A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both.
“Education through Recreation” by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks
The first time I read this quote, it was at the start of a chapter in the book Chesapeake, by James Michener. I felt a sense of longing, wondering if I could ever achieve this ultimate example of work-life balance.
I printed off the quote and posted it above the monitor on my desk at work. I printed off another version that I framed and put on my dresser in my bedroom at home.
For many years I had no idea if the ideas in this quote represented reality or if they were just a dream, a work of fiction created by a gifted author. The answer to this question is complicated, and of course dependent upon the individual in question.
In my particular case, I’ve found that I’ve been able to craft a life, in which I’ve been able to find a balance between my work life and my personal life that indeed engages a gentle and playful flow existing between the two and that allows me to excel in the areas that I value the most.
Hope & Possibility
The good news is that since I first posted that quote and set the intention to discover the mystery behind it — I’ve made massive progress on a personal level.
For example, last week I had the honor to be invited to lead a group of LinkedIn Profile Ambassadors for an Executive Networking event with 500 RSVPs in South Denver. A decade ago I could have done the work needed and succeeded, but my inner anxiety, fears, and stress would have made me a grump at home, prevented me from sleeping well and possibly contributed to a little road rage on my commute.
This year, however, the event was energizing and as fun as playing a game with my kids. Teaching the ambassadors to assess and review LinkedIn profiles was an absolute delight. I enjoyed meeting people, answering their questions and even my drive to and from the event.
I did excellent work, and if you’d been observing me, you could have easily questioned, was I working or playing?
How did I get from where I was to where I am today? And if I did it, can you? Yes. Yes, you can.
Regardless of the unique situations of our diverse professional lives, the science of human flourishing, also know as Positive Psychology, has some answers.
A Crucial Distinction
Let us start by making a distinction between the following three words:
When we think of our work as just a “job”, the data shows lower levels of satisfaction, engagement and an overall sense of work-life-imbalance.
When we think of our work as a career our engagement and life satisfaction, our ability to juggle work and life tend to get better. Many people have “long and happy careers.”
The quote, however, best describes those who have found a calling. Engagement at work and personal satisfaction go up exponentially, even from the level of “career” when we start to see our work as a calling.
The problem for many of us, however, is that we’ve never had a sense of a true calling or purpose that aligns with our work. Sure, we may have a calling to serve, or we may have a calling to explore the outdoors, care for rescue animals or protect the environment, but we cannot align these passions — callings — with what we do for a living. I was once in this boat too.
So what can you do if you have a job?
Or how can you turn your career into a calling?
If you are lucky, it’s simply a matter of reframing. Maybe your “job” entails the work you intentionally went to school to study and then intentionally set out to find a “job.” Perhaps it’s just that you see your job as something you do during the day, distinct from who you are and how you live your life.null
In reality, it’s likely more complicated.
Since about 2000 we’ve been tracking workplace engagement in the USA, and 66% of employees report NOT being engaged at work. We’re good at something, and so we do it, we get hired, we get promoted, and we do the job. Inertia keeps us where we are, but over time we start to feel the pressures of life. Maybe we suffer from an unhappy boss, unfair corporate policies, or just from our lack of engagement at work. To us, it’s just a “job.”
Whatever your unique situation, and even if you have a career versus a job, the surprising thing is the same types of activities can help you, just as they’ve helped me, to achieve greater life satisfaction. Whether you work as a cashier or a rocket scientist, we can all move our compass in a positive direction. There are real and statistically significant actions we can take to start moving our perception of ourselves and our work-life balance from “stuck” to “free to be (or play)!”
In this post, I look at three techniques you can take to move your work satisfaction and your work-life balance or meter in a positive direction. We’ll look at Gratitude, Self-Awareness, and Goal Setting and how you can put them in action today.
The practice of gratitude is exceptionally powerful. But many of us get gratitude wrong as we confuse “being grateful” with practicing gratitude, so let’s talk about the difference.
Think of it this way: you can appreciate the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, but you don’t enjoy them in full, until you actually bite into the cookie and enjoy it’s texture and taste, until you have that little moment of savoring the contrast of the bitter chocolate and the sweet cookie dough side by side.
