Work-Life Balance

Overview 

Most of us have wondered at some stage in our lives, if we were working too hard or too little.

Most of us have wondered at some stage in our lives if we were working too hard or too little, and how much work would be too much.

Some individuals work more than a hundred hours a week and still feel relaxed, and others feel a desperate need to slow down and relax with a 30-hour work schedule, why is it so?

Some individuals work more than a hundred hours a week and still feel relaxed, and others feel a desperate need to slow down and relax with a 30-hour work schedule, why is it so?

Apart from the obvious physical health issue, the answer may lie in the concept of equanimity. Those of us who can maintain equanimity all the time feel relaxed and working even one hundred hours per week would not be a problem. However, those who react emotionally to even trivial issues get tired easily and will need to slow down to avoid the detrimental effects of stress.

The next logical question would be – Is it necessary to slow down to destress oneself?

The answer to that question is yes and no.

The term work-life balance implies that work is separate from life, I do not know on what grounds we can understand that apart from the time slots. It was easy to understand this concept 20 years ago when work meant one’s activities between nine and five on weekdays, and life was seen as activities during the rest of the time. Not anymore in 2022, more so after the pandemic and with hybrid working.

The second implication is that work sucks you and life rejuvenates you. This may be true for someone who feels compelled to do things they do not want to do at their workplace, and during the rest of the time they are able to do things they enjoy and feel rejuvenated from.

We normally think that work can be soul-crushing, and life at home will be relaxing and blissful. However, for some it may be just the opposite i.e., work rejuvenates them, and life causes stress. How Do we understand that? Perhaps for them, family life is more stressful than their work, and work provides an escape from the major life stresses.

Or it could be that they never switch off from whatever is there on their minds irrespective of whether it is a family matter or a work-related problem. When they are at work, they are worried about family matters, and when at home they are constantly thinking about work-related issues. The mind does not want to be where the body is.

Doing/Being Model

This can be explained further using a model of Doing/Being modes. We are human beings but have ended up being human doings, all the time we are busy doing things, trying to be more productive, not wanting to waste time, etc. Perhaps related to our parents’ dictates – be more focused, be productive, do not waste time, you’ve to reach somewhere and become somebody, et cetera. We try to fill the gaps between our activities even if it is for a few minutes with something productive i.e., sending a text message, dropping an email, tidying things around, etc.

So instead of worrying about the Work/Life balance we should try to look at our Doing/Being balance.

Now let us examine what is the Being mode. It is when you are not making a conscious effort to actively create something new in your mind or in the outside world. You can still do things that can be done at the spinal level; things that do not require mental effort and will not create any new emotions, both positive and negative. Activities such as talking to friends over the phone, watching television, reading a book, listening to music, eating, sex all these things can create new emotions and therefore should be shunned during the Being mode. Activities that will not require “Doing” would be lazing around, sitting in the garden, doing stretching exercises, meditation, going for a walk, being close to nature, DIY in the house that does not require effort and emotional engagement, etc.

Going back to the discussion of work/life balance, if your work-related activities can be done at the spinal level and without emotional reaction then it is not stressful at all and will be classed as your being mode and not the doing mode. I have come across individuals who tell me that work for them is like child’s play, and it is managing family matters that get the best of them.

If your free time involves constant struggle, arguments, and high emotions with your family, friends, and neighbors then you are constantly in the doing mode and your mind starts craving for the Being mode, that is why some people get desperate for the next holiday soon after returning from one.

Now let us examine what happens during the doing and the being modes, and for that, we must understand the structure of our psyche. We can understand our mind in terms of two broad compartments: the Ego (intellect) and the Spirit. It does not matter what words we use to describe these two components as different people may use different terminologies to describe them, it does not matter if we understand what we mean by them.

I would first describe what is “Ego.” The ego is part of your mind that is required when you are interacting with the outside world. It is part of your mind that is judging, feels, thinks, and reacts because of being in the world. This part is required to lead a normal life as a member of society. Without this being, we cannot lead a normal life in the world. It is like our car, our computer, our smartphone, and all the gadgets and tools that are needed.

As opposed to the Ego we have another part of our mind that can be described as the inner consciousness, the spirit or the soul, the inner observer, et cetera. In existential times this can be described as the-being-in-itself. This is when we connect with ourselves.

It is like at the end of the day when we prepare ourselves to go into a deep restful sleep and get under the duvet, we do not need our car or laptop or a smartphone, we do not even need to think about our work-related or domestic problems. We do not want to think about anything that requires effort no matter how important it is, we put it off for the next day.

