Our lives are busy. Trying to give our best every day, keeping up with constant career challenges and further professional developments. Most of the time we are so busy hustling to meet – or often even excel in – all sorts of expectations. Expectations. Do we ever take the time to reflect on the question, whose expectations we are steadily struggling to fulfill? The truth is, we are constantly constrained by economic necessities as well as social restraint and thereby regularly forced to ignore our needs or basic human requirements.
No place for human nature?
Having children and growing one’s family is a huge part of human nature, it basically IS human nature. But how is it then possible that companies can choose to ignore family-needs and corporate childcare is not a benefit obligation in the workplace. I am well aware that Austria is ranked as one of the top countries when it comes to parents’ work-life-balance. Still, at the workplace family is seldom a topic and in today’s society the importance of a career is emphasized.
The question is: When did we (or society as a whole) remove ourselves so much from our personal lives? Why are our accomplishments and careers more important than our personal happiness? Why do personal needs get pushed back to make way for professional success and ever-increasing productivity? And why are we putting up with this?
Serious school stress
Think about it! As soon as we enter the education system, the pressure to perform is on. At only six years old we start to be under the obligation to guarantee to give our very best. We are already removed from our personal needs, since there are rules and guidelines concerning time- and deadlines. Individual interests must always come further down on our to-do-lists and there is not too much room for flexibility here. Having to perform flawlessly so their future can be bright is often very stressful for the youngsters at this very important phase of development and therefore also creates a breeding ground for future issues with anxiety or panic attacks.
After school, though more and more people enjoy some time traveling the world, we are stressing out to start our further education as early as possible. College is supposed to be a time when you should strive to learn not only about the topic you’ve chosen, but also about life in general. What I have experienced lately is that students are totally overwhelmed with their schedules, the workload, and the extracurricular “CV-building” activities. They put themselves under immense pressure to finish their degrees as fast as possible to be fit for the increasingly competitive workplace. Recent studies show that the use of performance enhancing drugs to get through and manage university stress is not unusual anymore.
Work, work, work, work, work
And afterward, things are not likely to slow down. After school, we are pushed into the workplace to gain basic experience at occasional internships, where the pressure of being the best and most motivated is again at an “über”-level. Then, when we finally get the half-way prestigious job, again we are expected to give our very best. Every single day. Welcome to the treadmill. This is usually where our (so-called private) life is consciously set on hold for an undefined time, weekly working hours explode and our phone is glued to our hands even on weekends. We regularly skip family time because we “still have some work to do”. Since young people come to their first jobs with the intent to “give it their all”, they often get abused to inhumane workweeks with overwork becoming the new normal. But when did this happen? When did our lives get pushed to the back? When and why did it become more valuable to be successful in our professional lives than to have a successful and fulfilling personal life? At some point we agreed that our personal lives come second, now it is expected of us to put our professional achievements above everything else.
A matter of definition
Career is what you make of it. Sounds smart, hm? But if you think about it, it is so true! You are the only one that can decide what is important to you, what will make you happy in your workplace and which goals are worth achieving. I think that it’s crucial that we as a society have to start demanding our personal rights back. We need to establish boundaries in our working lives in order to have more room for what is really essential in our personal ones. I have spoken about the importance of a conscious and mindful life more than once on this platform :-).
Prioritize the personal
Change starts with you. Sounds cheesy? Well. Let’s put our personal lives back on number one. Only if we as a society focus more on our lives beyond our work desks we can create change. We need to prioritize our personal lives, and openly talk about it at our schools and in our workplaces. Only if enough people demand adaptable learning environments for students of all ages so they can focus on their strength and don’t need to stress out (too much) about the workload, this will translate in more flexible curricula. Starting to request childcare at or close to our workplaces as a regular benefit, will (one day) lead to a fundamental rethinking in business environments so that children can be close to their parents. This will not only increase productivity but also moreover lead to more satisfied employees. Introducing a stricter time management and a list of priorities for one’s self also helps. By that I mean, it must be as important to finish that project plan on time as it is to enjoy that relaxing yoga class on a regular basis. This is also emphasized by the Word Happiness Report conducted in 2017 that shows that work-life balance is now one of the strongest predictors of happiness.
I am not saying that working hard, may it be for school or on our jobs, cannot be fulfilling and satisfying. What I am saying is that if we are not careful the balance can easily shift to the wrong focus. And in the end, we work to afford a good life, not the other way ’round.