You can be grateful that someone just passed you a freshly baked cookie. Practicing gratitude is stopping and taking a moment to think about what has happened. Perhaps your boss, your mom, your neighbor made the effort to bake the cookies, had the thoughtfulness to put them on a plate and the desire to bring you joy through sharing the cookies with you. Awareness of all that you’ve just received is gratitude combined with a verbalized and wholehearted thank you — to the person and the universe — is the practice of gratitude in action.
Being grateful is the act of thinking “I am really lucky to have such great kids.”
Practicing gratitude is taking a moment to savor what it means to have your kids, to feel their love, and experience both their joys and their trials. Taking a moment to reflect on your gratitude, to write it in a journal, so that you can go back and savor this moment in the future is the practice of gratitude in action.
Being grateful that you have a job, when your neighbor is jobless, is not practicing gratitude. Taking the time to think about what your job provides you, from a place to go during the day, an opportunity to make an income, a place to practice your strengths or try new things, and a way to support your financial expenses in life, is getting to the practice of gratitude.
Another way to frame this is to go from a scarcity mindset to that of abundance. If you’ve just paid your phone bill, it is typical to regret the money we’ve just spent. But what happens if you flip it? If I’ve only paid my phone bill, it’s because I have a phone with service that lets me call my friends and family, surf the net, check my email, and do all sorts of things my grandparents never dreamed. Practicing gratitude for having my phone and my service provider suddenly flips my once negative bill-paying experience into one of gratitude and positivity.
Ever wondered why a monk that has nothing to his possession is so happy? It’s all a frame of mind and awareness of the things we do have versus a focus on what we lack.
The second technique for improving our experience of our work-life balance is awareness. Two kinds of consciousness can contribute.
There is self-awareness, which focuses on things like our strengths, be their personality strengths, characters strengths or simply things we are good at doing. Maybe you are really good at identifying problems and finding solutions; perhaps you are really good at seeing discrepancies; maybe you excel at finding opportunities for harmony or explaining how to get something done. We all have core strengths that often account for why we’ve ended up where we are, but over time we get accustomed to being us, and we cannot see the forest for the trees.
Organizational change and career counseling studies over the last few decades have shown over and over again that learning to recognize our strengths — turning our focus from what we do right and away from our deficiencies, improves not only our sense of well being, but it also improves our productivity and engagement at work.
Emotional intelligence, appreciation of beauty, a sense of fairness are in fact measurable strengths. Strategizer, individualizer, and developer are also descriptions of strengths in action. If you want to feel more engaged at work — find out what are your core strengths through an assessment such as the GallupsStrength finder — a look at what you “do.” Or the VIA Strengths Survey — a look at how you “be.”
An amazing thing about strengths is that we are all a mix of 5 or 6 core strengths and everyone is different. There is not a “best” or “worst” scale on a strengths test. What knowing your strengths does, is that it gives you the language and the confidence to understand how you tick and insight into why you work the way you do. Alongside an understanding of why folks you know do things differently.
From a positivity standpoint and working towards that work-life balance the best thing about strengths, is that once you know your strengths, you can get benefit from both focusing on improving your existing strengths, as well as, working on areas that you might be less “strong.” Indeed, identifying areas that are perhaps not part of your core strengths profile, but are things you value if you focus on “growing” these value points, good things will happen.
A look within, a focus on self-awareness naturally leads to mindfulness. And taking the time to be mindful of how we work, where we naturally excel, where we’ve worked hard to learn or improve increases our sense of engagement in life and work. It also opens us up to opportunities to grow and desire strategic change.
In life it is easy to go with the flow and just follow the path of most resistance; however, long term life satisfaction is directly linked to living with intention. Happily, practicing gratitude and cultivating our self-awareness opens up opportunities for us to see things we might like to change or add to our lives.
Perhaps today you have a job, but if you can connect your job today with your strengths and where you’d like to be, you now have the framework to set some goals and set in motion a plan of action.
Perhaps your job would be a career or a calling if you changed companies, maybe you’ve ended up in a toxic workplace.
Maybe, your strengths led you to a field of work where you can do a good job, but that doesn’t engage your passions.
Or, if you are a bit further along in your career, perhaps you started with a career or a calling, but you’ve been promoted up the line until you’ve ended up in a job that no longer utilizes your core strengths and causes you distress. Awareness of your strengths and an understanding of what you need to work on to better engage in your current role, can turn the tables and move you back to your calling.
Please note that I am not affiliated with either the VIA or Gallup Strengths tests; I share these resources because they are useful tools.