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Hey, Colleague: What's the best way to achieve work-life balance?

Spending time outdoors is one way to reset and recharge.
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When work defines you, it’s hard to draw boundaries between that and your personal life.

Send questions about careers, productivity and work-life balance to kpn@glaciermedia.ca. Please include your name and location, or request to remain anonymous.


Hey Colleague, 

My relationship at home is on the verge of destruction. My spouse says I’m never home or on my phone all the time. I recognize that I need to spend more time with my family but it’s difficult for me to unplug. My job is a part of me and I love the feeling of achievement. Do you have any advice?

—Anonymous


Firstly, let’s try to understand why work becomes a part of a high-achiever's identity.

Life and career achievement are put on an extreme pedestal. Paradoxically, we are all driven by fear of failure because of an imperceptible pressure imposed on us by conventional societal standards. The fear of failing ourselves, our family and our community can ironically isolate us from the ones who truly matter to us.

High-achievers are good at what they do so they tend to be rewarded financially, elevating their social class because they are able to afford materialistic possessions and services. Momentum is a magnifier and the more they achieve, the more intrinsically motivated they become to maintain this identity, linking our self-worth to our work. Employment also provides fulfilment, purpose and belonging.

There is nothing wrong with this because it’s in our human nature to succeed and want more. Being socially valued is also one of our core needs as defined by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The trouble arises when we become too confined in these behaviours and experience an identity crisis when things aren’t going the way they want. When work defines you, it’s hard to draw boundaries between that and your personal life.

Second, you should explore your subconscious and try to identify the root cause of your choices and behaviours. Our tendencies often arise from subconscious conditioning that’s been programmed in us — it operates from any information (or experience) it has received since the day we are born. Understanding where your behaviours stem from will give you clarity and intrinsic motivation to kickstart a positive change in your life by reprogramming your thoughts.

  • Is this self-imposed pressure?
  • Am I working so much because of a fear of failure or rejection?
  • Am I trying to prove someone wrong (perhaps a parental figure)?
  • What are the stories I am telling myself? 
  • What triggers me to check my emails?
  • Am I trying to avoid something by distracting myself with work?

I recommend journalling your thoughts, talking to a friend, or better yet, taking advantage of the privilege of therapy (aka personal development) and talking to a therapist. We could all benefit from a non-biased perspective in our lives.

Signs your work is linked to your identity:

  • You find it hard to mentally unplug and constantly check in on work, monitoring our emails or Slack updates.
  • When you receive criticism of your work, you tend to internalize it and make it personal.
  • You may struggle to take constructive feedback and instead, feel demoralized.
  • The topics of all your conversations seem to be around your work because that’s all you can talk about.
  • You are not present during family dinners, parties and other social engagements.
  • Your relationships are rocky or intense because your focus is on work, neglecting important people in your life.

How to boost your self-worth outside of work

Challenge negative thoughts. 

Negative thoughts are normal because our brain’s only job is to help us survive so it is constantly scanning our environment and calling out things that don’t match our current paradigm. When you have negative thoughts, catch them and be aware of them. Try to replace it with an alternative thought or be curious about why that thought popped in your head. This is a mindfulness practice that will eventually rewire your brain if you practice it consistently. 

Engage in non-work-related activities.

Take up a new hobby. Passion is discovered through performing new activities consistently. Perhaps you will find something you enjoy doing as much as your work. Balance in life is crucial for your well-being.

Spend time outdoors to calibrate and recharge.

You deserve a reset and a change in environment is the best way. There is no doubt about it but nature truly heals and spending time outdoors naturally calms us down. The science is strong but we are all creatures of Mother Earth and no different than any other species on this planet; we need the sunlight and fresh air to truly thrive. How did we forget this?

There is something about being surrounded by trees, listening to the birds sing, walking barefoot and the sand between your toes. If you do these things and are consciously aware of its calming effects, you will only entwine with its high vibrations. Spending 20 to 30 minutes per day immersed in it is associated with the biggest drop in cortisol levels, which will ground you and give you a new perspective on how to live your life.

Understand work-life balance is possible but not constant.

Work-life balance is a myth because balance means stasis — we would remain in this state forever but that’s not how the universe works. Nothing is constant.

The world naturally ebbs and flows so you must think of your work as part of your life, rather than an opposing part of it. Reframe work-life balance as a dynamic concept. You are not always going to achieve it but you must learn to constantly be aware of changes in your life and shift priorities as you go along so that your work and personal life can intermingle dynamically like two graceful ballroom dancers.

Remember that we are all dynamic individuals.

Self-esteem and our characteristics are not fixed traits. Everything we see, think, feel and do is impacted by our environment. The secret is to not play victim and take everything personally — instead, become curious about yourself and the world around you so you can evolve with it. Question everything with genuine curiosity: your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Observe those around you but seek to understand, not judge.

You seem to be aware of what needs to change in your life and that is the first step. Good luck on your journey!

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