I learnt a powerful lesson in life recently from a book. The protagonist talks about the five balls we juggle in our lives: work, family, friends, health and integrity. We keep most of them in the air, trying our best not to drop any. Work is the only ball that is made of rubber, and it bounces back. But the others are made of glass ... once dropped, they get irrevocably damaged.
We go through life giving more and more importance to our work and career at the cost of our health, relationships and other aspects of life. This simple truth often eludes us until we are forced to face its consequences. The reasons are manifold. The tangible returns that hard work gives us in terms of money or quick recognition is hardly there in other aspects of life. Sustaining a relationship needs some hard work, and sometimes it will seem to be thankless. Health concerns are the last on our mind, until we face some kind of setback on the health front, either our own or that of our loved ones.
The work-life balance in each one of us is different. Almost all of us work to earn money. For most people money is a necessity, and for some it is a means to seek luxury. The amount we earn is also seen as a measure of our success. Sometimes people do take pride in proving to the world that they are hardworking, and this blurs the boundaries of the life beyond work. We tend to let things slide, and it becomes a habit then you start losing yourself and the things that you value; you start to hurt.
This aspect of placing work above all else is nothing peculiar to certain sections of society or to a particular generation. Workaholics existed and thrived over the centuries. This gentleman I know takes special pride to portray himself as a globe-trotter and feels his only responsibility to his family is to provide the money. As he lived away from his family for almost a decade, the children grew up and became successful despite his absence. A great deal of credit should go to his wife for having kept a semblance of home and provided them with security and solace. His priorities seemed entirely different and he never took seriously his wife’s loneliness.
Another friend of ours on his return from abroad after a stint of more than a decade found that his family had moved on and was more comfortable without him being a part of it.
In such cases, it is more than hurting yourself; it is hurting the loved ones. Today’s grandparents are the most hardworking of all. Not only are they having a run of second parenting; they seem to be looking after all the needs of their married children. Right from taking care of bills to feeding and schooling their grandchildren, the whole burden seems to be lying on their already burdened shoulders. “I have no time,” is the refrain, and it runs through a gamut of occasions; right from attending a family function or taking an appointment with the doctor for a regular check-up.
Work seems to be really taking a toll on us. Driving to and from work is another issue. There is no single clear-cut solution to taking care of the glass balls. What we need to do is to find a balance among all the things that are important to us. Not taking work back home or home to work is a tried and tested phenomenon of all those who we consider successful. The distraction of being available 24/7 on the Internet is another sure-fire way of not having time for other things in our lives. Relationship experts are sounding the warning bells on work-related disturbance affecting the fledging relationship between newlyweds.
Cutting down on phone time and on social networking sites work wonders when you want to spend some quality time with family and friends. Spending some ‘me-time’ by going for walks, or hitting a gym as a couple, or on pursuing some hobbies also can make us better- equipped to take care of the most precious among the glass balls, namely, relationships and health.
We owe more to this life, and the key to taking care of the glass balls lies in practising the technique of prioritising sensibly.