Life is a balancing act of draining and refilling, and it is easy to forget to refill. No matter how much you love what you do, if you live only at the whim of the demands placed upon your life, you are slowly draining a finite tank.
How much “give” is left in our tank before we flame out varies from person to person. The rate at which our tank drains is proportional to the amount of stress and friction that is caused by the thing we are doing.
When I first got my computer science degree, I had a great position working on exciting projects with some very smart people at a company I loved. In that scenario, I had a lot to give—my tank was full. In addition, I was having a blast with what I was doing, so the tank was draining slowly; as a young, single guy, working late hours did not cause a lot of friction in my life.
But things change with time. A stressful project, new relationships or children entering the picture, job changes and longer commutes—just a few examples of the many things that increase the friction or stress caused by what we are currently doing, thereby increasing the rate at which your tank drains.
And that is not all: As we get older, the demands become greater. We manage larger teams, and we become more visible as we progress up the corporate ladder; people depend upon us more than ever. Before you realize it, work begins creeping into what used to be time for you. Evenings, weekends. The voluntary now becomes routine—or worse, expected.
Do not make the mistake of believing that vacations can replace a waning work/life balance. The further down this road you go, the harder it becomes to truly get away. How many of us intentionally stay connected during vacations because we have convinced ourselves that it would be even more stressful to unplug completely? But even the most pure vacation will not do if, upon your return, you simply to plunge right back into the thick of it and pick up exactly where you left off.
There is but one solution: You must make time for you, and it must become a part of your lifestyle.
How? You must set boundaries. The good news is that you can (and should) start gradually. When was the last time you took just 30 minutes in the morning, just to focus on you? What about a lunch break where you truly stepped away and did not allow yourself to think about work? A great practice to implement is a shut-down time at the end of the day; pencils-down at the same time each day, no matter what you are working on.
Making time for you is an iterative process; you cannot simply jump in and expect to be an expert. But it must be done. Start the day slow, and end it on your terms.
Above all, do not make the mistake of sacrificing your future wellbeing on the altar of today’s demands.