It’s been almost three years since I last wrote about work life balance, but now that I’ve added wife and (more serious) business owner to my job titles – and since someone tried to come for my ability to both effectively be a PhD student and have a life on Instagram the other day – I figured it was time to give an update! Besides having an abundance of favor, having a great work life balance is one of my biggest blessings and priorities. Maybe you thrive on stress, but I learned in college and my early twenties that stress and I don’t get along. I don’t sleep well. I gain weight. My skin doesn’t glow. Not cute.
I think of work life balance as an essential component of my self care and mental health. It’s something I don’t compromise on, and a value that has driven my personal, academic, and career decisions. One of the reasons I went into a PhD program (I started college on the pre-med track like every other good immigrant child), is because I thought professors had more work life balance than physicians. And one of the reasons I’ve become disillusioned by academia is because I don’t see enough examples of women of color academics who have a healthy work life balance.
So how do I make great work life balance a thing in my life? How can I be in school, have a social life, work out, serve in church, travel a few times a year, make dinner several times a week, run a business, and be cute every once in a while? Part of the answer lies in time and task management, which I’ve talked a bit about here. The rest is all about having the right mindset.
Make Time for the Things You Care About
Work life balance starts with balancing your priorities. I suggest making a list of what your work and life priorities are, and re-evaluating this list seasonally. Are you shooting for a promotion? Trying to learn a new skill so you can transition to a different career? Do you want to have a weekly hangout with your girlfriends? Visit a new country once a year?
Once you’ve jotted down what your priorities are, rank them in order of most to least important. That way your everyday plans and decisions can be guided by your own priorities, and not society’s notions of what should be done.
When we got married, one of the things Jonathan and I agreed would be important for our marriage was eating dinner together as a family. It’s something that we both grew up doing and felt was integral to a strong family unit. Very few things come in between us eating together, like a special work event, or a friend who’s in town that we haven’t seen in months. We schedule our lives around that time because it’s important to us.
Since time is your most precious commodity (unlike anything else, you can never get it back), you have to carve out time for the things that are most important to you. Any job that you have will take up exactly however much time you devote to it. So if there are things that you care about outside of work, you have to intentionally prioritize and make time for them.
Remember Your Job Is Just a Job
Even if your career is on the top of your list of values, your job does not define you. It may be one aspect of your life, and integral to your survival, but it’s not the whole story of who you are.
Sidebar: for students, one of the most helpful tips I received was to treat my PhD program like a job. For me that means working from 9-5 (actually, usually from 9-3), and completely disengaging from it outside of those hours. For the period of whatever time you’re a student, school is your job. Treat it as such.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your work with excellence. You should. Your job is a blessing and no matter how annoying your coworkers are or how tedious your tasks, you should still be grateful to be employed. But your job isn’t the whole story of your life. It’s totally ok – and encouraged – to be excited about other things, to cultivate other passions, and to have other interests outside of work. Pursuing those passions, which you may have written down in the previous step, with the same diligence as you do your job, contributes to great work life balance.
Society makes us think that we need to work 65 hours a week and get a promotion every year in order to be “successful”. Even though men potentially feel this burden more than women do, it’s still important for us to push back against the capitalist idolization* of work and busyness above all else. Success is about living out your purpose, not about how much you work, and how little time you spend on non-money producing activities.
*Yes I said work is an idol. I went there. Let’s chat more in the comments.
Realize You’re Not That Important
Honestly, great work life balance boils down to accepting that you’re not that important. If you don’t reply to that one extra email, read that one additional book chapter, or miss the company happy hour to see your college roommate who’s in town for the day, won’t the world come to a crashing halt?
Abso-fricking-lutely not. Somehow the Earth is still turning despite all the foolishness going on, so your one night of avoiding work email when you get home won’t be the thing that makes it combust.
I think sometimes when we throw ourselves so deeply in our “work,” it comes from a place of wanting to feel invaluable. Again, your value is not tied up in your work. Your worth is not tied up in your work. Your success is not tied up in your work. At the end of the day, any job you have will get done eventually, whether or not you do it immediately. Either you’ll do it later, or someone else will do it. I’m not encouraging slacking off at work, but I’m just saying the cogs will continue to turn without your immediate help.
You know what won’t continue to move forward unless you, and you alone, take time to nourish it? Your life. That’s all you have complete control over, and what you should strive to make flourish, above, or at the very least in addition to, your work.
I find great work life balance by making it a priority, remembering my worth isn’t attached to a job title, and by not thinking that I’m so important. This gives me the time, the confidence, and the freedom to live a full rounded life outside of my work. How do you find great work life balance?