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Take control of your life - Part 1
“The trouble with the rat race is that, even if you win, you're still a rat” ~ Lily Tomlin ~
There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when families were expected to give up everything in order to achieve the financial security they craved. Perhaps you remember those decades, perhaps you are too young to recall those times.
Those were the days when climbing the corporate ladder was a revered activity, and wives and children gazed fondly at pictures of the breadwinner in order to remember whether poor, exhausted Dad had blue eyes or brown.
Large companies moved employees from one city to another, like pawns on a chessboard and, if you had any hope of climbing the ladder toward upper management positions, you packed up the wife and kids and moved on from Chicago, to Boston, to New York, to Tokyo.
In the intervening years, the divorce rate climbed, fathers lost touch with their families and died of heart attacks and strokes at an alarming rate. When these men retired, they felt useless and unproductive.
Over the years, the identity of these men had become inextricably tied to their success on the job. New retirees found themselves wondering who they were, and why they were living with women who were complete strangers to them. And, whatever happened to those darling kids who used to live in the house?
Then women entered the workforce in earnest and joined the rat race.
Lest you think that this rat race has come to an end, look to the evidence of stress related death and illness, an increase in the average number of hours worked by employees in the U.S. and around the world, skyrocketing numbers of divorces and children in single-parent families.
And, let us not forget those of us who are responsible for the care of aging parents.
We live in a world of conveniences that were designed to give us more leisure time. But, it would seem that all the informational overload, whirring computers and media blitz has given us is more time for work.
It is not unusual for men and women to work sixty or seventy hours per week on average. Some of us work eighty or ninety hours without batting an eyelash. And, we fool ourselves into thinking we have a life!
If you are one of the enlightened few, you have already come to the conclusion that giving up a social and family life is too great a price to pay for career success.
Maybe, you have stress related health problems, perhaps you are not eating right, and you are probably fighting with your spouse, boyfriend or best buddy because you spend too little time with the people you care about most.
You probably can’t find the time to return phone calls or send a birthday card to your Aunt Betty.
It doesn’t matter if you are a lineman for a utility company, a pizza delivery girl, a corporate executive or an aspiring dancer.
In today’s chaotic world, it is a safe bet that you don’t have enough time for work, family and friends. And, since your boss holds a tight rein on your paycheck, it is likely that your family and friends are the ones that suffer.
You Are NOT Alone!
“The be-all and end-all of life should not be to get rich, but to enrich the world” ~ B.C. Forbes ~
Did you know that the Society for Human Resource Management has reported that 76% of American workers are considering looking for another job and, further that they estimate there will be 22 million new jobs created over the next ten years, but only 17 million new workers available to fill these jobs?
While every generation of workers has a different set of work expectations, the desire for work/life balance has become one of the foremost goals of every generation in the workforce today.
Baby Boomers are reducing work hours and many ‘Thirty-Somethings’ are starting their own businesses in order to have more control over their lives and schedules.
A recent study done by the Families and Work Institute illustrates that young workers just starting out in the workforce are choosing to turn down promotional opportunities to achieve greater work/life balance.
Why do you suppose these apple-cheeked, enthusiastic job entrants might take this approach? In a study done with young employees by Families and Workplace, work/life balance was among the top for both genders.
Most of these young adults were raised in families where both parents worked and they experienced the sacrifice and demands placed upon their parents, firsthand.
Not surprisingly, of all the generations in the workforce today, these young adults are the most likely to consider job flexibility and schedules when they look for a job, and it is key to employee retention for companies that employ these young workforce.
The point of all of this background information is to let you know that you are not alone in your desire to find balance.
All generations in all types of jobs are today, looking for balance, less stress, and more time with family and friends. Like you, these people are willing to give it their all when they are at work and they expect to work hard, but in exchange, they want a life.
In essence, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
If you think that work and family life balance is a small problem, you may be interested to know that, in addition to the few companies that have recognized the issue and taken the lead in establishing life balance programs, there are numerous organizations, foundations, universities and groups doing research on this topic.
Organizations as diverse as religious groups, government agencies, human resource companies and behavioral scientists now study these issues and, not just because it is the right thing to do.
There are real economic advantages to companies that recognize the need for life balance and create a working environment to help their employees live their lives more fully.
Companies spend a lot of money training and keeping employees and happy employees will stay longer, live longer and contribute to the company longer.
But, we are just scratching the surface in understanding the true human toll that an unbalanced life takes. Many have studied the evolving societal issues and their roots in overwork and lost community connections.
If you WANT more balance in your life but you wonder whether it is all that important, let’s talk about the reasons you NEED this balance.
“We are coming to understand health not as the absence of disease, but rather as the process by which individuals maintain their sense of coherence (i.e. sense that life is comprehensible, manageable, and meaningful) and ability to function in the face of changes in themselves and their relationships with their environment” ~ Aaron Antonovsky ~
Health – Living an unbalanced life where work dominates can significantly affect your health. Long or stressful work hours can cause problems with your heart, your blood pressure, and your sleep cycles.
Studies show a significant increase in heart attack and stroke since the advent of seventy-hour workweeks. Long hours at work and lots of work related travel also encourages poor diet and leaves little time for exercise.
As we become more out of shape, sleep less and experience health problems, we are no longer the powerful asset to our employers, nor can we participate fully in a family and social life.
