I love to work. I really do.
A few years ago, my wife gave me a psychic reading as a gift. A lot of what I heard that day resonated. Specifically, I learned I was born in the house of work. Most of my life I’ve gotten used to and comfortable seeing my self as a doer, busy, engaged, always working. These learned work habits have defined much of my identity.
Why do so many men (particularly those of my generation, the boomers) over identify with work? Is it because many of us grew up being told to make a place for ourselves. And that our tenacity and hard work were ways to do that. For many white men, when this over focus on work becomes unbalanced or chronic, it can lead to increased stress, depression, substance abuse, relationship problems, and more. Yet we continue to work and tie our identity strongly to what we do (as opposed to how to be).
Once I was working with a leadership team (all men in their 50’s) that ran the operations for a large midwestern cereal manufacturing business. This team was struggling to find MBA grads to run these cereal plants, often located in rural parts of the mid west. To a person, their attitude was, no one wants to work hard anymore (as defined by put your head down, nose to the grind stone, don’t whine, and get ‘er done). After observing their frustration for a couple of hours over the perceived lack of talent, I commented that it sounded like they were simply looking to hire a bunch of mini-me’s (meaning clones just like themselves) and that this pre-occupation with hiring people just like themselves may be their real problem. They had a hard time seeing this since they all shared this work hard ethos.
For many men, our preoccupation with work and “busy-ness” was drilled into us from an early age. Over the years, many of us have come to over-identify ourselves with our work. I know I certainly do. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this habit, I know any habit overused can become a liability.
Hence, the issue of work/life balance. For me, finding this balance is not as easy as just working less. It involves a deeper practice of learning to be by being present as well as having presence. Showing up fully in each moment of my life (work or otherwise) allows me to live a fuller, richer life. I can work hard and play hard. I can rest or work. I can be me in the moment. When I am present in each moment, work life balance seems to take care of itself.
Periodically, I ask myself, am I noticing what I am feeling right now? Am I using my busy-ness to avoid noticing how I feel? How do I either live in the present or move ahead to the future; and how is that impacting how I am showing up right now?
I know myself well enough now to realize this is not a one-time conversation with self but an ongoing one. I think I will always love my propensity for hard work but I can now find more joy in each waking moment –whether full at work or not. P.S. Becoming a grandfather is helping this a lot. Extract from a MARC blog, Nov. 2014