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3 Tips to Have a Great Work-Life (School-Life) Balance

Much has been written about the importance of having a healthy work-life balance.  It is important for each person to find a healthy time management schedule that works for each day, week, semester/work period. We also all know the needs for rest, exercise, proper nutrition, and quiet, revivifying time (e.g., yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, walks). What is less well understood is the magical role that an interwoven, integrative, and ideally seamless life can play in one's everyday activities.

The very idea of a work-life balance presumes that work and life are somehow capable of being separated out, but this is a false dichotomy. There are many of these false dichotomies laid out for people:

  • family life vs. social life with friends and colleagues
  • mind vs. body; thought vs. feeling
  • school/work vs. recreation
  • academic vs. non-academic classes
  • academics vs. extra-curriculars

In traditional cultures, a person's life was less disconnected. In traditional cultures, each person's life was of a piece, interconnected, integral. In traditional cultures, different people's lives were interconnected, integrated. A farmer would be a farmer every day, all year round, whether in the fields or sharing farming stories during the long winter nights. People's names might even reflect their primary work in life. And children would be playful children even when they might have child appropriate chores or other responsibilities at home or in the fields.

I remember stopping by a farming neighbor's produce stand years ago when her 11 year old son came running up to us excitedly saying, "I have my first garden plot! Can I show you?" And then this 11 year old boy proudly showing us the vegetables he had planted for the first time all by himself! He was as happy and excited as an 11 year old showing off a brand new bicycle. This boy did not view his garden work as drudgery at all, but rather as part of a joyful and dutiful part of life.

We have all heard colleagues, friends, family, even ourselves say, "My time outside of work is my own. When I am not at school/work, I want to relax. My weekends and time off are time to disconnect." We all know about the great value of the French holiday period when families have relaxing time together for a month each summer, but that is time that also includes chores, cooking wonderful meals, perhaps including some gardening at a summer home, working on one's art and music.

The French holiday is indeed revivifying--less due to not doing work, but more because of having that month with family and in close contact with nature. And we can all achieve this in our daily lives: including meaningful time with others and having time in touch with the natural world (walks outside, visits to parks and nature areas, or plants and pets at home).

 

So to achieve a healthy work-life balance, we need to see both as interwoven parts of ourselves as a whole person in the world. The problem is that when we segment out the different parts of our lives, we are creating artificial divisions, and it is this divisiveness that creates stress in our lives.

Instead we need to live integrative, whole, holistic, interconnected, coherently interwoven lives in which we find joy, meaning, purpose, and contribution each day--whether that is in our schoolwork, paid work, physical fitness activities, daily chores, volunteering, playing, or any other activity. To this end let me offer:

3 Tips to Have a Great Work-Life (School-Life) Balance

  1. See the larger value of your diverse activities. As a student, see each assignment as valuable learning, whether in developing specific skills for applied use in your career, gaining foundational knowledge of value to current and future life/work, or in the simple value that comes from accomplishing each day's work with integrity, without complaint, and with a positive and victorious attitude. Whether it is paid work, a school assignment, a volunteer activity, or a social event, it is possible to take a few quiet moments to consider its deeper value. This is what Daniel Goleman refers to as emotional intelligence. This is seeing the bigger and more profound picture through thinking with both mind and heart. 
  2. Be thankful for opportunities, including opportunities to work hard. Remember the young farm boy excited about his first field that he planted and harvested on his own, so appreciative of the opportunity given to him to work hard that summer with increased responsiblities? We all need to take time each day to be thankful--not for what we are given to have--but for what we are able to do in the world, in class, at work, for others, in our community, for family members, for our nation and the world. For it is in our efforts and work that we contribute to the betterment of our lives, communities, and world.
  3. Keep focus on the big picture and how each activity contributes to your life's journey. A common expression is that someone cannot see the forest for the trees. This means having individual issues, situations, persons, responsibilities loom large and become impediments. Then one cannot see beyond a specific treee to see the big picture and how everything fits together. It is important for each person to take some reflective time, ideally each day, to see how specific responsibilities and activities contribute to the larger mission of one's life. What this means for you is to take some quiet time, some time for prayer or meditation, some time for journalling or writing in a daily diary, time jogging or doing yoga, time that helps you step back from the blockage of a specific tree or assignment/project/test/job so that you can see where you are in your larger pathway and map of life. 

For example, if a school bus driver considers the deeper aspect of that job each day--namely helping each student be to attend school and get an education for his or her future life's work, then the job is understood to be much more than just driving that bus. Also if a student walks into each class with a deep sense of the profundity in getting an education and how that will contribute to living a great life of service in the world, then the class session is no longer just another "boring class" but an integral part of the student's life journey.

This process of reflection is very much what is done in a literature class. There are many different characters, voices, actions, situations, feelings, and choices depicted in a novel, short story, play, poem, or even a film. As a reader or viewer, you try to make sense of the unfolding story and its larger themes. This is exactly what is needed to do in our own lives, to step back and reflect on the bigger picture, the larger direction of one's life.

In this way, you will see that much that appears separate and possibly even in opposition, in fact, fits together in important and wondrous ways. And with this larger focus, you will be able to keep focus on both the forest and the trees so that you will not lose your way. This is the value of an integrated and whole life in which each activity and moment is integrally connected to each other one, just as each footstep and each breath of life we take are connected to our whole life and movement in this world.

Our focus needs to be beyond our individual lives.

  • Focus on the big picture. 
  • How what you do helps others. 
  • How what you do helps you to go forward.
  • How what you do contributes to your future service in the world. 

We won't save the whole world on our own, but I like to compare what I do to brick making. If my contributions in the world are like making bricks, then I want to do my work, to make my bricks really well and place them in the foundation of the world that is coming to be. What we do in life and work are like making those bricks: from giving someone a sincere compliment to going to work each day to studying hard in each class to volunteering in one's community.

The bigger picture is seeing how our efforts contribute to the forward progress of our communities, nations, and the world. In this way, whatever we do is part of this larger picture, this larger trajectory and journey of our lives.


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