consideration people’s opinions, chew on them, and then make our decision – but without the chewing, we are merely robots. Mechanical talking heads, repeating the desires of others.

Pain – our truest friend

Pain, physical or emotional, shows us the path to our liberation. But it’s so easy to reject the pain, to turn away, to distract ourselves with shiny gadgets and over-achievement and love and sex.

I can’t remember who said it, but someone once said something along the lines of:

When it comes to emotions, human beings are the most creative creatures on the planet. We’ll come up with almost anything to distract ourselves from an uncomfortable emotion

Why pain?

Pain originates from the soul. It tells us when we’re hurt and need rest. It tells us when we’re trespassing against our soul’s wishes. It tells us when we should have paid attention to what’s in front of us instead of the cute girl beside us through lampposts and traffic signs and cliff edges.

But the pain is too much

You are an infinite being in source. Your soul is formless and will remain after your body has dissolved into the earth from whence it sprouted.

Enough talking, let’s dance for a moment

 

The pain is still too much

And who’s responsibility is it to remedy that? Answer it truthfully.

If you answered yourself, you’re right.

If you answered someone else, you’re still right.

The truth, as always is somewhere in between. One thing I know is that you’ll probably have to take the first step. If you’re stuck in the same pattern, you’ll have to be the one to break out of it.

As Einstein wisely said:

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them

You may still have hope. Hope that “one day things will be different”. Forget that shit. You’ll be waiting your whole life, like the character in Babbitt:

I’ve never done a thing I wanted to in all my life

Action step

Take the step. Call someone. Talk about how you feel. Already doing that and it hasn’t worked? Try something new. Reveal something even more intimate. Go to a men’s group. Start a men’s group. Still feeling stuck? Take a different approach. Organise a social outing. Quit your job. Wake up at 5am. Fast for a day. Go to the woods and refuse to return until the answer comes to you.

Life is dynamic, it isn’t a single question-and-answer. Dance with it.

I wish you luck.