You’re not alone. In 2009, Americans worked more hours per year on average than our Japanese counterparts and hundreds more hours than the French. These are not hours spent gossiping by the water-cooler. Each hour is 400% more productive than in 1950. On top of these intense working hours, we also need to take care of children, spouses, extended family, household chores, cooking, cleaning, driving, homework, shopping, yard work… It is easy to live life as an endless to-do list, but where does this leave us? Where is the quality in our quality of life?
The path to fulfillment and balance is different for everyone, but here are five tips for finding your path:
1. Follow your passions
Working a lot of hours in an unfulfilling career can cause stress, unhappiness, divorce, depression, poor relationships with your children, and a shorter lifespan. Surprisingly, though, those who are doing what they love tend to live longer, even if they work longer hours. Unfortunately, we frequently lose touch with our passions and fill our lives with things we feel we “should” do. Life can feel… well… lifeless, and we can find ourselves going through life like a slave chained to a life of obligations. When we’re feeling lifeless, we don’t have much energy to think creatively and courageously about our options, but that is exactly when we need to. Life will put us on a conveyer belt, and it is up to us to jump off if we don’t like where we’re going.
How many times have you tried to “think outside the box” for your boss? Are you brave enough to do it for yourself? Trust me – once you get back in touch with your passion, the energy will come.
2. Make time for your important relationships
How happy can you be when you never spend quality time with your significant other, family and friends? With so many demands on our time, our relationships frequently suffer. Our family time consists of short car rides and informational conversations. Who has time to just sit together and talk about whatever comes to mind? Sadly, we often wait until our relationship or family is in crisis to give it priority, and sometimes this is too late.
Studies show that friends are even more important for longevity than family, yet these relationships are the first victims of our busy schedules. Close friends take time and energy to make and keep, but they can give back much more than they take. These are the people you will want next to you as you grow older, and that requires a real relationship – not just an occasional email or ride to school.
3. Cultivate your inner life
It is all too common to trade away our integrity, spirituality, and inner life in favor of short term successes and money. At some point, we realize that we do not know who we are, what our lives are about, and when we stopped feeling joy and purity. We forget why we are filling up our schedule, making money, obligating ourselves, climbing the corporate ladder, and we lose our way. Many find that speaking with a therapist gives them with a separate space to reflect on their lives with attention and empathy from another person. In addition, mindfulness practices, such as paying close attention to our passing thoughts, sensations, and feelings, can reduce anxiety and depression, and contribute to a more centered, self-aware existence. Mindfulness practices can be done on your own, in a group, and with a therapist, who may help you sort through the experiences and realizations you have during your practice. Incorporating a sense of authentic spirituality and faith into your life can provide you with crucial meaning and direction.
Do you really need to join that committee or take on that additional assignment? Do your kids really need to be booked up every night after school? Do you really need that new car? Every obligation we take on – including our standard of living – comes at a price. That price might not be apparent to us, but the things that suffer are typically the most important things, like our relationships with others and ourselves. We forget to allow ourselves time to prioritize, pause, reconnect, and reflect.
5. Get help!
We all like the thought that we can do everything on our own. We can make a living, take care of the kids, take care of the house, stay close with our significant other, grow our career, grow our minds, be the one everyone else comes to… but never ask anyone ELSE for help. This is just not sustainable, and you are actually going to make yourself LESS productive and MORE isolated. Studies show that people are 50% more likely to help than we expect, and they generally like it! You just have to remember to make it easy for them to say “no.” Go ahead and ask your neighbor to pick your kids up from soccer practice or delegate some of your overwhelming workload to colleagues with more time to spare. You’ll be surprised at how good it feels to give AND receive help.
It is my firm belief that everyone can have a balanced, fulfilling life, no matter how frazzled, numb, and over-committed your life has become. “That’s easy for you to say,” you might be thinking, “you don’t have thousands of hours to bill and a boss breathing down your neck.” I don’t because I have chosen not to. In addition to being a therapist, I have also been a patent and trademark attorney for over ten years, where I indulge my inner geek (I was a Physics major, after all) and concentrate on cutting edge technology for many hours at a time. Until a few years ago, I was working at one of the largest firms in the world with all of the requisite demands on my time and ego. I had always fantasized about becoming a therapist as well, where I could express the more empathic, interpersonal side of my personality. My husband gave me the push I needed to complete my Masters degree while working full-time at the firm, and then to join a smaller, flexible partnership that respects my other career’s needs. Yes, I do get strange looks when I tell people I am both an intellectual property attorney and a psychotherapist, but they can quickly tell that this is my own, personal heaven. What is yours?
Happiness requires a lot more than creative career choices. You may be feeling intense, debilitating stress or recurring periods of sadness and desperation. Your cherished relationships may be threatened, or you may have a past you just can’t “get over.” I encourage you to speak with someone trained in listening, understanding, analyzing, and accompanying you on your journey through these difficult issues.
Whether you just want to analyze something you are currently going through, work through some deeper issues more intensely, or tune up your life with a coaching session, I would be honored to accompany you on your journey.
Rose Rigole is a psychotherapist in private practice in Costa Mesa and Los Angeles, California, and is currently accepting new clients. She can be reached by telephone at (424) 571-2273, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via her website at http://www.counselingsocal.com.