Calling Out the Work-Life Balance Bluff in Singapore

We MRT, we work, we raise children, we make deals, we go to board meetings, we send our children to the learning labs & centers, we teach, we learn.

There has got to be a better way!

Last week, I opened up my Outlook calendar and put “ten minutes of alone time” on my agenda. I then paused for a few seconds and shook my head. I couldn’t believe it – I was actually penciling myself in to see myself. That right there is total bullshit.

Life is busy.

Finding Balance in Life

We are always on the go, sprinting from one obligation to the next. We start out each day exhausted, alarm demanding our presence, hours of scheduled chaos ahead of us. We MRT, we work, we raise children, we make deals, we go to board meetings, we send our children to the learning labs & centers, we teach, we learn. Oh, and amongst all this, we are supposed to eat healthy, exercise an hour a day, drink at least eight glasses of water, set aside time for our friendships, our family, and for doing the things we truly enjoy and consider fun.

How are we supposed to tackle the must-dos, like work and getting the kids to school, without putting self-care on the back-burner? It’s called work-life balance.

Throw out your metaphoric scale!

I used to believe work-life balance, in the truest sense of the phrase, was achievable. I pictured the classic Libra scales, with obligations on one side, and lovely activities, like reading for pleasure, massage, and dancing, on the other. I visualized an evenly balanced situation. In that balanced visual I could see myself, sitting there, cross-legged in a meditative position, breathing rhythmically with a serene smile on my face.

All I needed to achieve this balanced bliss was a plan. With a little organisation, I was sure I could become the type of person who really had it all together.

You know what I discovered? That type of person doesn’t exist. The blissfully balanced yogi-millionaire-employee of the month perfect persona is a fairy tale character and the balanced scale is the equivalent of a magic potion- it’s a nice idea, but it’s a pretend fantasy notion. I’m throwing away my metaphoric scale and finding a new way to achieve some sort of balance.

You Only Get 24 Hours Each Day

Here in Singapore, we work hard and we work late. Millennials in Singapore log an average of 48 hours of work per week, only beat out by those in India who log in an extra four hours. There are several theories that explain the reason for our obsession with the timeclock, but the fact is, the majority of our waking hours are devoted to our profession.

We rise as early as humanly possible, get ready for work, take care of our family, commute, work eight to ten hours, commute home, feed our family, do laundry, and collapse into bed. Sometimes, in the midst of this blitz of busyness, we squeeze in a television program or a trip to the gym. Even our children have packed schedules, balancing rigorous education standards with sports and music.

Until the world comes together and adds a few hours to the allotted daily 24, we’ve got to work with what we’ve got.

Breaking Down the Basics - heavenly massages delivered - Finding balance in work life and all the other things that matters in life.

Before we dive deeper into the logistics of work-life balance, let’s establish what, exactly, we are balancing. Most people, like myself, find themselves extending energy into five fields.

WORK: Obligatory time dedicated to career, professional development, networking. Includes commuting.

FAMILY: Both obligatory and quality time spent with close family members including spouse, children, parents, and siblings.

FRIENDS: Time spent, both quality and statutory, with close friends and acquaintances.

SELF CARE: Exercise, sleep, taking time to eat healthy, massage, meditation, etc.

FUN: Activities you truly enjoy such as reading a good book or attending a concert.

Our work time is so much more than our physical time in the office. Most of us have a long, stressful, traffic-filled commute, after-work brainstorming sessions, “working lunches,” and the nights spent awake, mind consumed with what is going on at the office. Self-care is taking the time to make a farm fresh salad instead of grabbing fast food, drinking plenty of water, hitting up a spin class, physical therapy, and massage sessions. Fun is like self-care, but without a straight-forward health benefit. The fun category is most neglected and includes anything you enjoy but is not an obligation, from nights out dancing to curling up with a good book. Friends and family are the time you spend with loved ones, necessary or not.

When we see these five categories, and realise we should be giving ourselves over to each one, it triggers a stress reaction. We begin to feel our pulse race and our palms sweat as feelings of inadequacy creep up and take over. Take a breath and remember, balance is bullshit. There is a better way.

Introducing: Work-Life Synchronicity

We have established that work-life balance is a pie in the sky crapshoot and we have acknowledged our culture’s obsession with vocational accomplishment. Our scales are gone and our life is still in chaos. Now what?

Work-life Synchronicity

If we are going to enjoy any sort of balance in life, it is going to be achieved through synchronous behavior. Essentially, rather than dedicating individual time to each of the five energy fields, we should, and can, multi-task. The great news is, where work-life balance is a farce, work-life synchronicity is realistic and achievable.

Work-life synchronicity is taking the train to work and dedicating your commute to the paperback you’ve been yearning to read, achieving both work and fun. Scheduling an in-home massage for you and your family is a wonderful way to self-care and spend time with loved ones. Inviting your friends to take a whole foods cooking class with you is a work-life synchronicity trifecta of fun, friends, and self-care.

Love What You Do: The Ultimate in Work-Life Synchronicity

What about work, where we spend most of our time? Is there a way to infuse joy in the daily grind? There is a quote that says, “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I cringe each time I hear this clichéd fallacy. The first issue I take with this statement is my life. I am a wellness coach and a wellness writer. I eat, breathe, love, and live wellness yet I still have days where I wish a great pile of money would fall from the sky, leaving me to travel and explore the world without a care. I struggle through billing statements, taxes, and technical decisions at my job. I love what I do but it’s still work.

The second issue I have with the infamous “Do what you love” quote is that many people are not in a positon to just go out and grab their dream job. Before I became established in my career, I waited tables, tended bar, and worked an administrative positon at a legal firm. None of those were close to my dream job but I found ways to love what I did within each one of them. There is freedom in knowing that anyone, in any job, can love what they do and achieve work-life synchronicity.

There are many ways, some obvious and some not, for a person to find joy at work. If you are ambitious and looking to make upward moves in your company or field, find a mentor to guide you. Should social interactions bring you joy, organize weekly work potlucks, encouraging co-workers to bring their signature dishes to share.

Supervisors want employees to feel high job satisfaction and know that self-care makes for better productivity. If you think of an idea to improve work life and it’s inclusive of fun, friends, family, or self-care, share it with your Human Resource department or supervisor. You will be pleasantly surprised to see most corporations are open to work-life synchronous ideas.

Free Yourself of the Balance Act

Tonight, I am going to enjoy a glass of Cabernet with my work emails, something I find fun, and has enough antioxidants for me to consider self-care. Tomorrow, I am going to join my best friend at yoga, and I’m bringing my teenaged stepdaughter with me- self-care, friends, family, and fun. I will never be able to balance work and life like I once thought I should, but I can promise myself I will take more time to care for my body and soul, and do what I love, with the people I love, by living synchronously.