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How to Find Work/Life Bliss, Not Work/Life Balance

'Bogus Balance' author: You can't have it all, but you can have 'your' all


How’s that work/life balance working out for you?

Chances are, not so well. The April 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey from the Society for Human Resource Management found that 55 percent of employees say work/life balance is very important to their job satisfaction (up from 45 percent in 2013). But about a third of workers — 30 percent — said they aren’t satisfied with their work/life balance.

Perhaps that’s partly because the average full-time worker puts in 8.6 hours per weekday and 35 percent of full-timers work on an average Saturday, Sunday and holiday, according to the new government’s just-released 2014 American Time Use Survey.

So says Deirdre Maloney, author of the new book Bogus Balance: Your Journey to Real Work/Life Bliss. Maloney, 42, a former TV producer, also runs Momentum LLC, a web training and facilitating company in San Diego, Calif., (Makemomentum.com) along with her husband, a former local TV marketing exec. They have no children.

To find out more on work/life bliss and how to get it, I just interviewed Maloney. (Incidentally, talk about bliss — the couple recently returned from a six-month jaunt in Europe.) Highlights of our conversation:

Next Avenue: Why did you decide to write this book?

Maloney: I wrote it because I didn’t have work/life balance figured out.

When I was starting my company and had my first book, I was very stressed. I was interviewed on local TV and saw myself and I didn’t look good: I had big, dark circles under my eyes and my hair was stringy. I didn’t look healthy.

Virtually all the people [I interviewed] who had work/life bliss said titles at work were not important at all to them.

— Deirdre Maloney, author of 'Bogus Balance'

And I realized my relationships had taken a hit from the stress and the time I put into the business. My husband and I weren’t as close as we had been.

So I started talking to people and found that everybody was struggling with this as well — how to get everything done in the day. I decided to do some research so we could all benefit.

What do you mean by “bogus balance?”

What I want people to know is that the notion of work/life balance is not possible. If we can all take a breath and know that we can’t have it all, but we can have our all, I think that’s a relief for a lot of people.

You need to decide what your all is; it’s different for all of us.

We need to make choices about what’s important to us in our lives and then let other things go. Then we need to give everything we’ve got to what we choose.

You write that for the book you engaged in “bliss-search.” What does that mean?

I wanted to know how people who — based on my criteria — were content had found a sense of balance in their lives. I talked to about 100 people, but the bulk of my research was with 29 people who met my criteria. They were all different ages and some had kids and some did not. They were my “blissfuls.”

What did you learn about people who had found work/life bliss?

They surprised me. Going into my research I thought they’d be working less than they actually were. When I asked them what percentage of their waking time they were working or thinking about working, most said 70 percent; some said 90 or 100 percent.

What they made clear was that they were very intentional about the work they chose and they loved it. What fulfilled them was making work a part of their life. And they found their families and partners were willing to support that.

They didn’t live charmed lives; some were sick, many were divorced.

Here’s what didn’t surprise me: Virtually all the people with bliss said titles at work were not important at all to them. They were very confident in themselves and realized a great title — or even salary — wasn’t what mattered in the end.

What are some of the barriers that keep us from having blissful lives?

One of the things we’re good at is keeping ourselves stuck at a level of unhappiness. The truth is we have a lot more choices than we think we do about our jobs and our personal lives. What keeps us stuck is our fear of the unknown. We tell ourselves stories to stay stuck, like that we can’t leave our jobs. One woman I spoke with hates her husband but won’t make a change because she’s terrified of going from the frying pan into the fire.

We know life is precious, but we don’t live like life is precious.

What’s your advice to break through the barriers and find work/life bliss?

Get square with yourself. Let’s say you do jump into fire. You’ll get out of the fire.

Also, surround yourself with people who are your champions. People who believe in you and give you advice and push you until you can do it and support you because they want you to be successful.

Just as important is who you choose not to play that role — maybe someone in the cubicle next to us or the person who makes us cringe when they call us on our cell phone and we see their name.

I do this every year with a personal strategic plan to bring into my life more of the good people and ease some others out. I have five or six champions; different ones for different things. My husband offers advice that’s different than what I get from my close girlfriends.

Deirdre Maloney and Book

How can we have more bliss at work?

One thing to do is to look at the position you are working in. My husband became a manager and the job was so different from the creative work he had been doing and that he loved. So he quit.

We need to get rid of the idea of moving up the ladder for power and money. Find the right fit and be intentional about it. Have a mature conversation with your boss about what you need; look at other positions where you work.

I was an assignment editor in TV news and hated it. So I asked my boss if I could produce one day a month and ultimately I got the job of a producer. Often, there are creative solutions that can make your day better.

If you’re miserable on Sundays or when you come back from vacation because you’re dreading going to work, that’s no way to live.

What the blissfuls know is that life is too short to hate your job.

How do you recommend people reduce stress?

Be thoughtful of what you put into your life so you’re not feeling guilty all the time. Make your own choices: If you want to spend time alone, spend time alone. Your self-care and the way you deal with stress needs to be custom fit. The point of destressing is to relax.

You’re also a fan of figuring out your passion. Some other career experts I’ve talked to don’t agree. Why are you a fan?

I struggle with the word passion; it has become such a cliché. But the blissful people I spoke with said it’s important to think about what you’re passionate about, what delights you and energizes you and then give that your all.

How do you do that?

Recognize what’s in your past and present that you love to do; what about your job you love to do most. When you wake up and look ahead, what excites you the most?

Also, figure out what else there might be in your life that would give you bliss. I don’t believe envy is a deadly sin. Think about what others have or are doing that you want to do. It might be knowing how to speak another language or playing golf or having a specific type of job.

Can you still find your passion in your 50s or 60s?

Absolutely. It’s never too late to look for passion and to try to be as happy as you can be. That’s what we’re here for.

Now that you’ve written the book and talked to people, how blissful are you?

I have learned so much and I’m happy to say I’m intrinsically happy and blissful because I’ve taken these messages to heart. No day is perfect and nobody is perfect and no job is perfect. It’s all part of the ride and I’m enjoying every second I get.

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