Quite a few years ago, my aunt once told me, “Tommy, everyone has free agency.” Basically, that means that everyone has the ability to make decisions for themselves, which may or may not best meet their needs, however, they ultimately make the decision.
I share this because I hear a lot about “work-life” balance, and people seem quick to impose what they believe should be someone else’s level of balance. However, work-life balance is personal, and what one person finds balance in, another may not, however, each person has his or her own free agency to make that decision.
Last month, I went on vacation after attending two conferences. By the time vacation was done, and after those two conferences, I was gone from my house for almost 3 weeks. While I absolutely love being home in my house, puttering and working on various projects, I really do thrive most when I am working. We got home from vacation on Friday evening, and the next morning early, I found myself at work for just a short bit, checking in on things. That was followed up with having the rest of the month “off” for vacation, however, I went in to work and worked at home almost every day. Sounds crazy, right? Not so much…and I think I have great work-life balance…for me.
You see, even though I worked many days during my month of vacation (I worked almost 3 out of 4 weeks), I still did many other things, like communicate with family and friends, spend time with my partner, visit with my mother, work on my genealogy research, work outside in my yard, go to the movies, etc. I also won’t be a martyr and complain in a month that I didn’t get to take all my vacation time away from work. That’s because for me, I derive a significant amount of pleasure out of working. And I still find time to do all the other things I enjoy and need to get done! My work-life balance works well for me, as part of my free agency to choose how I allocate my time.
Now, I don’t assume that my level of work life balance is the same as someone else’s either. I have colleagues that have young children, elderly parents, graduate school, etc. and based on their personal situation, they may need more time away from work as part of their life demands and free agency related to how they spend their time. And that’s great. It’s great that they get to spend their time in ways that works for them and feels good to them. Because I recognize this, I don’t comment to them when they tell me how long they were on vacation, or the fact that they don’t bring work home, etc. because I understand that everyone’s needs are different.
Although I appreciate when people say, “You really need to take time off to recharge so you won’t be wore down when school starts”, I also want to ask them, “What makes you think that being here and working won’t recharge me and help me be more ready?” Again, people make the assumption that because they have a particular need for time away from work, that anyone who doesn’t do the same does not have work-life balance.
Quite simply, work-life balance is created when each of us uses “free agency” to spend our time in ways that meet our own personal and professional needs. This will always look different for everyone, and we must be cognizant to not make an assumption that because someone works a lot or appears to work less, that there is a deficit in one area or another.
And if you find you are struggling with work life balance, you need to ask yourself, “What do I need personally and professionally to feel that I have my own sense of balance so I can be my best self all the time?” That may require you to set limits on your professional and personal activities and it may take adjustment over time. It is like being on a see-saw with another person. You may not strike a perfect balance between the two of you the first couple times you go up and down. It definitely takes time, self awareness, regulation, and understanding others.
At the end of the day, we each need to recognize our own “work-life” balance, and be careful that we don’t impose our own free agency on the free agency of others while trying to be supportive.