The discomfort of balance

  • 102 Months ago
The discomfort of balance

Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name themwork, family, health, friends and spirit, and you're keeping all of these in the air.

You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four are made of glass. If you drop one, they will be scuffed or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life." When Brian G Dyson, President and CEO, Coca-Cola Enterprises, spoke of the Five Balls Theory at the Georgia Tech 172nd Commencement Address on September 6, 1996, little did he know that corporate cowboys would make 'work-life balance' the next catch-phrase.
What held true in the US seems to hold true in India. In an economy on the upswing, the only impediment to double-digit growth is the lack of people to implement it. Attrition is high. Affluence is taken for granted. Salaries are seducing. Yet, there is a dearth of senior management talent. So offer them (or at least pretend to) 'work-life balance'. That will make the wives think of romantic vacations in Paris, the husbands of having a personal gym, and the children of spending quality time with parents (never mind if the parents don't want to spend quality time with each other).

And so, you have 40-plus men getting fitter and 40-plus women getting luxurious holidays. More salaries also mean more time for self correction. But nobody wants to share the secret of life's little pleasures. My friend, looking better than your colleague is also getting competitive.

The fear of flaunting it

While it's wonderful to hear about experiences of corporate executives in exotic locales, what is astonishing is their adamant refusal to acknowledge the fact that they've been spending 'quality time' outside the workplace. The mument you touch upon the fact that their holidays sound ideal, and they seem fortunate to get that many days off, it's like you've touched a raw nerve. All the defenses are up, and the hackles rise. Cocktail discussions turn heated, lamenting lack of time for self, family, weight-loss, healthy eating, parents, kids...

Rare is the soul who wanders into a competitive work or industry-related cocktail, and proudly says, "I work from 9.30 to 6.30, and I manage to finish all my work, because I have great time-management skills and a company that understands work-life balance." Tch tch. That admission would be a betrayal of self-worth. Anyone who says it is seen to be admitting to a lack of ambition and priorities. For, to seem successful, while we may need an abundance of fine homes, zippy cars and expensive but nonsensical art, the lack of time somehow enhances the awe of success.

It also evinces the sympathy factor that, alas, we have everything life has to offer, but cannot enjoy it. It's like the princess who had everything but love. In this scenario, admitting to having a work-life balance becomes an act of discomfort.

Secretly though, everyone's enjoying it.It's like the good old days of advertising, when creative teams began work at 4 pm and finished by 10 pm, coming back to work the next day at 11 am, and repeating the cycle. No one wanted to admit they started work at 4 pm. They were perceived as overworked and stressed because they were 'creative'. Today, even the big boys of advertising are reformed tigers; are forced to look at productivity versus 'creativity'.
Far from balanced

In my previous life, before becoming the boring corporate superwoman, I ran a company that would work with HR departments to help organisations become women-friendly. The fallout of that was that it also became family-friendly. So did everyone actually benefit? A few women did. A few men made wisecracks at wanting to be women in their next lives so that corporates could give them three months off and flexi-time when they had babies. Several women, the real beneficiaries, said that what corporates were doing was not enough because they now wanted this and that.

So it did not become a win-win situation, except for the HR head who had to show diversity numbers. The mothers went back to their babies, nursing a guilt that had no side-effects on their child's psychology (even as they gave up flourishing careers), and the companies went back to meeting targets.

Your own tune

We all came back to a lack of work-life balance in the times when there is an opportunity to practice it. Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm Computing, says no one remembers the 14 hours at work or the time missed with the kids. What people remember is if they changed the world, if they had a good time in the process. Hawkins talks about balance in the context of developing a great product and having a normal life. And that you can, in fact, have it all.

Admitting to having it all, however, takes an extremely evolved (and a slightly arrogant) professional who never questions his or her self-worth in the context of work.

The trick then is simply to be comfortable with what you are doing. If you have done what you have committed to do, and the rest are slogging their butts off, they are just working harder, not smarter. Guess what working smart gives you? A better body, a healthier heart and a much happier soul.

Now isn't that enough to go out and start talking about it? After all, Shah Rukh Khan and Brad Pitt do it too.

Reproduced from Outlook Business's Wellness Column by Rachna Chhachhi