I have often watched as Olympic gymnasts prance, leap, flip, and dance on a balance beam. They seem so graceful, so lithe… almost weightless. I realized that these seemingly pixie dust possessing, feather-light athletes are in actuality muscular dynamo’s thrusting the full weight of their force down through their meaty legs and into the beam. They are able to affect this gossamer illusion of floating on air, only by concentrating their power inward toward center and downward towards the support.
Staying balanced means having a firm footing, even if a narrow one, and the strength to reign in wild flailing appendages. If the gymnast’s arms spread akimbo, she is off balance and loses points. If she leans to one side of the other, she is not centered and may fall. It is her mastery of the center, and her ability to conduct her force down onto the beam which holds her. It is using gravity, not fighting it. Gravity can make her fall off, or, if she uses it correctly, it can keep her centered and graceful.
Why do I mention gymnasts, in relation to balancing your personal and professional life. Because, I think it is hard work, takes much training, can make you a champion, and when done well can seem effortless from the perspective of lookers on. By no means, have I attained any kind of real and lasting success at work life balance, but I think I am beginning to be on the right track. I share here my humble observations and discoveries.
A bit about me:
I do a lot of blogging, reading, and listening to Christian or entrepreneurial pod casts on iTunes U. So, the ideas I am interacting with, and getting excited about, revolve around business or my work with GodlyCulture.com. Needless to say, I want to talk with her about them. But, this can get tiresome. Other times, she is doing the billing, while I am relaxing (or just disengaged from work things) and she will want to ask me questions about this or that line item.
It is frustrating for both of us, because humans need to have brain breaks. We are working on it, but we have a long road to hoe. The Bible teaches that humans need Sabbath. We have to quit working, thinking about working, planning to work, and that this is good and honoring to God. Jesus made the point that Sabbath is given to mankind as a gift, otherwise we would self enslave and be totally devoted to bottom line. I have come to realize that my business isn’t totally dependent on my abilities, in fact, I can hurt my business and my blog by making it the central focus of my efforts.
On the other hand, if I don’t focus on work, while at work, then I am slacking off. If I don’t focus on my faith, when I am supposedly engaged in “disciplines” then I am committing the deadly sin of sloth. If I don’t focus on my family, when I am at home, then I am neglecting a wonderful gift/responsibility God has given me. If I focus on work at home, not good. If I focus on my personal affairs, when I am supposed to be devoting time to God, not good. If I am taking time that has been set aside for work time, and get distracted doing ministry tasks, not good. My pastor taught me that “great boundaries are necessary for great relationships.” To put it another way (much more convoluted); setting up walls that divide this responsibility from that, is essential in order to prioritize time, reach goals, and maintain the integrity of the divers realms of human activity. We make boundaries so that we are free to pursue our full potential.
Boundaries help us achieve our goals, by limiting our attention to certain things. When we put limitations on ourselves, we actually free ourselves to do something excellent. The pianist who limits his time spent online gaming, so he can devote to practice his concerto, frees himself to be an expert. The martial artist who limits himself to only practicing one form, guarantees that he will be a master. While there is something to be said for diversification, to be an expert or industry leader means intensive commitment to one discipline.
With that in mind, I suggest creating concrete baindaries between work and home (especially if you work from home, have a family owned business, are a small business entrepreneur, or simply can’t help but import your work life into your personal life.) For instance, make a commitment to each other that on Sundays, you will not answer the phone, email, or check in on the office. No talking business at the dinner table. When you go on a date night with the wife, hand her your cell phone. Take a brain break every afternoon, and simply go outside for a walk around the block. You are not bringing your best self to the office or to the family room, when you have not made time for self-renewal. I think of this as re-calibrating back to a position of normalcy and wellness.
Of course we should expect that some categories will bleed into each other. For instance, I believe that i can honor God, by being excellent at my business. Or again, my family life will suffer and diminish if our business flounders and dissolves. There is room for overlap, but one must be careful. As with all things, single minded devotion to your professional, personal, or spiritual life, can leave cavities which invite decay. The Scripture is clear that 1. he who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and B. the married are to focus on their spouses, even at the expense of ministry. (Proverbs 18:22 & 1 Corinthians 7:33) It is also clear, that he who does not work should not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
The bible has wisdom to teach on every facet of human existence. Work? Yes! Marriage? Check! Raising kids? Right again! Personal finance? Business ethics? Politics? The Arts and culture? All of these and more! It is the answer book for human thought, moral practice, spiritual disciplines, and personal salvation. Read it!