1: The need for a mindset change
If we don’t have a clear perspective on our work contribution, we will be buffeted by external forces. We are liable to say yes to any request to help out, any request to put in extra effort, any request to work overtime. In some environments, there are bound to be many such requests. They may be dressed up nicely, for example: “This is a real step-up opportunity for you!” or “You are going to have a chance to work with some important people and extend your network in a valuable way” or “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … and an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment”.
Without a clear perspective, it is hard to turn down such requests. So what are some useful perspectives?
First: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you saw someone starting a marathon as if they were doing a 100-meter dash, you’d think they had misunderstood, or that they were trying to be funny, or that they were deeply deranged. Starting out at such a pace is clearly not a sound strategy. Guess what – the same consideration applies at work. You may have decades of productive work years ahead of you, yet sometimes run as if your work life was going to be over in a year or two. You may strive to please your current boss or to impress people around you to secure the next promotion. When you look back, ten, twenty or thirty years from now, that promotion is likely to not stand out as being quite as critical as you think right now. When you make your next decision that is going to affect your work-life balance, think about what it will take to go the distance.
Second: You are a valuable asset to your organization, and you have a responsibility for stewarding this asset. Your organization hired you for a reason. The people who made the decision very likely wanted to benefit from your skills and talents for an extended period – rather than seeing you flame out after an intensive sprint. Now, the organization at large and your leadership, in particular, have a responsibility for supporting and nurturing this asset that is YOU. But you also have a responsibility. In fact, you have a unique responsibility. Only you know the details of your current workload. Only you know the details of your physical and mental health. Only you know what else is going on in your life right now, which might affect your energy level and your productivity. Therefore, you have a particular responsibility for setting sane boundaries, so you get the sleep you need, the exercise you require, the social interaction that will sustain you.
Third: It is likely that you are good enough. Many people live in constant fear that they may not be quite good enough. An inner voice may be saying: “Look at the people around you – they are truly impressive. You don’t really stack up. Looks like you are a hiring mistake”. When this anxiety grips a person, it is easy to compensate by working more hours: “At least I’ll show them that I am totally committed. I may not be as smart as the others, but I will make up for it.” Some environments even make a point of hiring “insecure overachievers,” as such people are bound to work very hard. If you find yourself in this trap, take a step back, breath deeply and reflect. You may or may not be “good enough” for this environment. One way to find out is to cut back the hours to a sane level and see what happens. Chances are very high that it will work out just fine, provided you are strategic about where you focus your efforts. And if it doesn’t work out, think about it: do you really want to work in an environment where you are such a marginal performer that you need to work insane hours to get ahead? Doesn’t sound like a recipe for a fulfilling, meaningful life that will bring happiness… If you continue to struggle with the work-life balance, you may have to do some deep thinking – perhaps with support from someone you trust. Questions to ponder may include: “Am I driven to perform in order to combat insecurity?” “Do I have an exaggerated sense of responsibility, so I cannot let go?” “Do I fear standing out from the crowd?” Clear answers to these questions tend to be helpful.
Leaders have a particular responsibility when it comes to role modelling these mindsets, to help people around them make wise choices.