"You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” Charles Buxton

One of the many myths of adulthood is that work-life balance magically happens to you. Someday you just fall into it or it comes to you naturally. There's no such thing as work-life balance. The fact that we distinguish work as if it's distinct from the rest of our lives instead of incorporated into it is telling. Work is a distinct portion of our lives but the role it plays in that life is up to us. Work-life is not a balance with more weight being given to one than the other like the scales of justice tipping either way. I like the idea of a work-life negotiation better. It's a more active process and speaks to what we're tasked with doing. We have to do our own negotiation. We have the make the life we want. We get to choose the weight we give things. Sometimes we wait for peace or balance when in reality  We don’t just find balance. We have to create our own balance. It’s active, purposeful, and intentional. It's a process, one that is ongoing, and lifelong. It’s choices, and prioritizing. It’s engaged, dynamic, and fluid. It’s up to us to distribute the weight of our lives, and all we’re carrying, so we can be at peace and have the balance we desire.

We live in a society that deceives us into believing that we must stake our worth in our productivity and our professions. That's a fallacy and a farce. We are not our work. We have to be more. We deserve to be whole people, who are more than our contributions to the capitalist machine. Whether we're meeting quotas, getting all our work done, going above and beyond, etc. or not we still matter. We still have worth. We still deserve to be able to live - not just survive, but thrive - with all that life has to offer. We should not fall into the trap in giving the entirety of ourselves to our work. The work we do can be important, sometimes even paramount, AND yet still we as people matter just as much if not more. 

We are expendable. We are replaceable. We have limits. Any work that demands we sacrifice ourselves for it, but don't give us that same energy in return is exploitative, manipulative, and inhumane. Our lives, our relationships, our peace - those things are irreplaceable. Those things have to be priorities for us, and when we let our work dominate our lives those are the things that suffer. It's unfair to us, and to those around us. Our work, and it's impact on our lives is worth examining. Maybe we have more explicit conversations, maybe we clarify expectations, maybe we try new things, or maybe we need to figure out something more sustainable for ourselves. Someone else can, and will do our jobs - no one else can live our lives for us. 

Imperfection is a regular part of life, and our work. So much of our time is spent avoiding failure, and striving to be perfect. That's unrealistic. It's unhealthy. It's not necessary. Most of the time doing our best, and being good enough is in fact, good enough. Learning to be happy with your performance as opposed to obsessively chasing an unattainable standard lets you be at peace. I used to set time limits for graphic design projects and whatever I had done in those time constraints, that was the basis of what I turned in. At a certain point things become moot. We have to spend our time wisely, and be efficient in our work. Causing anguish, speaking negatively to ourselves, or holding ourselves in contempt gets us nowhere. We know when we've done a good job - that's what we're called to do. 

And with that comes saying no. How often do you say no? Do you give a justification afterward? Do you avoid no like the plague? Are you in an environment, have you been empowered, are you comfortable with saying no, and leaving it at that? How often do you say yes, not because you're obligated to but because you actually want to? Are your yeses emphatic, enthused, and genuine? Are your yeses immediate? When we start asking ourselves where we are, the relationships we've formed, and the social pressures we're under we realize that we might not be as free as we desire. In actuality so much of our work is not our own, or it doesn't have to be. It's worth figuring out what happens if you say no, whose work is this to begin with, will someone else complete it. Sometimes its taking something on now and being able to say no later. It's being excited or at least passionate about your work, and when you're saying yes, meaning it. Are we in a place where we can ask for help, voice when we feel overwhelmed, overworked, or overspent? Will we be listened to, and will action be taken? Is self-care encouraged here, and is it actually supported? Do we get to bring our whole selves to work? What about mental health, sick, and vacation days - do people get to take them, liberally? All these are important questions to be asking in choosing where we're working, and while we're working. Livelihood matters, but a humanistic environment makes a world of difference for us. 

How do we facilitate our work-life negotiation? It's about setting boundaries, establishing rules, and adhering to the guidelines we set. Is it imperative that you're accessible at all times? If you don't respond, what's the consequence? Is it life or death, more often than not - no. Things can wait until the next day. Do you answer phone calls, texts, or emails at home; if so, until when? Do you even have your professional email on your phone? When you're home, are you doing work? Are you thinking about work even when you're not there? Is there a tangible separation for you. What does it look like for you to not take work, to have a clean break, and to spend your time outside of work being just you.

 Work has a way of leaking into our lives outside of it even when we don't mean it to. Do you talk about work incessantly? Does work keep you up at night? Do you spend your time thinking about what you need to get done? Are your deadlines realistic, rational, and definitive or do we make up arbitrary parameters for ourselves. How different would be the world be if we changed our language from I'm a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, etc. to I work in ... or I do ... for work. Instead of our careers being our defining identity, they would become part of our identity. I say I work in higher education instead of I'm an educator, because it's not all that I am even though it's an important portion of my story. We get to construct our identities, and in that construction there lies our power to shift our perspective. Negotiate you to the forefront of your life - work is not the only reason why we're here. We cannot let it be. X


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