Sustainability from a business perspective is focused on making decisions that provide long-term benefit and minimise negative impact. Along a similar vein, our own personal sustainability is also reliant on these choices; making sure that we’re acting with our long-term wellbeing in mind and avoiding settling for short-term ‘trade-offs.’
So, where do we start when it comes to making sure we’re achieving a proper work/life balance?
An investment in personal wellbeing is an investment in the important aspects of life, particularly those that help us to create the most meaning such as work or relationships. As the saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” which unfortunately too many of us find ourselves doing in order to keep up with our increasingly busy schedules.
Economically, right now human beings are more productive than in all of history. Yet despite this, rates of suicide, depression and chronic disease are steadily climbing.
It’s becoming apparent that money doesn’t necessarily equal wealth when it comes to our personal lives, and too often wellbeing is measured against financial prosperity. Perhaps what we need now is a shift surrounding ideas of what constitutes a ‘good life.’ A focus on material wealth and corporate success has become the driver for unwise short-term trade-offs like over-working; which in turn leads to further ‘trading off’ of things like our health or valuable personal relationships, as we find we become too time poor to properly maintain them. While such decisions may provide short-term gain in the form of praise or bonuses, the long-term effects on our mental and physical wellbeing can lead to feelings of isolation, resentment and stress. In fact, among the top documented regrets from people at the end of their lives is “I wish I didn’t work so hard,” and “I wish I let myself be happier.” Human beings have a wonderful knack for focusing on the short-term, which can be seen throughout history as quick profit is time and time again placed above caring for the environment, even in the face of catastrophic consequences. If we can learn anything from this, it’s that trade-offs such as these only create more issues, and a real sustainability plan needs to determine if what we’re currently doing is going to bring negative ramifications in the future.
No matter how productive we may be on a particular day, if we do not derive a deep sense of meaning from what we are doing then we may be left feeling shallow and empty. In this sense, it’s important to find time in our lives right now to do the things that help us feel whole. Take some time to reflect on all the ways you make meaning in your life. Whether it’s creating, socialising, reading, cooking or exercising; no matter what it is, it’s important to make sure these activities are getting factored into your schedule every week. Make your happiness sustainable by centring it around fulfilling and enjoyable activities, rather than KPI’s and material objects. If the thing that truly gives you purpose is your line of work, make sure that you’re also setting aside time for self-care as working too much can actually make you less productive – defeating the whole purpose of working hard in the first place!
The most important thing that can be done right now is to take accountability for your own wellbeing. Cut back your work hours, say no to things, or simply take an extra half an hour in the day to go to the gym or prepare a meal. By recognising that there is no destination, that in fact, the journey is the most important part, we can start creating more fulfilling and satisfactory lives.