Though much advise has been published on balancing work life and personal life, it doesn’t always match up with your own reality. This is especially the case when it comes to the “life” part of “work-life balance”. It’s true that overworking yourself and allowing for little time to focus on other parts of your life is poor for your well-being and performance at work. It’s also always a bit scary to change a long-standing routine, even if it’s a bad one. And if you’re getting advice that’s detracting too much from work in an attempt to promote leisure, you’re likely to end up more stressed and unsure than you were before.
This last point is what author Matias Dalsgaard noticed during his quest to help people achieve practical work-life balance plans. Rather than advising people on how to escape stressful times completely, his tips take a subtly different approach that focuses on making the most stressful parts of our lives work within the whole system. And, hopefully, you can find some inner peace in the whole thing.
Most people seek some degree of inner peace at work, and it can be difficult to obtain. Work is stressful, and most of us tend to either overwork ourselves or we are, for other reasons, negatively affected by things happening at work.
The struggle to maintain one’s inner peace and avoid burnout has become a standard ingredient of modern working life. Many of us attend seminars on work-life-balance, we see therapists, we meditate, or we seek advice on how to handle stressful careers. The balancing of one’s personal life and work life is a challenge to all of us who aspire to be successful – by whatever relevant metric. It is not surprising that so much is being said and written on the topic.
Unfortunately, I have noticed a tendency to talk about the dangers of burnout at work in terms that provoke fear and panic in the stressed individual rather than lead him or her to slow down. Our methods of discussing the dangers of stress and burnout are too defensive and too reactive. We tend to think that the busyness of work is somehow dangerous, and that we need to balance out the busyness with the emptiness of non-work.
Our emphasis on practices such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness – or simply just periods of nothingness – as means of balancing out the stress of work illustrates this point. All of these things can be good and helpful in their own right, but they all stand for a “letting go” of things. They are defined by inactivity. This logic leads to a kind of life where the “active” is considered to be dangerous and something that should always be balanced out by the “inactive”. We oscillate between the two extremes – fearful of staying too long in any of the camps. This oscillation is stressful in itself.
It would be much better if we had a way of living that could embrace, enjoy, and handle the tough, everyday work life rather than constantly looking for ways to escape it.
I have five suggestions for how this can be accomplished.
1. Work hard
Working hard and achieving results individually or as a team is a source of satisfaction and fulfillment. Do not get trapped in the fear of working too hard and embrace the rush that hard work can give you. If your life becomes nothing but work, you will of course need to take a step back and reconsider your lifestyle. Periods of hard work and excitement should not be avoided – but rather enjoyed. Hard work is part of life, and you should embrace it rather than be afraid of working too hard.
2. Make bold decisions
Burnout centres on the loss of control. People burn out when they start feeling that they are just another brick in the wall, just another cog in the machine. Making bold decisions at work puts you back on track – suddenly it matters how you handle the situation, because the success or failure of a project is wholly down to you. This might sound stressful, and it can be. On the other hand, making bold decisions is invigorating and can inject new purpose into your work, turning you from someone whose life is run by others to someone running their own life.
3. Stimulate your imagination
Rather than seeking ways of emptying out your mind, you can use your spare time to “fill” it with ideas and inspiration instead. Read books. Watch movies. Enjoy art. Perhaps study religion or history. Nothing is a stronger remedy for burnout than being so rich on knowledge and imagination that you are able to mentally rise above the situation. Most burnouts occur when someone is stuck in a simple perspective on life. The burned out individual no longer sees the bigger picture or the meaning in what they do, and his or her life is narrowed down to being about work and merely surviving the job. Rich interests and a rich imagination keep one going when situations get tough.
4. Take time off
Even if I suggest means other than “emptying out” your mind in order to combat burnouts, you do need time off, time to think about things other than work. As does everybody. However, time off might not necessarily mean a weekend or a holiday in the traditional sense. What is important is that you find regular time to let your thoughts, your imagination, and your emotions run freely. Let your mind wander. This can and should happen every day, not only on weekends or during vacations. It is a sign of health if you are able just to let go of things – and enjoy free thinking and feeling. This can happen over a cup of coffee, in the shower, or wherever.
5. Have a sense of humour
The humorous person is larger than life. If you are able to find humour amidst hard work, the work will never control you. There is a pleasure in working hard, but it is important that you are able to rise above the simple problem-solving level of your job. Humour is a perfect example of how to do this. The humorous person sees things from another angle; he takes himself and his work less seriously. This is not intended to produce mediocre results, but rather to not be overrun by work. The humorous individual is playful and innovative in problem solving, and can do so because they are on top of things and not ruled by work.
Matias Dalsgaard is an author, Ph.D. in Philosophy and CEO of the successful Danish startup, GoMore. Read more in his recently published book, Don’t Despair – Letters to a Modern Man, which describes ways of preserving oneself in an environment of pressure and ambitions.
Five ways to avoid burnout at work and find inner peace | Matias Dalsgaard
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