Balancing act

If our car tires are unbalanced the car shakes at high speed. If our diet is unbalanced our health suffers. If a building is unbalanced it falls down. If our neurochemicals are unbalanced our sanity suffers.

Talking about balance is somewhat cliched. It seems everyone does - at least indirectly by promising miraculous ways of improving some aspect of our lives.

When I slipped into despondency around three years ago, I began to think about what could be possible causes and what solutions I could apply. One of the things I noticed was that my life was seriously unbalanced (it still is). I identified 5 areas I thought were essential for maintaining a balanced life (there may be more, for example faith, but I think that one fits into community).

Work was and continues to be the single largest occupier of my time, although I have managed to make some meager improvements to family and self aspects. Sadly, friends and community are significantly lacking.

Looking at work: Monday through Thursday I spend 9 hours at work. Every alternate Friday I get off and the other Friday I am at work 7.5 hours - for a total of 75 hours of work every 2 weeks (although that is 80 hours spent at work). Add in time in the morning preparing (washing up, shaving, getting dressed, eating and preparing a lunch): 0.5 - 1.0 hours. Commute time: 1.0 - 1.5 hours (although traffic problems can easily increase that). So we end up with 10.5 to 11.0 hours for a nominal day spend within the domain called work. However, that is not the end of it, for me it takes about 2-3 hours to unwind from a day at work - veg out. So, the reality is that work actually occupies 12.5 - 14 hours of my typical day. This does not leave me much time for anything else.

The irony is that when I was in college, I could hardly wait until I finished so I could go to work and have my evenings and weekends to myself. College meant homework that occupied some of my free time. (High school doesn't count because I don't remember much in the way of homework, most of it was done between classes anyway). Now, I can't think of anything else except how I long to be freed of this burdensome yoke (living in a cardboard box on a street corner may have some romantic appeal, but is not really practical).

Personally, I feel that work should occupy the smaller portion of my life and not consume it as it does. Family, friends, self and community are richly more rewarding. Is there any way to make work only 20% of my life?

The image is copyright by me.


Steve said…
I'm one of those students who cannot wait to get my degree so that I can go out and get a decent full-time job. Your story scares me a little.

I always wondered where you found the time to write such long and competent comments on everybody's blogs. I think that question is more justified now than ever.

Have you seen the film "Office Space?" I think you'd like it.

Ps. Buy a lottery ticket.
Richard said…
There are some tricks I employ:

(1) I blog from work (my job gives me plenty of little spaces where I can stick in a bit of blogging).
(2) I try to compose my posts at home and upload them when I have time during the day.
(3) I only comment on things I have something to say (basically these are no thought responses).
(4) I read very quickly and prefer shorter blog posts to longer ones since long ones have too much detail to track
(5) I just write the comments. I may not respond immediately (ah, the beauty of blogging), so I have time to think about it. Once I have my thought, I just jot it down. The proper way would be to reflect, sketch it out, and refine it. If I did that I would probably only make one or two comments a day (if that). The just do it aspect is important. If you are not used to it (and I am not), it is hard. But in the end, you can kill yourself to get it 100% right and the truth is that the majority will not notice. Better to get it 95% right and not kill yourself. (as an aside, I hate seeing spelling and grammatical errors in what I write, but if I do the right thing, put it aside and come back to it, get someone to proof it for me … erm, how many posts would I get done?). This trying not to be a perfectionist and a doer instead is still a work in progress and not always easy to apply to other parts of my life.
(6) For longer comments, I actually generally write them up at home in the evening and them upload them during the day.
(7) I actually get into work earlier and leave later than I suggest above because I am alone in Ottawa, my family is in Montreal (170Km away).
(8) Blogging is easily done piecemeal. There is no pressure for me to respond immediately. I can read a blog at 08:00 and then comment at 10:30. Everything being done offline until I am ready to upload.

The good thing about working is the money (at least it is in my case). But money is not everything, life is not just about money. Life is about time and when you run out, you cannot get more. If you run out of money, you can always do something to get more. I suggest you read this.

A major problem (and I really have no right to complain since my life is so much better than many others) is that we are constantly working to survive, but not to enjoy life. Many people on this planet exist at or below a meager subsistence level - I do not. I feel sorry for them, struggling to eke out nothing more than an existence, and here I am the ingrate complaining about my life. True, I exist above a subsistence level, but I am unfulfilled.

You can be fulfilled working, but it has to be a vocation, not a job. My friend (whom I've known for over 30 years) has a vocation, he is a scientist (ecologist specializing in fresh water invasive species) and professor at McGill University.
Maybe you should consider moving to France. I've noticed that the French put a much higher importance on self than we Americans do. For instance, they have a 35 hour work week and automatic 5 weeks of vacation per year. Consequently, they may not be as competitive as Americans, but they certainly do produce results well at work.

