The work-life balance: myth or mantra?

By Megan Herson 

The mantra of achieving emotional, physical and spiritual happiness seems to echo throughout every facet of life. From social media and television, to work and study, it seems to be inculcated into our generation that it is necessary to find a way to equally incorporate social life, family connections, hobbies, physical activity, and spirituality into our lives in order to be happy.

Social influencers have been able to make an entire career out of posting photos about their seemingly perfectly balanced life. It was not until very recently that I realised that the components of achieving a balance in life actually makes quite a long list. How on earth am I able to engage in extra-curricular activities while I try to understand the difference between aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation whilst simultaneously keeping up appearances at my friend’s social events, and remembering to get my daily dose of veges whilst I rush to gym to stay physically active? Just reading that sentence makes me anxious! The components of keeping a balanced life seem attainable, but cannot all necessarily be maintained at the same time. I am not saying that career, connections, physically health, and spirituality are unimportant, but rather that it is difficult to focus on all aspects equally without collapsing under the pressure. It is okay – even healthy (in my humble and not-yet-medical-professional opinion) – for work and life to be experienced unequally.

Having a perfect balance of work and life, in order to achieve a state of wellbeing, seems a fallacy to me. We are all at different life stages with different priorities. Placing more attention on one aspect of life at a time may actually support wellbeing by attenuating the stress of achieving everything in balance. If you are at a stage of life where focusing on career is more important to you than going to parties, you can focus on that aspect of life for a period of time. If you are in a stage where you need a break from driving career and want to focus on personal growth, it is okay to put more energy into spirituality, social connectedness and emotional wellbeing. Of course, it is always important to have some aspect of all components of wellbeing in play; however, it may not be possible to give a hundred percent of yourself to your career, physical fitness, spirituality and connectedness all at once. Acknowledge that you may not be able to balance every single aspect of what makes life ‘healthy’ equally all the time, yet you’ll still be able to make the best decision for yourself at that particular point in your life. The caveat is to remember to limit the amount of time that maximal attention is spent on one component of life, and to alter the focus depending on what your priority is during that period of time.

 

Here are my top tips for achieving a state of wellbeing from one type-A to another:

Let go of some of that medical-student-perfectionism. Okay, this is quite hypocritical because I find this difficult at the best of times… but perfectionism is unattainable, and you cannot give yourself completely to every aspect of your life at the same time. Focus on what you need at that stage of life. Balance is important, but it is impossible to manage everything that is important to you equally and at once.

Have a few phone-free hours every day. Constantly being on our phones makes us available to people every hour of every day, and makes the world available to us every hour of every day. A sense of urgency is thus created, with the constant need for instant gratification producing a need to rush through life rather than enjoying it slowly.

Be kind to yourself – a concept that is perhaps the most important yet hardest one to accept and accomplish. Acknowledging what you need to be happy – and putting your needs before others – not only identifies what your priorities are in life, making it easier to realise where your focus is needed, but also automatically makes you a happier person.

Finally, be kind to others. You never know what someone else is going through, and one seemingly trivial comment or act may have a disproportionate impact on another person. This has been said before but medicine is hard and it may not be possible to give it everything all the time, whilst juggling so many different things at once. However by supporting ourselves and each-other we can give it our best and enjoy the journey at the same time.

 

 

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