This connection with our spirit is necessary for healing, growth, replenishment, stress management, and undoing our tiredness. This connection with our spirit can happen even during daytime for short periods of time during the gaps between our daily activities and between our thoughts, when we are fully present at the moment and not complaining, analyzing, or emotionally reacting to things from the past or the future.

If your work allows you to switch to the Being mode more frequently then it cannot be classed as work in the traditional sense. Many people describe their work as child’s play. Writers, artists, and workers have described moments when thoughts and activities flow from them spontaneously without any effort, and such moments can be described as the Being mode. However, these very people can have moments when they are struggling to find the right thought or activity, and it should be classed as doing mode.

In a similar fashion, a lot of our daily activities outside work will fall under the category of the doing mode. A good understanding of the doing and the being mode can help us organize our lives better.

Philosophers have described the Being mode further under several categories:

  1. Being-in-itself
  2. Being-for-itself
  3. Being-in-the-world
  4. Being-for-the-world
  5. Being-beyond-itself

For philosophers even when you are not in the “Doing” mode, you are not 100 percent with yourself. According to Sartre and Heidegger it is not possible for humans to be 100 percent within themselves i.e., Being-in-itself, it is only animals who have it and the desire of a human being to become God-like can also lead one into that state.

Heidegger has used the word Dasein – meaning when the self is aware of the self and the Self cares about the self (Being-for-itself) and makes sure that it grows and remains healthy. Heidegger also says that this care about others (Being-for-the-world) also works in the same way – allows the self to grow and remain healthy.

However, Sartre takes a different position – for him, Being-for-itself is in contrast with Being-for-others. Our caring for others comes at the cost of our caring for ourselves. Whereas for Heidegger our caring for others promotes our caring for ourselves. Martin Buber supports Heidegger’s position by elaborating on this understanding in terms of I-IT and I-Thou relationships.

Doing/Being balance – it is, therefore, important that we understand that “Doing mode” could be an escape into our immersion in the public everyday world – the anonymous world of “the They” and “the Them.” This everyday consciousness may be different from the Dasein – which is a being mode.

There seems to be a contradiction here as the issue of whether caring for others comes at the cost of caring for self, or promotes it, is still not clear.

The important thing to understand here is that if we understand the Dasein as neither a subject nor an object but always in relation to the world – Being-in-the-world, then caring for others is caring for self. And if we understand the Self as a Being-for-the-world then caring for others will come at the cost of self-care.

From an existential or spiritual point of view, it is important to understand the nature of “Being mode” to be able to achieve a desired work/life, ego/spirit, or doing/being balanced.

Some individuals work more than a hundred hours a week and still feel relaxed, and others feel a desperate need to slow down and relax with a 30-hour work schedule, why is it so?

Apart from the obvious physical health issue, the answer may lie in the concept of equanimity. Those of us who can maintain equanimity all the time feel relaxed and working even one hundred hours per week would not be a problem. However, those who react emotionally to even trivial issues get tired easily and will need to slow down to avoid the detrimental effects of stress.

The next logical question would be – Is it necessary to slow down to destress oneself?

The answer to that question is yes and no.

The term work-life balance implies that work is separate from life, I do not know on what grounds we can understand that apart from the time slots. It was easy to understand this concept 20 years ago when work meant one’s activities between nine and five on weekdays, and life was seen as activities during the rest of the time. Not anymore in 2022, more so after the pandemic and with hybrid working.

The second implication is that work sucks you and life rejuvenates you. This may be true for someone who feels compelled to do things they do not want to do at their workplace, and during the rest of the time they are able to do things they enjoy and feel rejuvenated from.

We normally think that work can be soul-crushing, and life at home will be relaxing and blissful. However, for some it may be just the opposite i.e., work rejuvenates them, and life causes stress. How Do we understand that? Perhaps for them, family life is more stressful than their work, and work provides an escape from the major life stresses.

Or it could be that they never switch off from whatever is there on their minds irrespective of whether it is a family matter or a work-related problem. When they are at work, they are worried about family matters, and when at home they are constantly thinking about work-related issues. The mind does not want to be where the body is.

Doing/Being Model

This can be explained further using a model of Doing/Being modes. We are human beings but have ended up being human doings, all the time we are busy doing things, trying to be more productive, not wanting to waste time, etc. Perhaps related to our parents’ dictates – be more focused, be productive, do not waste time, you’ve to reach somewhere and become somebody, et cetera. We try to fill the gaps between our activities even if it is for a few minutes with something productive i.e., sending a text message, dropping an email, tidying things around, etc.

So instead of worrying about the Work/Life balance we should try to look at our Doing/Being balance.