Emotional Wellness – Your ability to give back to your family, friends and community, and your own emotional stability depends on a balanced life.
As overly dramatic as it sounds, you are likely to experience emotional problems, need counseling and suffer from anxiety attacks or other problems if you have no time to decompress and relax.
There are numerous scientific studies on the benefits of relaxation, recreation and meditation.
And these benefits are both physical and emotional.
You can’t be ready to take on the issues in your family, support your spouse, parents, siblings and children and your friends if you have no emotional stamina.
If you’ve spent all of your focus and attention on work and you find yourself so tired at the end of the day that you don’t even want to talk to your family, you have a problem. And your family may not wait around for you to resolve it!
The societal impact of ‘all work and no play’ has damaged and destroyed many a family and the divorce rate continues to climb. Children grow up barely knowing their parents because they are away at work all the time.
Family vacations are a thing of the past in many families. Vacations get postponed and many employees find themselves losing their accrued vacation time because they have ‘rolled it over’ for so many years and just NOT taken the vacation they deserved.
Your emotional reserves are depleted. You have no patience with yourself or others. You are short on sleep and even on time to think about what you want for dinner.
Is it any wonder that psychologists and psychiatrists are busier than ever?
Stress - We have talked about the health implications related to ‘all work and no play’ but stress is its own health factor.
Even if you like your job, if you have no time for anything else, stress will get you eventually.
We’ll talk more about stress later and you’ll get some tips on how to eliminate or mitigate stress so that your body and mind will be better able to handle whatever comes your way.
For now, what you need to understand is that stress can affect your physical and emotional health and that, over time, it can make you very sick. If you are not in a position to change jobs or otherwise make a major change to relieve stress, learn how to handle it better.
We’re not talking about taking five years of classes here. We are talking about simple techniques you can use to help balance your life.
Remember that work/life balance is not just a question of the hours you spend in one place or another. It is also a question of how balanced you feel and how you react to things.
No matter how much time you have with your family and friends, you will enjoy it more if you are able to balance YOURSELF.
If you can become less of a victim of stress and overwork and take control of your own reaction to stress, you will live longer and be happier at work and at home.
Family and Community – Government and university studies support the idea that the ‘all work and no play’ lifestyle contributes to divorce, dysfunction in the family, and lack of involvement and investment in the community and neighbourhood.
As the community grows apart and neighbours become strangers, emotional and family support for things like childcare, help with aging parents and support following trauma and tragedy become real issues.
The community turns to the government to supply services to fill this gap, taxes rise and people remain strangers.
Families struggle with alternating schedules, and children fail to thrive emotionally and physically.
Divorce is rampant and single parents are under even more stress with even less time to pay attention to children. So, things deteriorate even more!
Role models for marriage, relationships and juggling time and family are important to a child’s adult relationships. If we do not provide those positive role models, we perpetuate the problem.
It is interesting to note that the generation of children now in the work force has started to rebel against jobs and employers that require ridiculous hours and dedication beyond the call of duty.
They understand the toll this type of career takes on a life. They grew up in families that suffered this impact.
Perhaps our greatest hope for change lies in this generation of seasoned veterans of dysfunctional families.
Productivity – If your employer believes that your eighty-hour workweek is giving him more benefit, he should look at the statistics and information gathered by human resource companies and companies that focus on efficiency and productivity.
It is a fact that the human brain needs downtime and rest and recreation to recycle. Think about your own life and the times when you had to work long hours to get something finished.
Perhaps you found that you could barely focus after a certain number of hours. There is a reason that coaches that teach good study habits tell students not to cram for eighteen hours before an exam, but rather to spread out the studying and mix in recreation.
Take a walk; talk with friends to regain your clarity and focus.
If you and your employer truly want to take the best advantage of your time, you need to take time for yourself.
You will spend less time reworking things you’ve done wrong, mistakes you’ve made and details you’ve missed. And your employer will get better quality and output regardless of your job.
Pilots are subject to time constraints and can only spend so many hours in the air because airlines learned a long time ago that a tired and overworked pilot could make critical errors.
In lengthy neurosurgery or heart surgery, surgeons take breaks and leave the operating room to clear their heads and rest.
Again, these habits and techniques were learned the hard way and only when critical mistakes were made did these work policies change. You wouldn’t want a tired doctor working on your open heart, would you?
Life Goals – Everyone has goals. And you are probably no exceptions. You may have work and career-related goals like promotions, expanded responsibilities, and recognition as an expert in your industry.
These are all fine, but be sure you don’t just focus on your job. Many people come to identify their success in life by their position in their job and the recognition they get there.
If they become disabled or sick, or if they retire, they suddenly find that they don’t know themselves anymore.
They have no identity at work so they don’t know who they are. They may have lost family and friends or have become strangers to these people, unaware of the important events that happened at home while they were at work.
So, they have to get to know themselves and their loved ones all over again. For some, this is an impossible task.
Be sure you set personal goals, family goals and general goals in your life for growth and happiness.
Whether it is going on for a Masters Degree in the fine art you love, learning how to fly a plane, or playing the piano, you should have goals that keep you involved in other parts of your life.
While you are setting goals, don’t forget your family goals. Perhaps you have always wanted to take your wife to Hawaii. Set the goal and a timetable and do it!
Remember that life goals can include giving back to the community and to others.
Till the next time!
Written by Abraham A.L on 14th March 2016
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