Work-Life Balance: It’s Up to You, not the Employer

A lot of companies like to list work life balance as one of their core benefits. “Work for us and we’ll make sure that your life is balanced and not completely all about work” – I’m sure you’ve read this slogan on all the websites you’ve read before applying for a job (if you haven’t been reading about the companies you want to work for, better start now!).

One of the major lessons I learned from my last job is that while employers advertise work-life balance, what they are really saying is, we won’t work you so much that you can’t find anytime for yourself. Seriously, that’s all it really is. Giving you gym time isn’t the balance – it’s your choice of going to gym during the off hours that makes the balance exist.

In my last job, I didn’t make good use of my after hours. I usually kept my work hours to no more than 9 hours a day, but when I left the office, my mind was still on work. I spent a considerable amount of time exercising, but I still couldn’t shake it off. Now that I’m taking a career break, it’s become clear that I didn’t use my off hours to do things I really looked forward to. I don’t mean seeing the boyfriend or girlfriend; I’m talking about personal and often solo activities that stirs up the intellectual mind.

Back in 2008 and 2009, I attended evening Chinese courses via Skype. I had a one-on-one instructor that essentially became a language partner on four to five evenings out of the week. I had homework assignments where I had to write short papers on topics I discussed during the previous class session. My Google Docs folder still contains the large number of Chinese written homework that basically contains diary entries (most of the topics in class revolved around how my day went). When considering class time and homework time, this consumed about 3 hours each day. This seems like a lot of time when considering how much time is left after a long day of work (5 hours, maybe?).

But you know what? At the time it never felt like work. I enjoyed writing the papers. The sessions I had each night became therapeutic in discussing the things that mattered and bothered me the most. It was like I had a distant and yet disconnected friend to share my thoughts, but I kept the intellectual engine rolling by forcing myself to use a language I was not comfortable with. Not long afterwards, I entered one of the most creative and action focused points in my 20’s (my investing career had taken off).

Somehow, these unnecessary learning sessions became a driving force in me to make changes in my financial life. I say unnecessary learning because there was no real practical purpose for me to learn Chinese. I live in America, and it’s OK not to speak Mandarin. But I threw practicality out the door. I learned because I wanted to. I just wanted to be better at speaking and writing Mandarin. The process of learning just became fun. I looked forward each night to going home and logging onto my computer to chat with my teacher. I liked how she provided criticism on my papers so that the next one would be better. Simply put: I just did something I enjoyed.

When I noticeably improved, it became a good excuse to visit Taiwan and China. I wanted to use my Mandarin skill with the locals. Good God, it was so much fun! And that was the key, I simply had fun. I made sure my life was balanced with the seriousness of work, but yet also with the light-heartedness of having fun and enjoying life.

But keep in mind – at the time this is specifically what made me click inside. We all have our own thing. At the time, learning Mandarin was fun to me. I didn’t mind the time spent on homework to get better. I just wanted to get better and followed my gut instincts. Suddenly my trips to Asia had more meaning, and that only fueled the desire to get better.

Ultimately, by the end of it, what I truly got out of it was a sense of conviction in myself. Suddenly things didn’t feel so hard anymore. If I could put my mind to it, it can happen. Learning Mandarin was proof of that. It was proof that I am capable. So now, what’s next to conquer? Lets make it happen.

So I encourage you to stretch and do something that’ll get that intellectual engine running. Don’t worry too much about whether it’ll be practical or make money for you. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Do it because you like it. You won’t regret it!

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