Of work-life balance, purpose and priorities

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The debate around work-life balance is not new. Essentially the emphasis is about not allowing one’s work priorities negatively impact responsibilities towards self and family. It is not about dividing time equally between work and leisure but deep down we all attempt to seek a balance between our work and ‘personal’ lives. But are they two separate lives? We all have responsibilities towards self, family, work, friends and community. Our waking hours cannot be equally divided between these ‘duties’. Also it will be a mistake to perceive these as ‘duties’ – a chore. The emphasis should be on enjoying what one does. That’s why this definition of work-life balance struck a chord in me:

Meaningful daily Achievement and Enjoyment in each of the four life quadrants: Work, Family, Friends and Self.

Does it ring true for you, your life and the industry you work in? Employees in some industries (advertising, for example) may emphatically agree that work-life balance is missing in their lives.

In the context of advertising (and the marketing industry to an extent), it is difficult to sharply demarcate between work & ‘non-work’. What happens in life – reading a book, spending time with children, everyday marketplace observations, goings on in media and popular culture – almost everything has an impact on the business of advertising & marketing in terms of consumer insights or ideas for a brand. So one is rarely able to switch off from work mode, unlike say someone who works in a bank. Also in advertising working long hours is unavoidable as (a) productivity is interdependent – one may have to wait for someone else to deliver in order to complete work (b) systems are chaotic, discipline missing (c) working late and working weekends is worn as a badge.

It’s not just advertising which is plagued with the malaise of wearing workaholism as a badge. It happens in tech, banking, startup, media & entertainment and many other industries.

Planet of Apps

However, nothing great was ever achieved without hard work and sacrifice. In this context, the purpose – what is being created or accomplished at work maybe worth all the sacrifice. So when we read about Elon Musk’s drive and work ethics it sits well with what he has created or has plans to. When we see doctors put in the long hours we see the value – they are saving lives and curing ailments. But when ad agency folk put in long hours over relatively ‘lighter’ reasons – like editing 30-second ad for a soft drink, re-working the script for a confectionery ad for the seventh time and so on, one does wonder if it is worthwhile. Sure one cannot treat one’s job lightly and for someone in advertising, a strategy presentation for an airline brand is the equivalent of a cardiac surgery for a surgeon. If ‘work is worship’ one has to give 100% to the task at hand – be it managing social media posts or finding a cure for cancer.

There is a thin line between taking your job seriously and taking yourself seriously. That's the reason why I feel some in advertising are deluded about the work they do. Advertising plays an important role in commerce. The task ahead of an ad executive - be it creating a radio spot for a real-estate brand or executing a launch event for a tech startup is important and should be given the respect & attention it deserves. But some believe what they create in advertising is making a dent in the universe and that leads to taking oneself seriously. In my view, not being there for your family when they need you is not an option - we need to manage our work in such a way that both the duties are fulfilled. We all have different priorities and purposes in life - a 'one size fits all' approach does not work. There are many who sacrifice such as they chase their passion or build something - as salaried professionals or as entrepreneurs. For them, what they are working on, building or creating is worth the sacrifice.
Ultimately what matters is finding our individual purpose, striving for 'meaningful achievement and enjoyment' leading to a sense of fulfilment in all spheres of our lives - be it work, self or family related.

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