They also possess a remarkable social service system in which every citizen is taken care of to the fullest - healthcare, living assistance for those in need, etc. I'm no expert - there are many I wouldn't be able to name.

So as you can see, self and community are highly regarded there. But maybe it's similiar in Canada...oui, non?
Barbara said…
Until just about 2 years ago, I was just like you, often working 50-60 hour weeks, with my job clearly taking #1 as a priority. I realized that I hadn't been really living, although I was doing a good job at working. Hence, the name of my Blog. I still do a good job, although I spend far fewer hours doing it. I have realized just how important friends and family and community (even a web-based community) are in my life. I'm glad I have weaned my self off of my work dependency before retirement. It will be so much easier. I understand your problem all too well...
This is an age old question that many people ask themselves, Richard. We are all unbalanced in this life, a tad at least. I guess it's hard to change careers or locations, but if you had a shorter commute it would free up more time. (My husband has the shortest commute possible! He has a chiropractic office at the front of our house! I teach school 1/4 mile away.)
Your time needed to veg/wind down,could maybe be combined with something or someone else in an area you need to expand...having coffee or a beer with family or friends or a fun time with your wife/kids.
Other than that, I don't have much to offer.
It's a juggling act to be sure!

Good luck, Richard!
freckled-one said…
It's a horrible catch 22. We have to work to survive, yet if we just do the minimal and not exert an extra effort we are not promoted into higher paying positions. The higher paying positions which allows us to do the things we dream of such as owning a home, etc. With the higher paying position there is added responsibility which creates more work, more hours at the office, less time to enjoy the things we work so for.

Without trying to offend anyone I think it’s even more difficult for men to balance. Society has an image the man of the house being the breadwinner. Working hard to provide for his family. Women tend to be the caregivers and therefore it’s more accepted, for example, for us to leave work to take care of a sick child. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my male co-workers leave for the same reason.

Maybe you need to play more hooky and enjoy the time away guilt free.
It is indeed a Catch 22. We place too much importance on possession of material things. We need to get back to subsistence lifestyle and just attaining the absolute necessities.
Richard said…
run around paris: my nominal work week is 37.5 hours (although, we are on an experimental compressed work week so it is 75 hours per 2 weeks). Normally that is what I work. This job is pretty good about the hours I need to work. So moving to France for a 2.5 hour shorter week isn't worth it (although 5 weeks holiday sounds good - Sofia gets 6 weeks right now, I only get 3). Oddly enough, I recently read a book by a French woman named Corinne Maier called Hello Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay (Bonjour Paresse in French). Not as good as I had hoped.

barbara: thankfully I have not been working the 50+ hour weeks in a long time (about 10 years) except during crunch time. My main grip (aside from all the time normal work takes away from my life) is the general lack of challenge in what I do. I haven’t found anything else that interests me (not true, I did find an interesting job, but it required a Ph.D. in Fluid Dynamics with extensive experience – not quite in my ballpark)

MOI: In my previous job, I used to get ½ hour to 1 hour time to walk home and unwind. Until my company moved to the west end of town, I used to get about an hour to unwind on the bus and walking. Now I am in the car and I do not find driving a relaxing activity. I could go for a walk, but then I abandon my kids. I suppose I could take up drinking (interesting, I have often wondered if the reason people drink is to achieve chemically what they cannot achieve in balance - self medicating?).

I am not sure I want to get back to just subsistence lifestyle - that is what most of the people in this world have. What I find so frustrating is that no matter what job I have had, I am basically paid to occupy a chair. When there is no work, or no real work to be done, they still expect you to hang around "just in case" – even if I have begged to take the time off unpaid.

freckled-one: I am not a typical guy. I have no delusion of needing to be the strong provider for the family. I do believe that Sofia has this image (maybe not consciously) because in Peru, men are clearly the bread winners and often in talking with her I get the impression that she imagine life a little differently: the husband enjoying his job and bringing home a good salary, the wife working as a hobby to bring in a little extra income. Sadly, I am not a good hooky player. Even at school (at least until university) I always attended class. On day, I was the only one who showed up and the teachers (I guess assuming he could go home early) was surprised to see me since all the other students ahd already skipped. He ordered me out.
busybee said…
Richard said, "Work was and continues to be the single largest occupier of my time."

I guess it's true for most people.

People in my country work between 40 and 50 hours per week if they are Executive staff and below. I work between 60 and 70 hours a week. *sigh* It's usually like that for those holding senoir positions. We are trying to move toward a 5-day work culture to make way for socialization and improve "birth rate".

You will hate to work in my country.

Richard said…
bee: it is even worse in Japan. I met a number of Japanese women who wanted to leave. One friend is now living in Canada (Toronto, with 3 beautiful kids), another wanted to go to Africa, but I Lost touch with her many years ago, so I don't know if she succeeded.
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