Ask Allison: 'I'm trapped on a hamster wheel of working full-time, crèche drop-offs and pick-ups, with little or no quality of life.'
Question: I am struggling with the idea of work/life balance. I'm in my mid-forties with two young children - I had them late in life for career reasons - but now I find myself trapped on a hamster wheel of working full-time, crèche drop-offs and pick-ups, with little or no quality of life.
While we are paying our bills and have a nice lifestyle, we have no disposable income. So I think - what's it all for? I am afraid to take a career break because of my age, and also because of the nature of the industry I work in. On the other hand, I really want more time with my children, especially while they are small. I suppose my question is, how do you know when it is the right time to make a radical decision? Are there concrete questions that I should ask myself to help me decide what to do?
Allison replies: 'Struggling' 'trapped' 'hamster wheel' 'afraid to take a career break' have your words described our modern 'work/life' zeitgeist? Your words convey conflicting emotions, as your head and heart are pulled in different directions, or too many directions. This glossy life we've been sold that we can have it all, may just be that, a concept. Albeit, an exhausting and unsustainable one as I end with your line 'with little or no quality of life'.
Ask and write down this question; 'What do I want?' I'd suggest leaving the financial aspect out of these preliminary explorative questions to get to the heart of your question. I do mean what 'you' want and not what you feel you 'should' do, as this is a personal choice that needs to work for you so that all the other roles work with some sense of joy, otherwise what is the point?
When we look to the happiest people in the world we could learn many a thing from the Dutch who honour living a good life really well. Don't let the time given to your career, or the fear of potential time lost sully your decision.
However, being realistic I know you have the challenge of equality versus equity as working women struggle with the elusive balance.
As you gain insight into what you want it may not be a black and white answer. Write out 'options' on a large A4 page and think of all the choices available to you. Add curiosity and creativity to the thinking process. If it isn't a practice in your company yet it doesn't mean it can't be done. I think it's time to start a new revolution, as burnout is too common, something isn't working.
If you were in charge of your time how would you like it to be? Keep a spreadsheet of how you spend your time for a month, break it down by the hour. What depletes you and what energizes you?
You have to put time into changing your life, you can't magic anything into reality by thinking. See your life in its entirety, see it as a specific project with you at the helm as life project manager.
All good projects need a name, maybe we could call it: 'The game of life and how to play it.' Let's break down what your life rules are and how these beliefs are influencing daily decisions on how you believe you 'should' live your life.
Can you challenge some of your beliefs? Which ones are helpful and which are unhelpful?
I hear your concerns about work, perhaps this is why I'm seeing more burnout as people are afraid to take time out when they are trying to juggle it all - albeit in an unhealthy and unhappy way.
Now please work out what you need to have financially every month.
Combine this financial figure with what you want. What can you change in your life that would be more in the Goldilocks zone, with meaning to you? When you get to the point where you're wondering 'what is this all about' it's an indicator of burnout.
If a health crisis hit tomorrow, what life changes would you make? Don't wait for a crisis.
Write out where you get joy or a sense of purpose in your daily life? These questions are the ones that will guide you the best.
It's time for a rethink on the hamster wheel of life. It's time for a rethink on exhaustion. It's time to think about how to live a good life.
If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at email@example.com
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