We hold onto the mythical notion of a work-life balance as if it will one day be a cure-all medicine to give us back our time and right all of our wrongs. It's the holy grail, a lifetime's achievement, a coveted reward for years of graft! It stirs destination addiction within us like krakens rousing from the deep; 'I will be happier when I have a better work-life balance'. Every hallmark-moment keeping us repeating it like characters from a George Orwell Novel. If we want to be better leaders with more productive teams, we have to start by being ambassadors of alignment, balance, respect and boundaries. For a lot of us to get to this place, it may take a little self-inquiry. So get comfy, take a few deep breaths and buckle-up for some truth bombs!
As a society it is the one addiction we excuse on almost every occasion; the workaholic is highly revered for their commitment, dedication and balance sheets! We glorify stress and overwhelm into a glamorous status symbol, as glossy and systemically unhealthy as the nineties magazines that created it. We stitch our self-worth to productivity and profit, and let the skin heal over leaving only the scars to remind us those were once three separate concepts. Gentle reminder; self-worth is an inside job. Don't let the number of zeros on the end of that figure, at the bottom of your profit and loss sheet try and tell you otherwise.
How many times have you tried to divide up your time on this planet into 'work-life', 'family life', 'social life' etc. The human existence is nowhere near simple enough to be a list of categorisations, to neatly fit in the notes section of your iPhone. Be gentle with yourself, attempts at a work-life balance can feel like the horizon; an imaginary line that disappears the harder you try to approach it. The concept of a compartmentalised and perfect life creates duality within ourselves, which nestles in and sits next to other divisive and damaging societal conditioning.
So here's the truth... time is a completely un-renewable resource. We can't borrow it, we can't make more. All we really have is our time and it's literally precious. As far as we know, we get this one life. One life made up of tiny, individual, precious moments. Those moments are up to you. You can make sequences of small decisions that lead to big changes. You can choose to walk around this earth with balance and alignment as your core foundations, underpinning every other decision you make.
Play is defined as 'time spent without purpose' and is the sober companion of the recovering workaholic. It is uniquely rewarding, generating optimism, fostering empathy, cultivating innovation and fine-tuning technical ability. It forms a deep sense of true belonging, a positive engagement with a vulnerability which nurtures trust. These are traits that make up great teams, which proves why it's so important to work it into our lives.
'Enriched environments powerfully shape the cerebral cortex - the area of the brain where the highest cognitive processing takes place.' Marian Diamond, Clinical Researcher.
A lack of 'time spent without purpose' has a profound effect on relationships amongst your team members. Play activities between adults provide a connection through mutual story-telling, productive and healthy competition, individual and joint self-worth and improved imaginative and future-planning abilities. Social play, in particular, is something that today's scientists find interesting as it is one of the most critical and important drivers of development, in not just our formative years, but throughout our lifetime; The constant formation and reformation of primal neural pathways helping us to connect, engage and attune with our peers. Remove play from a professional relationship and it's like removing the oxygen mask; a gasping struggle of endurance and survival.
We need to tackle overwhelm before it leads us and our teams to disconnection from customers, collaborators or worse... families. Start making intentional decisions about how you spend your time and hold yourself accountable for those decisions. Build balance into the decisions you make in your life like re-bar in concrete. As a leader, you have a duty to model rest, play, respect and boundaries to your team and encourage this as a culture.
Stop celebrating unsustainable behaviours that don't align with an authentic, healthy and diverse lifestyle. Start demonstrating professional boundaries and respect for skill sets. Model the integration of this new culture within your team and watch them flourish.