Make life your work, not the other way around

by Mick Rhodes |

Anyone who’s been paying attention to health news over the past decade or so has no doubt heard the phrase “work-life balance.” If you haven’t, I refer you to a 2023 study from the National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine:

“Work–life balance can be defined as a kind of relationship between the social roles fulfilled in occupational work and in personal life assessed by individuals as being satisfactory, conflict-free, harmonious and enabling efficient functioning in both private and work areas.”

A little wordy-nerdy, but that’s the gist.

I didn’t think much about this concept when I was a young man. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in my late-30s and couldn’t get out of bed that I realized it was probably not a great idea to let your job take over your life. The shooting pain in my lower back was excruciating. This was new! I thought I was dying. The doctor at UCLA asked about stress. I told him about my job as CFO of a very busy worldwide production design firm and described the hours I’d been working. A few raised eyebrows later, he said perhaps it was time to think about taking better care of myself. My back pain was caused by sciatica, a word I’d heard but thought it was made up for use in cartoons, like sacroiliac. It turned out they were both real words. Who knew?

At the risk of telling on myself, I’ve since tried to keep my work-life balance as in check as possible. Like most of my good intentions, I don’t always succeed.

Sometimes I look up and another day has gone by and all I’ve done is work. “Grinding,” is what they call this glorification of overwork, as if there’s nobility in it. It’s a myth, a scam. We’re all gonna die. Some of us will no doubt check out early because we ignored our health in favor of chasing material wealth, power, or status. I’ve been with people in their final moments, and nobody’s yearning for more money or a bigger house. They all just want more time.

In the end, all that “grinding” doesn’t mean a thing.

I’ve been as guilty as anyone. It’s just so very American to work and work then spend our minor allotment of free time kvetching about how hard we work, talking about work, and gossiping about work. Yes, having a work family is healthy and can keep things humming at the office, but in my experience disconnecting from your job when you’re off the clock is essential. It’s a kindness you give yourself, and truly clocking out makes you more productive when you’re back at work.

Don’t take my word for it.

“From an employee standpoint, we have evidence that going home and recovering from work is good for your sleep, mental well-being and job performance,” University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor of Business Laurens Steed told UC News in 2023. “It’s good for the employee both physiologically and for their productivity in the workplace. I think for employers, it’s important to prioritize employees having the ability to disconnect from work so they have some of those benefits.”

Unfortunately for employees, the dark underbelly of the recent liberating boon of remote work is we are on the job 24/7. Work texts, emails, and calls come in at all hours. In some industries, disconnecting used be as easy as punching a time clock and driving away from the office. Many no longer have that luxury.

I’m guilty in this regard as well. Though the Courier is but a modest local weekly, the newspaper business isn’t a clock-punching gig. We work when we need to, and also when we have to. In other words, we work all the time. It’s not a particularly healthy or sustainable arrangement, but that’s the job.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t work hard. Of course we should. Hard work can be purifying, and I’ve found it can even help stave off depression and anxiety. What I’m trying to get across is we’d be better served if we were more selective in how we spend our limited time. Enduring punishing long hours at work without the counterbalance of full engagement in your actual life — family, friends, hobbies, or just plain ol’ relaxing — serves no purpose other than to enrich your corporate overlords and inch you ever closer to death. General? Reductionist? Maybe. I’m speaking from my limited experience with actual backbreaking labor, and your results may vary.

But what’s certain is the power of “no” (as in, “No, I can’t work overtime. I have a family obligation,” or, “No, I can’t help you move this weekend. I’m old.”) is a significant and I would argue essential tool in avoiding making work your life. I find it more and more gratifying to just say “no.”

Father’s Day: for the record

Another Father’s Day is in the books, and I am again most grateful.

But, judging by several emails I received following publication of last week’s column, “Father’s Day: forgiveness not required,” some of you might be surprised. Apparently, I inadvertently painted a somewhat gloomy picture of what my dads’ day might have in store. Apologies. That was not my intent. I was simply ruminating on my complicated feelings about my own father.

My Father’s Day was magnificent. In fact, in a watershed moment, my kids took me to our fave spot in South Pasadena, Ai, and paid the check! I know! It was a beautiful day, full of laughs, happy tears shed over their handmade cards, and some delicious sashimi.

So while I thank you for your concern, all is and was well.


Submit a Comment

Share This