The Challenge of Living a Balanced Life

The last couple of weeks at work have been hectic. I worked a 70-hour week followed by a 90-hour week. It just about put me in the loony bin.

For the first time in years, my sleep was adversely affected by my work life. This is not what the Minimalist-Simple-Slow-Intentional-Living Doctor ordered for Poor Dave.

I cleared my head by going for a hard scramble in the Canadian Rockies, to the top of what the locals refer to as Carol’s Ridge. It’s not a name I was able to find on a map. The scree was loose, my legs ached with lactic acid buildup, and when I climbed the final 100 meters, chunks of rotten rock made for exciting hand holds. When I reached the top of the ridge, the wind gusts threatened to toss me into the abyss.

I wasn’t worried. I’ve scrambled up more than 100 peaks in the Canadian Rockies. And although I was often climbing close to the edge of the cliff on this one, I never felt in any danger. This is not to say, of course, that I didn’t need to pay attention to what I was doing. Scrambling is good for that; it forces one to be mindful, to concentrate on the moment. Which means I couldn’t also be thinking about work. Yippee!

Carols Peak 1

On top of Carol’s Peak – Not thinking about work!

While resting on the summit ridge, with a clear head, I realized that the long hours of the past two weeks were my own fault. Nobody made me work them. It was a choice, a choice more easily made because I didn’t have much of a home life to go back to. My identity, at least with my current living conditions, is from my work. With my daughter, George, having moved to Europe, and my Rae and I now friends instead of romantic partners, and my living at quite a distance from my long-time soccer buddies, perhaps I didn’t feel that there was much to come home to. Is work my escape?

Perhaps it is. But I also know that the long work hours are not sustainable. As a young man, I could handle long hours and stress. But after 35 years of working, at the age of nearly 52, it wears thin. At my age, just like it takes my body longer to recover from a night of old-timers soccer, it takes my mind and body longer to recover from the stress of a work day. With 14 long, stressful work days in a row, it’s a wonder I haven’t told anyone to go take a hike (the idiom, not the literal, heh).

In my quiet moments atop Carol’s Ridge, I realized three things.

First, I need to take care of myself. My staff and my organization depend on me to be effective, and beyond 45 hours per week, I’m pretty much useless as a manager. Long hours will only make me ill, which won’t help anyone.

Second, I need to establish a better home life so that I have something important to come back to. This could mean I’ll need to get out into the community more, go to the library, meet new and interesting people, get involved in more volunteer positions. At the moment, I’m volunteering with the Board of the Alberta Caregivers Association, but my contributions are by phone and email, and I miss the connection with the very people we serve. Getting involved locally will help me feel like I’m contributing at the front line. I could also consider dating again, although it might be a challenge finding someone in my age group who is okay with me sleeping on an air mattress and living with my mom.

Third, I need to have the attitude that my life depends on me only working a 45-hour work week. If I arrive to work at 8:00 AM, I need to trick myself into thinking that I absolutely need to leave by 5:00 PM or I will die a horrible death, like being killed by a cougar, or being gored by an elk in the rutting season, or being shot by a disgruntled employee. Yes, morbid, I know. Although they’re not bad ways to go, considering (heh, heh).

 

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