I was really interested in a discussion on #ukedchat last Thursday (#ukedchat is a Twitter group that meets every Thursday evening from 8-9pm to discuss issues in the UK education system). The issue in question was that of work-life balance. Some very interested points were raised, many with tongues firmly in cheeks (although it's often difficult to tell in Twitter). Some included "Question – do you think any less of your colleagues if they don't do the extra hours? <yes" and "Thank god I don't have kids I couldn't fit them and teaching in!"
Now I happen to think that "Work-Life balance" is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that work is not a part of life. "Work-leisure balance" is a more helpful term because it indicates that work is part of life. And so is leisure.
However I also think that the term 'balance' is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that things oppose each other, they are in tension with each other. I prefer the term 'blended life'. It indicates that work and leisure and other stuff can all blend together to make up your life. Sometime they overlap, sometimes they are distant from each other.
The picture used in Growing Leaders is that of rev counters. When you're revving a car, you can under-rev it so the engine is not working as efficiently as it ought to; you can over-rev it so that the engine can get too hot and damages it; or you can rev it just right so that it is working as efficiently as possible. The over-revving is the point of most danger. It is life in the red zone.
Growing Leaders identifies 5 ways in which this can happen:
- Physically (red zone makes you depleted)
- Emotionally (red zone makes you drained)
- Relationally (red zone makes you distant)
- Intellectually (red zone makes you stale)
- Spiritually (red zone makes you disillusioned)
Of course it is possible to cope with life in the red zone for a certain periods of time. But if you're in the red zone in all areas for a very long time, it is going to be damaging. So blend your life. See it as a blend of different things – sometimes one of those things will come to the forefront, sometimes it won't.
I've found having a personal life statement a really helpful way to manage your red zones. Through it I've been able to define my life physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually and spiritually. I've also been able to right down some key phrases that define how I am. One of them is 'Gives Hope to Children' – it reminds me that my calling as a teacher is about giving hope to those children in my school who have little hope. It helps me focus on what I should be doing and what I like to do. It is self-affirming and life-building. It enables me to have a bigger 'Yes' with which I can say 'No' to the worthy activities that otherwise might take over my life and take me away from my core purpose.
Finally, as Christians, a blended life fits within the context of living a 'surrendered life'. Our first call is to growing closer to Jesus as his disciples. It is to surrender to Him. 'Surrender' can sound ominous and bleak, but Jesus is love – surrendering to Him makes blending life a real possibility. And it's good because He is good.