A few months ago I read a comment from a favourite entrepreneur of mine, Lisa Messenger.
It was light heartedly but pointedly talking about wanting to meet the person who decided that we needed to work 9-5, 5 days a week and, well, not giving them the kindest reception.
Decades ago an 8 hour day seemed to be sufficient, and would provide the wage to support a family and stay at home wife if needed. They’d be able to afford a home, and when they left work, for most people, their work would usually end.
Now with technology it never ends. Nor does the expectation of us to be on top of everything minute by minute.
I was once reprimanded by a manager for a mistake that was made by a member of my team at 10pm on a Sunday.
What happened in that moment was nothing that my bosses had hoped. I was left asking myself why my team was being asked to do work at 10pm at night, and why I was expected to be overseeing something so late on a Sunday night.
The expectations of perfection, connection and commitment are essentially 24/7.
Perhaps it’s my digital marketing background but my entire working life has been about checking social media even at 2am on a weekend night to ensure that no trolls had posted inappropriate content, knowing that if I didn’t see it there would be ramifications.
This habit, as much as I was determined to leave it behind, reared its ugly head even when I was my own boss.
If I finished work late into the evening, there was a high level of guilt even if I allowed myself a half hour sleep in. Or if I wasn’t working all weekend, why not?
I had started out with such a harmonious balance, working efficiently for a certain amount of hours a day and then taking a break for some exercise. Then I’d do a final burst of work before using my night to do whatever I needed.
At the first sign of a crisis, that went out the window and I really struggled to get back into my chosen way of thinking about work again.
Every minute I spent not working I felt guilty, knowing that my business needed my attention but being resentful as I was so depleted myself.
What falling back into this societal expectation created was an unhealthy relationship with a business that was my passion, multiple health crises and a spiral that was draining the colour from my life.
One day after a friend delivered me a cold hard slap about the situation I’d gotten myself into, I spent over a week trying to find the golden ticket.
How on earth was I going to get both my health and my business back? Each took so much time and effort, and where was a wage going to come from while I worked on even just these two things?
Finally the penny dropped. My life shouldn’t be squeezed into the time I have left, my business needed to work around my life.
We’re only here for a limited amount of years, and I’ve given too many years already giving myself almost entirely to my employers with a tiny amount of energy spent on my health and even smaller amount given to enjoying myself.
Honestly, wake up we’re here to live! I’m in the lucky position to be able to control my hours, but even if you’re in a desk job is 10+ hours of overtime really necessary?
Have you set yourself up as the one who will always go above and beyond? Do others match your input or do they coast off your hard work? If it’s the earlier, are you really in the best workplace for you?
An employer should respect that people have lives too, and be wise enough to know that happy employees are the most productive anyway.
I wrote 2016 goals around treating my staff to monthly massages and a delicious team lunch. I also vowed to recognise when they went above and beyond in a way that resonated with them.
Had I done any of these things for myself? No. Had I been exactly like the totalitarian bosses who said that anxiety attacks were a sign that we were doing a good job. No!!
I left all of that behind, yet somehow those voices, those expectations and the need to overexert myself reared their head as soon as I wasn’t looking.
Thankfully, I’m back. I have a more tangible understanding of how to create this in my life that I actually didn’t have when I stumbled upon work life balance earlier.
That had been for self preservation, after working 80+ hours for too long juggling agency life and starting a business. I was on the brink of a major health crisis and that was the real cause for my commitment to balance.
Now, it’s because I am here to live a life. It’s because I deserve to enjoy myself, and because I’m no longer a slave of someone else’s selfish desire to get the most out of me for their own benefit.
I am the master of my life and I’m going to have one. A real life.
I may still do more hours, but knowing that I’ve taken care of myself first and foremost gives me that fuel in the tank to make an informed decision after weighing up all of my and the company’s needs.
I feel like I’ve just smashed through a coating, and can see the ties to the old way of doing things crumbling around me in every area. And it feels good!
Even if it starts with taking one lunch break a week for you, you deserve to come first too.