Let’s be real: 2023 has been a rough year, and that’s an understatement. Most working Americans, business professionals and executives included, have seen their job circumstances change dramatically. For a majority of businesspeople, full-time or nearly full-time remote work from home has become the new norm. With it— the rates of burnout and fatigue, loneliness, domestic violence, addiction, and mental health issues are on a steep climb.
It’s no wonder that many working Americans are checked out from work. Relentless days spent in front of a computer crunching numbers or attending Zoom meetings—whether alone in an apartment or surrounded by the buzz of kids remotely learning at school— can cause anyone to feel like their life is so stressful, out of whack, or one-dimensional that joy and fulfillment are in scarce supply.
Of course, the downside of constant stress and unfulfillment is that they usually are not a path to greater health and happiness. Instead, chronic stress can trigger poor lifestyle choices that can be harmful to mental and physical health. (Learn how therapies are helping people in treatment at FHE Health achieve recovery from stress-related, mental, and behavioral health issues.)
With the New Year around the corner, there couldn’t be a better time to shoot for more balance and a more centered existence. But how does one strike a healthier work-life balance when they’re feeling overloaded personally or professionally, or when life seems topsy-turvy? The following tips are intended to help. Consider them an informal guide to greater self-fulfillment in 2023.
Work-Life Balance – What It Is and Isn’t
First, what is “work-life balance” really? After all, people can interpret it differently, and sometimes the concept can seem intimidatingly complex— as if with the right formula or algorithm, all of the parts of one’s life can be perpetually held in some sort of Zen-like equilibrium. Not.
More helpfully, an article in Forbes defined work-life balance as a sense of fulfillment in both the personal and professional spheres of one’s life. Say, for example, that work is very exciting and fulfilling, and those 80-hour weeks fly by because it’s impossible to be bored or feel purposeless. On the personal front, though, there’s an emptiness or restlessness. That sense of fulfillment, what motivates getting out of bed on a non-workday and finding enjoyment, enrichment, or connection, seems incomplete or missing.
Conversely, someone may feel very fulfilled in their personal life: They may have a great marriage, many friends, or a hobby that they love. But they may be bored, frustrated, burned-out, or even depressed at work: They might feel stuck in a dead-end job or that they’re the wrong person for the position; they know they’re unfulfilled.
Then there are the people who are looking for more fulfillment in both their personal and professional lives.
Evaluate What Needs to Change to Increase Work-Life Fulfillment
Whether there’s a need for a radical transformation or just a couple of minor tweaks to one’s routine, self-reflection and awareness are key to taking the first steps towards greater fulfillment. Spend some time taking an inventory of personal and professional life. Try to identify where there’s a sense of unfulfillment and what may be at the root of it. For example, has the job schedule changed, or have you taken on a bigger workload? Or is that precious quality time that once entailed hanging out with friends and family now allocated differently?
Take stock of emotional and personal needs, personal values, and motivational factors. If work is triggering a desire for more professional fulfillment, it can be helpful to look at whether more money or another factor, such as organizational mission, positive work relationships, or better health benefits for the family, would increase professional fulfillment.
Make Tweaks Where You Can and Avoid Drastic Changes When Emotional
If, after this process of self-evaluation, it’s possible to make some relevant life adjustments and introduce some new self-care measures, do so. See how things go and whether they correlate with more self-growth and fulfillment.
A point of caution here: Beware of making huge life changes if depressed or highly emotional. Immediately after a big blow-up with a coworker, the sudden impulse to quit one’s job and move from New York to Alaska may be understandable but not necessarily wise.
Strive for Gratitude and a Positive Outlook
Look for ways to be thankful for and positive about what you already have. Everyone has more than one thing in their life to be grateful for. An attitude of gratitude can help keep a lack of personal or professional fulfillment in a healthy perspective. Sometimes, too, there needs to be an adjustment of attitude or expectations in order for more fulfillment to occur. In other words, positive, meaningful change may mean a change in external circumstances but doesn’t have to; often inner change is the bigger need.
Explore Whether Job Stress or Burnout May Be Causing the Unfulfillment
Burnout or fatigue is a personal issue and needs to be dealt with as such. Work on self-care, from exercise to sleep, eating to spiritual needs, relationships to mental health. After all, work or a career is one component of life, but not who someone is as a total person. Keeping work in perspective and not indulging in workaholism can take a lot of energy, especially for hard-working types who may be more accustomed to putting work before their own personal health and identity.
To be honest, who knows what next year will bring? However, it’s clear this year has been tough for many reasons. Take time for regular self-check-ins to ascertain what’s working and what’s not and what you need. Seek out healthy ways to meet those needs. Then re-group after mastering each step on the ladder. Each step can bring more vision for the next step, and the one after that, and so on.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help or Support
Do not be afraid to ask for help or support. You are not alone. Taking care of yourself today will make you more ready to face new opportunities or challenges tomorrow.
Deciding If a New Career May Be the Answer
Sometimes it may be worth considering a career change. Discerning whether it’s time for a job move has a lot to do with one’s personality, where they are in life, and the risks (or steps) they are willing to take.
Most people will change their careers many times in their working life. Often it can take a process of elimination to ascertain what will be a long-term vocation. Also, with time and growing older, new interests emerge, and what worked in one’s 20s might not be satisfying in one’s 40s.
Start exploring and talking to trusted friends and colleagues. If further exploration uncovers an enthusiasm for a new vocational direction, or if a job change is the clear, unavoidable path to caring for long-neglected, mental and physical needs, take that next step towards doing what’s best for work-life balance.
Think of this: The next job doesn’t have to be forever. The most important achievements in life don’t happen overnight. They take time and typically involve multiple steps. Try not to get hung up on a need for immediate end results. Instead, make a point to decide what the first or next step will be. It may not be easy, but where there’s a readiness and desire to move forward, there will also be a way.
The article is provided by Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, who is Chief Clinical Officer at the national behavioral health provider FHE Health.