The (Im)possibility of Work-Life Balance

Posted by Karen Degen on 2nd October 2015

Tags: limiting beliefs, perfectionist, putting others first, saying no, work life balance

Happiness can be a delicate creature. It has to be fed, nurtured and given attention. If we are too busy to nurture it then it grows weaker. In some cases happiness becomes so weak that it seems dead, but it is merely lying dormant until it is nurtured once more. For it to remain strong we need to create and maintain a balance between things that consume our energy and things that replenish our energy. This is often referred to as work/life balance.

We can become so busy nurturing other people’s happiness that we run out of time or energy to nurture our own. Our own needs get relegated to the bottom of the list where they are forever waiting. That elusive thing called work-life balance seems impossible.

The reason our needs languish at the bottom of the list is because of limiting beliefs about work, often picked up in childhood. I recall coming home from primary school one day and finding my normally busy mother sitting down having a cup of tea. She immediately jumped up with an embarrassed look on her face and exclaimed “I’ve only been sitting down a minute”. I was bewildered as to why she would feel the need to share this information with me. Looking back now I can see the belief I picked up that day. Her reaction taught me that there is something wrong with sitting down, even for a minute. Her reaction taught me that you have to be busy all of the time, and that you should feel guilty if you are not.

Another belief we can pick up from childhood is that we must always put ourselves last. My mother would always take the smallest piece of meat and if there wasn’t enough of anything she was the one who went without. She was the last to get new clothes, only after everyone else was taken care of. One of my clients told me she was taught J.O.Y. “What is that?” I asked. “Jesus first, then Others, Yourself last” she replied.

This sounds very altruistic, but it is not actually the way things are supposed to be. It is like when you are flying and the steward(ess) tells you to fit the oxygen mask to yourself before helping a child or anyone else. The reason being, if you don’t have enough oxygen you can’t help anyone else. Everyone loses out. Life is like that. In the same way that we have a money budget we also have a time and energy budget. When we have ‘enough’ we feel great, we can do things for others and all is well.

As you give to others your energy level drops, much like the water level in a glass drops when you drink. Give more and your energy level drops again. If you have work-life balance then your level of ‘enough’ gets replenished. We can keep on giving only when we are replenishing. Replenishing is otherwise known as ‘me time’. The more you give, the more ‘me time’ you need.

The problem is that people with limiting beliefs such as ‘I have to be busy all of the time’ or ‘I have to put myself last’ can’t replenish themselves. The guilt stops them from having ‘me time’. As they keep giving, their supply of ‘enough’ gets very low.

People without those limiting beliefs will notice the symptoms of low levels of ‘enough’ and will stop giving for a while. They will nurture themselves until the symptoms are gone, then when they feel they have ‘enough’ they will start giving again. The symptoms can be feeling stressed, tired, unwell, or snappy with others to name just a few. These symptoms are the body’s way of saying “No”. “Something has to change.”

Unfortunately people with limiting beliefs can’t change because their programming tells them to do the opposite. They don’t listen and just keep on giving. That is when the body really says no and stops us in our tracks. Sometimes it stops us dead in our tracks – literally.

Many doctors and nurses notice that certain personality traits seem to be associated with certain illnesses. Many believe they can tell who’s going to develop something serious such as cancer or heart disease in the future, based on personality alone. It is often ‘nice’ people who get these serious diseases because they are the ones who don’t put themselves first, don’t say “no” and don’t express their negative emotions, especially anger.

Dr Gabor Maté, in his book When The Body Says No, writes “In important areas of their lives, almost none of my patients with serious disease had ever learned to say no.” “The inability to process and express feelings effectively, and the tendency to serve the needs of others before even considering one’s own, are common patterns in people who develop chronic illness”.

I have noticed the same personality traits with my clients. Another trait following closely behind these is what I call Superwoman Syndrome. Superwoman (or Superman) Syndrome is a close relation to perfectionism but worse. With perfectionism we set such high standards for ourselves that we use a huge amount of energy trying to achieve them. With Superwoman syndrome we not only try to be perfect at what we do, we also try to do everything. We believe we have to be everything to everybody and if we aren’t then we aren’t good enough.

An example is a lady client who had no work-life balance at all. We talked about how we might create ‘me time’ in her schedule, which involved working full time and being a mother. Every day of the week after school she was taking her children to activities. I asked if they needed to do all of those activities and if they really liked them. “No” she replied, “They don’t want to go, but I make them”. She believed she should be able to work full time (achieving great success) whilst being the perfect mother. That she should have a perfectly clean house, a perfectly clean car and wonderful children who achieve to the highest levels. Any thought of doing less made her feel like she was less.

I mentioned above that people with limiting beliefs can’t change, but let me clarify that. They can’t change without re-programming over those beliefs. Limiting beliefs reside in the subconscious mind, which is like a DVD. Whatever program is loaded onto it is what it plays, forever, no matter how much you ask it to play something different. The quickest and most effective way to reprogram over beliefs is with Energy Psychology such as EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques).

Before you can have balance you first need to create time for it. To create the time you have to change the beliefs you have about the way you ‘should’ be. Superwomen tend to have beliefs not just about what they should be doing and how well they should be doing it, but they also have conditions around what makes them good enough. A list headed ‘I will be good enough when’ can be lengthy, unattainable, and contain such things as:

• I am successful
• I can keep people happy
• I make my father/mother proud
• I am respected
• I have a partner
• I have a house
• I can stay at this level
• I get things done
• I look nice
• Other people think I’m good enough
…. the list goes on

With beliefs such as these you can’t create work-life balance. Even if you did create ‘me time’ you would spend it feeling bad about yourself. It is much easier to keep giving than it is to feel that bad. The answer is to seek professional help to change the thoughts, beliefs and emotions that are creating this dis-ease within you.

One of the best statements I have ever read about work-life balance was said by Brian Dyson, former vice chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola. “Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them –work, family, health, friends and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls — family, health friends and spirit are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

Work-life balance by definition means having equal amounts of those things that deplete our energy and those that replenish it. While speaking to a group of business owners recently I asked what percentage of their average week contained ‘me time’. “Zero” said one man. I think his ball was about to shatter. Take some time to ponder whether your life is in balance, and if not seek help to change that before it is too late.

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