~Who am I once my 9 to 5 job is over?~
I moved to Madison, Wisconsin from Lagos, Nigeria summer of 2014, to start my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout college, I dreamt of a life where I woke up every day and felt alive. It was important for me to feel driven by the work I was doing. It had to be something I was passionate about, and be one of those people that “loved their job and worked 60 hours a week”. Every single course I took or organization I was a part of, I made sure I was 100 percent connected with it. Once I graduated, things changed. I was out in the real world, with billions of people doing the same thing that I was doing. I was just one fish in the sea of “moderately happy, well earning young professionals”. I tried to stay hopeful that I would end up “doing what I loved every day, every minute of my existence”, that I am some sort of a snowflake destined for greatness.
Of course, I quickly realized this was not true. I love analytics and problem solving (my current job), don’t get me wrong, however, there are plenty of days when I would wake up and feel some emptiness. As I dug deeper, I realized that all my life I have been focussed on figuring out how to make a living and. I never really figured out the answer to the question “What brings me joy outside my professional life ?”. This is where my journey to my work-life balance began. Of course, just like with any journey, there are good days and bad days. The goal of having a complete work-life balance is impossible at all times but these are the steps that have helped me scale my efforts. Adopt these steps to your level of comfort!
Delete your work email from your phone
I do not care how important your job is. If your job does not involve saving lives by acting on an email immediately you do not need it on your phone. Most emails and work-related tasks can wait a day or 12 hours until you start your next shift or work-day. The reason why so many people that I talk to work constantly is because they think their work is more important and crucial to the business than it really is. Ask yourself – will the company continue to survive if the email is not responded to immediately? If the answer is yes, then well I am right. Company structures are designed strategically to make you feel like you need to be personally invested to do well. This is in fact very far from the truth, as time and time again my observation has been that people who are in fact able to separate their personal worth from their work, do better, last longer in a company, and are generally happier.
Make an effort to have non-work friends
Look, I get it. Once I graduated from college, work was the only place for me to make new friends. Guess what happens then? You talk about work outside of work, or you are thinking about work outside of work. I love my work friends, and I love the post-work venting sessions we have. However, I also have a decent circle of friends that I do not work with. I made these friends by primarily joining Facebook groups, going to events in the city (pre-COVID), and Bumble for friends. I also have the advantage of having a partner who has his work friends, who in turn become my “non-work friends”.
See projects’ success at face value
I cannot even count how many times I have made a minor error in a project and have beaten myself up about it for days and even months. I have had projects I have worked on for months completely fail on me because I made a wrong decision or management does not think it is important anymore. All those hours of effort gone to waste! But guess what? You are still here, I am still here, employed and getting that money. Oftentimes, the reason why these “failed projects” affected me so deeply was that I thought it decided how worthy of a human being I was (I know, dramatic). Whenever I feel this way, I make an objective list. I make a simple table of what I did well, what I messed up on, and what could have gone better. I read it until I can absorb all of my observations at face value. Every time I have done this I am able to objectively assess my performance, but also have it be separate from my feelings about myself.
Have hobbies that make you feel good
I am just starting to realize the importance of this. This is because if you don’t have anything else to derive radical joy from other than your last work project, your last performance review, or your last one-on-one with your boss, you are going to have no life outside of work! Living in Utah, it was easy for me to pick up hiking, and it was game-changing for me.
Ask yourself the important questions
Why do you work?
This is an important question! Is it because you like the people you work with or the work that you put out into the universe? Is it because you get paid well or is it because you need to go to work otherwise you will be hungry? This is different for everybody, and understanding this will help you be more balanced in life. For me, I go to work for two reasons: I love solving problems and I love making money. I do not think there is anything wrong with accepting the fact that one of the main reasons you go to work, is to provide for yourself and your family. Recognizing this and accepting it has been crucial for me to realize the purpose behind going to work and the purpose behind being home from work made me feel more balanced.