What you may not know, is that the concept of work being our source of meaning and purpose, and the thing we should pour ourselves into it wholeheartedly, is relatively new.
It wasn’t that long ago that our job was a means to an end – to provide money for the enjoyment of life outside the workplace. I guess this was actually work/life balance – the thing we’ve been striving to achieve for ages.
Now we live in a world where we are encouraged to identify with our job, to invest countless hours (often at the detriment to ourselves), to be at peak performance at all times, and to derive a sense of worth and value from what we do.
While this can be helpful in some ways, providing an easy path to worth, meaning and purpose, it can also take a toll.
I see more and more people who have invested themselves wholeheartedly in their work, sacrificing down-time, self-care, and time for connecting with loved ones in the process. Most often this occurs with little, if any recognition from employers or colleagues.
These people who invest so much in work are often headed to the brink of burnout or are already knee deep in it.
How do we get to the point of burning ourselves out like this?
First, there’s the cultural myth that to have time on your hands is a sign of laziness or failure. We all know the pride experienced at saying “I’m too busy” or “I’m so exhausted. So much going on.” How did that become something to aspire to?
Then there’s the myth that if you don’t work there’s something wrong with you. This even applies to mothers. I have clients who are stay at home mothers with three or more children, feeling guilty for not working. That’s a busy life already!
Or the clients who are taking a break because the brink of burnout is looming large, who are reluctant to say they’re having a break because of the judgement they feel sure they’ll receive.
Why should we feel less-than if we’re not in the workforce for whatever reason?
I also think that there is a myth around how much we can be responsible for. Our employers can load more and more tasks and responsibilities upon us, and what I mostly see is people believing that to be a good employee they have to meet the additional workload. What happened to “a person can only do so much in the time allocated”?
What would you do if you didn’t buy into these ideas?
What important things would you put your energy into outside of work?
Where would you derive your sense of worth and value?
Where would you find your meaning and purpose?
I wonder if we can shift even a little towards our life outside of work providing these things, that we might find the all too (otherwise) elusive work/life balance.