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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: A Reputation for Balancing Work and Self — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

Archive: A Reputation for Balancing Work and Self — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

May 16th, 2014

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Read and listen to the first column in this series, Cultivating Your Career Reputations.

Of all the reputations I have discussed in the last several weeks, this one might be the toughest to manage. The fine balance between work and self is like an endlessly tilting teeter-totter, swinging first one way, then the next. No matter how much you might try, there is really no central, stable point. Balance shifts constantly and you have to be very aware to maintain your footing. That said, if you ignore this balance and swing more often to one extreme or the other, you, and everyone around you will suffer.

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Firstly, while some may contest it, I believe there has to be some balance between work and self. As important, invigorating or enlightening our work may be, we must pay attention and cultivate our relationships with friends and family outside of the office. Work is a part of our life, not the sole, driving influence. We all have seen people who are subsumed by their work. While it may be fine for a short period of time, relationships quickly start to deteriorate and the person finds that they are more and more isolated from the world as a whole. Then, weeks or months later, they arise from the fog like a groundhog waking up in February, wondering where everyone went.

While the blame for such excessive focus on our work lies with each of us, companies and our own projects can contribute, as well. When I entered the corporate world, I was met with the typical workers who would brag about how much overtime they put in – often for no extra pay. Every all-nighter was described in great detail like a hard-fought battle. What I soon realized, though, was that rarely was management forcing workers to engage in this behavior. Rather it was the employee going beyond the norm. The fact is, companies will take whatever you are prepared to give, whether it is necessary or not. Often, extreme overtime and all-nighters were the results of poor preparation or a subconscious tactic to prove the deep dedication of the worker. They were doing it to themselves. Their balance had faltered and they confused working harder with working better. All one had to do was ask their family (if they had one) what they thought of the situation to see the toll that it was taking.

While work can be rewarding, it shouldn’t be the only place we feel wanted, needed and loved. When this happens, delusion can settle in. Even worse, when we tie our self-worth so closely to our work, we are in danger of collapse when layoffs occur or companies close. The effects can be devastating and I am sure we have all seen friends and family bereft when it occurs. It can often take them weeks or months to find work, not from lack of jobs or lack of trying, but simply because their self-worth was damaged nearly beyond repair by being rejected by the only ‘family’ they knew. In some cases, people never recover.

Sometimes, when we are facing deep struggles in our personal life, we can retreat to the relative calm of our work. It is very common for couples undergoing a split to spend much more time at work than at home — avoiding the conflicts they know await them there. This only exacerbates the problem, though, as they communicate less and less and the conversations that do occur become more and more acrimonious. Again, we can’t avoid balancing our work and self, even when the situation might be unpleasant. One is not and should never be the substitute for the other.

Finally, only you can establish the guidelines of what is a balanced life. If you let others, like managers, co-workers or parents, enforce a balance upon you, you are bound to have a difficult time. Each person must find their own priorities, their own time, their own balance. No one knows your life as well as you, yet we often allow others to tell us what to do through peer pressure, threats or bullying. If you think you need to spend more time with your family, and less time at work, then you need to find a way to make that happen, regardless of what anyone else might say.

Establishing a reputation for balancing work and self is one of the best ways to protect yourself from undue pressure from those around you. When others see that you have thought about these issues, and continue to seek balance on a daily level, they will have less ability to impose their own ideas about balance on you. Show that you are seeking balance by talking about it with others and demonstrating it in everything you do. Perhaps then you will have your greatest effect, by showing others that a balance between work and self is possible.

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