As I have transitioned into the work phase of my life, I have had to adjust to a number of things, the main thing being a developing a work-life balance. When one starts into the work force we are often prepared to work the long hours, go the extra mile, and take all the grunt tasks to “get ahead”. In trying to get ahead, I’m afraid many of us struggle with finding a work-life balance. We work hard because we’re trying to prove to ourselves, to our superiors, and to those around us that we can do this. A handful of us work hard because we enjoy our jobs, we feel needed, and we fill fulfilled. I would classify myself in both categories- I love my job, I feel fulfilled in what I do, but I also wanted to prove (to myself more than anyone) that I am a good nurse.
Part of what made developing a work-life balance difficult was there are many times when I feel like what I am doing at work is so much more valuable than time spent with family or time spent with friends. My Dad spent years working at an orphanage in Mexico, and my mom later told me that when he was raising us kids sometimes he felt like he wasn't doing much “good” because he was no longer helping the orphans. His sister reminded him that he is doing the most important job there is in raising his own kids, but I often wonder how many of us feel like my Dad? How many of us feel more useful and needed in our jobs than at home? Maybe we think that by focusing in on our time with family and friends that we are being selfish. I would argue just the opposite. You may feel needed at work but you really are needed at home too. The time you spend investing in those closest to you and the breaks that you should give yourself are what allow you to be effective in your day job.
In this first year and a half of being in the work force I've learned that more important than working hard in my career is learning to balance my work with other responsibilities. I've had to learn that my purpose is greater than my job, and that my purpose can include time spent with family and friends.
Both the family I was born into and the family I married into have been great examples of what it looks like to have a good work-life balance. Both families viewed (and still view) work as something that was necessary, working hard was a good thing, but family and relationships trumped all.
I've also spent some time in the last year and a half examining what this work-life balance looked like for Jesus. If we examine His life a little closer, He spent the first 30 years of his life developing relationships with his family and friends in preparation for his public ministry. During the times of His public ministry we know that he had a close relationship with his mother and we see how much time he spent with his family (the disciples). He spent a large majority of his time pouring into his disciples' lives, ministering to them, and then he took his ministry public.
Time with friends and family can feel selfish or fruitless, but something about this time spent nurturing relationships of those closest to us in turn provides us with strength that we may have not had otherwise. The time we spend outside of work can truly help us do our job better when we are at work. This time outside of work can easily be devalued if we’re constantly checking our work email, thinking about work, and doing tasks that really should only be done at work. There is much to be said for truly “leaving work at work”.
This work-life balance looks different for different people and may even look different depending on the part of the world you live in. For me, the work-life balance includes a few deliberate choices. I have chosen not to have my work email connected to my phone- nothing is going to happen if I get back to someone in a couple of days instead of a couple of minutes. This is something I really struggled with when I started my job- I was new and wanted to be professional and prompt so I connected my email to my phone. I soon realized that this was causing me to think about work outside of work way more than I should have, and I was stressing about things that I read in my email without even having to set foot in the hospital. Disconnecting my work email was one of the best things I've ever done in achieving a work-life balance.
I also practice a few mental techniques to help me leave work at work. I have a 5 minute walk from the hospital to the car and during this time I imagine myself holding two suitcases, one in each hand. Each suitcase holds the bits and pieces of the day I just worked. As I walk towards my car I imagine myself dropping each suitcase on the ground and leaving all of my day on the grounds of the hospital. If a particular part of my day stays in my head on the drive home, I think about it during my drive and then pretend that I’m locking up that situation in my car as I lock the car doors to go inside my apartment.
In a job that’s filled with human connection and personal exposure into people’s (often sad) life stories, I’m not always good at leaving everything at work. Sometimes I walk through the door and have to unload my day on Alex (bless his heart). The verbal processing is sometimes the only way I can get over my day but I also try not to make it a habit. Sometimes talking through my day will actually make it a lot worse and it’s easier if I leave things unsaid and keep my house a safe work-free zone.
The main way that I keep a healthy work-life balance is by making the most of my days off. This means taking time to take care of myself and not feel guilty about it. Some days this means that the house isn't cleaned and dinner is frozen pizza. This means taking time to meet with friends and putting in the effort to hang out with someone. This means taking time to connect with family whether it’s dinner together or Facetime. This means taking time to invest in my two most important relationships that I have- getting in the Word with my guy Jesus, and having date nights with my guy Alex.
By disconnecting myself, using imagery techniques, and making the most of my days off, I feel like I’ve developed a healthy work-life balance. Work is work. It is not and should not be the only thing that defines you or the only thing in life that gives you purpose. You were given the people around you for a reason, and the strength you gain outside of your work day by investing in these relationships will make you ten times more effective at your job. Finding a work-life balance is vital in this life journey; it’s a process but it’s a process that will contribute to your health, your peace, and your overall happiness in this life.
Have you ever struggled finding a healthy work-life balance? What are some ways that you have developed a healthy mix of the two?
**Sometimes out of work obligations are just as stressful (or more stressful) than work obligations- come back next week for a followup post on balancing life demands**