Everything in Moderation

August 26, 2015

I do a lot of thinking about work-life balance. That concept of making time for both work and play, for navigating the sometimes blurry line between the two, and arriving at a contented wellbeing in general.

Work-life balance is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. How can it not be? Workplace culture and its impact on brand fascinates me. I'm also one of the billions of people who have to work in order to live. We're talking live live, not "exist" live. Yet, I've always loved this quote and strive to embody it:

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand." Woodrow Wilson

As one of the fortunate souls who got to choose her occupation, and who really enjoys it, I probably don't take time to appreciate my reality often enough. I get to work in architecture employing my strengths, surrounded daily* by smart, creative human beings who love to design beautifully detailed, healthy, comfortable spaces for other humans to live, work, play, and heal in.

But work-life balance in the creative realm is a seriously dichotomous experience. After all, it can be near impossible to distinguish between "work" and "play" when you're personally invested in a project that energizes you. But too much of a good thing is a reality of the human condition. So, how do we know when too much is too much? How do we set boundaries to prevent burnout? And what happens when getting paid to do what we love begins to rob us of the fulfillment it once provided? Or what if we grow resentful because we have a deep abiding passion for our occupation but find it competing for attention with the people and other things we love? These are important questions not only to ask, but to address. Overworking has been linked to serious productivity issues and diminishing returns.

I don't purport to have the answers, but what I do know is that autopilot won't keep this car running smoothly down the road. Regular maintenance and steering are required. As with any relationship the feedback loop is important: check in often, LISTEN, be aware of what's really going on within ourselves and our organizations, make the necessary adjustments, and move forward. Be flexible and open to change and paradigm shift.

This isn't our grandfather's workforce. On the whole, American workers are alarmingly overwhelmed and disengaged. Employees' expectations are evolving as millennials increasingly enter the workforce. Times are changing fast, as well as perceptions of productivity. Perhaps now more than ever, every one of us needs to play an active role in embracing and shaping work-life balance for ourselves and future generations.

For me, that means setting boundaries on time and expectations, which allow us to be human beings first. One of my favorite movie characters of all time, Mr. Ferris Bueller, sums this sentiment up well: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."

Nicole Allen