I was asked to write about this subject by a friend and colleague who herself tends to give more than 100% most of the time. And at the same time spends her time telling her patients why 60 percent is more than enough. A classic case of “do what I say, not what I do”.
This reminded me of the time, when I was in the middle of my psychotherapy training, working full-time in a psychiatry and spending my weekends with theory classes and writing case reports. A few evenings per week I would sit in a private practice and treat patients. Every time we talked about work-life-balance, breaks and taking care of ourselves made me smile internally – and question what I was doing. Was I not at least as busy as they where? And how close was I to breaking down and burning out myself?
Later, when I worked in research, there was – again – always “more” to do. A paper had to be read or written, a presentation be prepared, one (or rather many) emails had to be answered. Thanks to flexible working hours I could work at home in the morning and be productive later in the office. As someone who does not particularly like to get up very early, I always enjoyed flexible working hours. The drawback: there is no, or at least not a clearly defined end – you have to stop yourself. And who (like me) often tends to do too much, will be tempted to always do more. Especially when it’s something that we enjoy doing. Just like I enjoyed my scientific work and had enjoyed my therapeutic work and training. And the fact that I liked my work (most of the time) made it easier to do more and more – while getting closer to the edge of burnout.
But back to the friend. Every few weeks, she contacts me with an idea of what she could do next – another training, another project. Usually the conversation ends with us agreeing that she should do less instead. For her body’s sake, her family’s sake, and above all for the sake of herself. It does not always need to be 100%.
We live in a society that rewards productivity and busyness. Those who are not constantly operating at the limit are not doing enough. Only those who work a lot and are constantly busy are considered a full member of society. And those who break down with a “burnout”, can at least show that they have previously been “burning”.
I myself left my over-busy, productive life over 1.5 years ago and went on a trip around the world. I am now working as a psychological counsellor online – and a lot less than before. It still struggle to find the right balance, especially as being self-employed means I don’t have too many external structures and time frames. And being in different time zones as my clients does lead to new challenges for my work-life-balance. But if there is one thing I learned over these past years, than this is that my life is much more enjoyable when I am not constantly operating at my limit. I sleep better, I enjoy my daily life more and in the end do enjoy my work a lot more. And there are probably days on which I work more than ever, but there are at least as many days on which I do work a lot less. And realise over and over again, that this is ok.
This whole “less is more” of course does not only apply to work but to all aspects of life. We do not have to be perfect. Not in our job and not at home. We do not have to do everything or know everything. Try it! Slow down a bit. Drive just 10km/h less – in your car and your life – and you will see, that those few minutes you reach your goal later, are not a problem at all. On the contrary, you will arrive more relaxed and rested. And see much more of your surroundings on your way…