When I was in High School, our Principal used to spend a lot of time during school assemblies banging on about ensuring that the “spheres” (or maybe they were “circles”?) of our life were all full and consistent. I think – or my vague memory of interpretation – that her point was that it’s never too early to try and achieve some form of ‘balance’ across all the different things we’ve got going on in our daily lives – whether that be our homework, netball commitments and casual employment at KFC or managing and prioritising competing commitments of work, friends, parenting etc.
There’s a term that regularly comes up when I’m caught thinking about Mrs Hughes’ metaphorical spheres. And I’m not a huge fan of the term. But it always comes up when I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed or stressed by my competing or busting circles.
‘Work-life balance’. Firstly, this concept seems slightly nonsensical to me, because it makes the assumption that work isn’t a part of life. But it is. And for many, work is a really big part of life and can even bring more satisfaction and meaning than one’s private life. Secondly, I have really begun to loathe the term ‘balance’. Balance refers to some state of equilibrium. And it seems to be part of the human condition to strive for this state of equilibrium. Yet our world is always going to be somewhat out of balance. Our lives are impacted by constant change, speed, uncertainty, new technologies, globalisation and the associated demands that ignore basic human needs. Rather than strive for measuring all these things out to suit us best, shouldn’t we be aiming for building resilience and our capacity to deal with change?
Perhaps I’d re-frame the whole thing as ‘life capacity’. And define it as the ability to spend the required time on each of your important spheres. Whether your spheres include paid work or not, or devoting time to a cause you value. Spending time in nourishing your personal relationships and enjoying your private pursuits.
‘Life capacity’ might be about feeling that we have our own freedom balanced with the discipline required to meet the demands and obligations we are facing.
I find it pretty easy these days to pick up on the signs when my spheres are all out of whack or my ‘life capacity’ is not where I’d like it to be. It didn’t used to be this way. There’s been a number of periods in my past, where in the lead up to experiencing major depressive episodes I was over-committing to too many things in too many spheres at a manic pace. And with hindsight, very easy to see what the end result would be.
But now, I’m much more mindful. There’s so many signs available to us to keep us aware of when things might be a little out of whack. For me it’s noticing that it’s taking a little longer than usual to get to sleep. It’s being aware of the amount of hours that I’m spending at work. It’s reflected in how much time I have to spend on my craft projects or hobbies or really bad reality television. It pops up in an increase in negative thinking patterns. It’s also noticeable if I am doing something enjoyable yet feeling guilty that I should be doing something else.
The wonderful thing is though, if I pick up on these signs and symptoms at this stage I can make some changes and prevent things from escalating. I might re-prioritise some of the things I have on. I might use the word “No” a bit more than usual. I might ask others for more help. I might change my routine around. Intervening early works a treat. Trust me.
Whilst I probably wasn’t totally aware of it at the time, I think our High School Principal really had our very best interests at heart. There’s so many wonderful and varied aspects/spheres in our lives. We just need to make sure we have the capacity to joyfully live and move between them.