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Article Video Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle

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Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle - Nigel Marsh - TEDxSydney

TED Talk Summary: TEDxSydney - Nigel Marsh - Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle
The original TED talk can be found here: TED Talk Summary: TEDxSydney - Nigel Marsh - Work Life Balance is an Ongoing Battle

Please Note: The material on this site, and in the embed video, has been summarised for educational purposes only. All rights to this content belong to 'TED' and their respective parties.

I'll start with a simple request; I'd like all of you to pause and reflect on your miserable existence. That was the advice St. Benedict gave to his startled followers in the 5th century. It was the advice I took when I turned 40, during a troubled time for me of alcoholism, neglect for my family and all round pessimism that was taking a toll on my mental and physical health. It eventually culminated in me stepping back from my job and going on a voyage to try and figure out how to attain a true work-life balance to turn my life around. Because if I kept going at this rate, I'd end up spiralling out of control and that wouldn't be good for me, or my family.

The unemployed life made me realised that it was easy to manage life and work... when I didn't have any work. But when the money ran out, I realised that this was not a sustainable option, so I went back to work and have spent the last seven years since struggling with, studying and writing all about this elusive concept of a work life balance.

Achieving a Work-Life Balance
The first thing I found is that if we're ever going to progress with this issue, we need an honest debate. The current intellectual jousting and dialectic kerfuffling surrounding work-life balance has lead to its name being muddied. All the discussions around "flexi-time", or "dress-down Fridays" or "maternity leave" only serve to mask the core issue; that is - certain jobs and career choices are fundamentally incompatible of being meaningfully engaged with a young family.

The first step is acknowledging the reality that we are living in; a reality that involves most of us on the consumerist conveyer belt of life, miserably grinding along at work to make money, so we can go home and buy materialistic presents to attempt to please the people we don't like around us. It's my contention that going to work on Friday in a jeans and T-shirt completely misses the point and distorts the image of a true 'work-life' balance. We have to face the truth that governments and corporations aren't going to give us a magic pill that solves this for us; instead we need to look inwardly to find ways to take control and responsibility of the types of lives we want to live. If you don't design you life, someone else will design it for you, and you may not like their design of balance.

It's particularly important that you don't put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial cooperation. I'm not talking the malign companies operating without a moral conscience, I'm talking about all companies, which in our laisse faire system of economics are encouraged to leech the productivity out of you for as much as they can get away with. It's in their nature for profit, because without it - they won't survive in a competitive environment.

The Work-Life Balance Utopia
We have to be responsible for setting the boundaries that we want in our lives, but we have to be careful with the timeframe that we use to responsible for our balance. Before I went back to work, I wrote down a detailed step-by-step utopia of the work-life balance I wanted to live and it went like this;
  1. Wake up well rested after a good night's sleep
  2. Have sex
  3. Walk the dog
  4. Have breakfast with my wife and children
  5. Have sex again
  6. Drive the kids to school on the way to the office
  7. Do three hours work
  8. Play sport with a friend at lunchtime
  9. Do another 3 hours of work
  10. Meet some friends at a put for an earlier evening drink
  11. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids
  12. Meditate for half an hour
  13. Have sex again
  14. Walk the dog
  15. Have sex again
  16. Go to bed
A common day for most people, I'm sure (just kidding... duh). We have to be realistic when we design these things. You can't do it all in one day - we need to elongate the timeframe to judge the balance in our lives. We need to elongate it without falling into the trap of putting everything off until later; that the delayed gratification of retirement will resolve all your problems later on. Despite your failing health, loss of workmates and so on - you think that retirement will instantly make you happy. It's not acceptable to put yourself through years of suffering at work under the expectation that the grass is greener on the other side of life.

A day is too short, after you retire is too long. So what's the solution? A friend came to see me last year. Here's what she said;
Hi Nigel! I read your book and I realised my life is completely out of balance. I work 10 hours a day, I commute 2 hours a day. All my relationships have collapsed, and I'm at a loss for what to do. So I decided to join a gym.

Now I don't mean to mock my friend, but being a fit office rat for 10 hours a day is not more balanced, it's more fit. The physical body is one aspect of the human condition which we no doubt should look after. But there's also the emotional, intellectual and spiritual side. To be balanced, I believe we have to attend to all of those areas. Not just do 50 push-ups. Now, before you heckle me and say "bloody hell mate, I barely have the time to get fit, and you want me to go to church and call my mother?!", I completely understand how this can be very daunting daunting.

But later in life, my wife rang me and gave me a new perspective on the matter. She said, Nigel you need to pick your youngest son Harry from school. So I left work an hour earlier that afternoon and picked up Harry from the school, walked down to the park to play a few games. I then walked him up to the local café and shared a pizza. Then we returned home, I gave him a bath, put in his pyjamas, read to him James and the Giant Peach, gave him a kiss on his forehead, and said goodnight before walking out. Before I could leave the room, Harry turned around and said "Dad, this has been the best day of my life, ever!" I hadn't done anything. I hadn't take him to Disneyland or bought him a PS4. But for both myself and Harry, we were happy.

My point is the small things matter. With the biggest investments in the smallest things in your life, you can transform your life and society for the better. It gives us the power to change society's moronically simplistic notion of success as being defined by wealth, but instead by the decisions we make to the people around us. That, I think - is an idea worth spreading.

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