Now let us examine what is the Being mode. It is when you are not making a conscious effort to actively create something new in your mind or in the outside world. You can still do things that can be done at the spinal level; things that do not require mental effort and will not create any new emotions, both positive and negative. Activities such as talking to friends over the phone, watching television, reading a book, listening to music, eating, sex all these things can create new emotions and therefore should be shunned during the Being mode. Activities that will not require “Doing” would be lazing around, sitting in the garden, doing stretching exercises, meditation, going for a walk, being close to nature, DIY in the house that does not require effort and emotional engagement, etc.

Going back to the discussion of work/life balance, if your work-related activities can be done at the spinal level and without emotional reaction then it is not stressful at all and will be classed as your being mode and not the doing mode. I have come across individuals who tell me that work for them is like child’s play, and it is managing family matters that get the best of them.

If your free time involves constant struggle, arguments, and high emotions with your family, friends, and neighbors then you are constantly in the doing mode and your mind starts craving for the Being mode, that is why some people get desperate for the next holiday soon after returning from one.

Now let us examine what happens during the doing and the being modes, and for that, we must understand the structure of our psyche. We can understand our mind in terms of two broad compartments: the Ego (intellect) and the Spirit. It does not matter what words we use to describe these two components as different people may use different terminologies to describe them, it does not matter if we understand what we mean by them.

I would first describe what is “Ego.” The ego is part of your mind that is required when you are interacting with the outside world. It is part of your mind that is judging, feels, thinks, and reacts because of being in the world. This part is required to lead a normal life as a member of society. Without this being, we cannot lead a normal life in the world. It is like our car, our computer, our smartphone, and all the gadgets and tools that are needed.

As opposed to the Ego we have another part of our mind that can be described as the inner consciousness, the spirit or the soul, the inner observer, et cetera. In existential times this can be described as the-being-in-itself. This is when we connect with ourselves.

It is like at the end of the day when we prepare ourselves to go into a deep restful sleep and get under the duvet, we do not need our car or laptop or a smartphone, we do not even need to think about our work-related or domestic problems. We do not want to think about anything that requires effort no matter how important it is, we put it off for the next day.

This connection with our spirit is necessary for healing, growth, replenishment, stress management, and undoing our tiredness. This connection with our spirit can happen even during daytime for short periods of time during the gaps between our daily activities and between our thoughts, when we are fully present at the moment and not complaining, analyzing, or emotionally reacting to things from the past or the future.

If your work allows you to switch to the Being mode more frequently then it cannot be classed as work in the traditional sense. Many people describe their work as child’s play. Writers, artists, and workers have described moments when thoughts and activities flow from them spontaneously without any effort, and such moments can be described as the Being mode. However, these very people can have moments when they are struggling to find the right thought or activity, and it should be classed as doing mode.

In a similar fashion, a lot of our daily activities outside work will fall under the category of the doing mode. A good understanding of the doing and the being mode can help us organize our lives better.

Philosophers have described the Being mode further under several categories:

  1. Being-in-itself
  2. Being-for-itself
  3. Being-in-the-world
  4. Being-for-the-world
  5. Being-beyond-itself

For philosophers even when you are not in the “Doing” mode, you are not 100 percent with yourself. According to Sartre and Heidegger it is not possible for humans to be 100 percent within themselves i.e., Being-in-itself, it is only animals who have it and the desire of a human being to become God-like can also lead one into that state.

Heidegger has used the word Dasein – meaning when the self is aware of the self and the Self cares about the self (Being-for-itself) and makes sure that it grows and remains healthy. Heidegger also says that this care about others (Being-for-the-world) also works in the same way – allows the self to grow and remain healthy.

However, Sartre takes a different position – for him, Being-for-itself is in contrast with Being-for-others. Our caring for others comes at the cost of our caring for ourselves. Whereas for Heidegger our caring for others promotes our caring for ourselves. Martin Buber supports Heidegger’s position by elaborating on this understanding in terms of I-IT and I-Thou relationships.

Doing/Being balance – it is, therefore, important that we understand that “Doing mode” could be an escape into our immersion in the public everyday world – the anonymous world of “the They” and “the Them.” This everyday consciousness may be different from the Dasein – which is a being mode.

There seems to be a contradiction here as the issue of whether caring for others comes at the cost of caring for self, or promotes it, is still not clear.

The important thing to understand here is that if we understand the Dasein as neither a subject nor an object but always in relation to the world – Being-in-the-world, then caring for others is caring for self. And if we understand the Self as a Being-for-the-world then caring for others will come at the cost of self-care.

From an existential or spiritual point of view, it is important to understand the nature of “Being mode” to be able to achieve a desired work/life, ego/spirit, or doing/being balanced.

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