5 Signs That You Are Sacrificing Too Much For Your Career, And 5 Strategies To Regain Balance

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.

-Thomas Merton 

“You’re not as important as you think you are.”  My colleague was kidding, but the words stung, probably because they were true.

I was recently struck by a flu virus which inconveniently turned into pneumonia.  I was bedridden for two weeks and was in no shape to work, even from home.  I stressed over my return to the office.  How much work would I return to?  What problems were created by my absence?  Were any of my relationships with clients permanently damaged?  Would my CEO be upset at me for taking so much time off?

I finally returned to work to find a mountain of emails tagged “urgent” and my voicemail system filled with messages panicking over looming deadlines.  It felt as if my job was falling apart at the seams.  Many of my worst fears had been realized… or so I thought.

As I began responding to those urgent messages the problems seemed less severe than expected.  Many people who had been stressed about my absence were now more concentrated on welcoming me back to work, and those items that couldn’t wait for my return had been skillfully handled by my colleagues.  I focused on getting back on track and before long everything was under control.  Granted there was a small amount of damage control that needed to be done, but much less than anticipated.

The experience was a reminder that while I’m an important asset to my organization, I’m only one piece of the puzzle and work will go on in my absence.  This prompted me to consider my relationship to work and the sacrifices I make for my career.

Sacrificing certain areas of your life for your career is necessary to an extent, but sacrificing too much can lead to an unbalanced and unfulfilling life.  Ignoring one important aspect of your life to focus on another doesn’t work.   Imagine neglecting your family for a year while you focus entirely on your career.  It would do irreparable damage to your relationship with your spouse and children.  The example may be extreme, but there is no doubt that neglecting an important area of your life, even in small ways, can have far reaching negative effects.

Your health, family, friends, passions and career are all connected.  If one area is neglected it will negatively affect others.  On the other hand, if you find a balance between all areas of life that are important to you, they will support one another and flourish.  For example, good health can help you be more productive at work and pursuing your passions can make you a happier individual and role model for your family.  Balance is essential to a fulfilling life.

Here are 5 signs that you may be sacrificing too much for your career, and 5 strategies to regain balance:

Sign #1:  You regularly miss family meals and activities
It’s common to experience busy times at work that require more hours than usual, but this should not be a regular occurrence.  Working late and missing family dinners or activities are sure signs that you’re working too much.  At the end of your life will you look back and wish you had worked more, or spent more time with the ones you love?

Solution #1: Schedule time for family and friends
Simply scheduling time with your family and friends can help you stay committed to this important area of your life.  Put these commitments into your schedule first to ensure they take priority over work.  And keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Set aside time to have breakfast as a family before you leave for work, or plan to cook dinner together as a family.  Single?  Join a sports club, take art classes or find other ways to connect with friends.  Humans are social animals and need to spend time enjoying the company of others in order to be truly healthy and happy.

Sign #2: Your health is deteriorating
Do you find yourself grabbing fast food lunches and making poor food choices throughout the day because you’re too busy or tired to cook?  Do you lack the energy or the time to work out?  Is your health deteriorating?  Your work life balance may be the culprit.

Solution #2: Get moving
So often I have heard people complain that they don’t have the time or energy to exercise, yet it has been proven that the healthier you are the more energy you’ll have and more productive you’ll be.  Stop making excuses and commit to exercising and eating well.  It takes less time to make a healthy lunch the night before work than it does to line up in a fast food restaurant.  No time to make a trip to the gym?  Get creative.  Try working out at lunch, go for a walk with your spouse in the evening, take the stairs instead of the elevator, and plan active family time instead of sitting in front of the television.   Make a healthier lifestyle a priority and it will benefit all areas of your life.
Check out this post for easy and healthy home cooking tips.

Sign #3: You don’t have the energy to pursue your passions
We would all like our careers to be our passion, but the reality is that for most people we work primarily to support our lifestyle or family.  Doing work that we’re not passionate about can be very draining and can leave us with little energy to pursue other passions outside of the workplace.

Solution #3:  Get passionate
Perhaps it’s time to revisit your career choice and find something you’re more passionate about.  In the meantime, don’t put your passions on hold.  Look for new ways to become passionate about your job.  Are you helping people?  Contributing to the community?  Providing an essential service?  Chances are that your job is extremely important to someone and you can take pride in it.  Aside from your job, commit to pursuing personal passions in your free time.  Always wanted to write a book?  Set aside 30 minutes a day to write and before long you’ll have some momentum towards achieving that goal.  Passionate about sports?  Volunteer to report on high school sports for a community newspaper.  People who find passion in their career or hobbies are happier, more energized people who are more likely to achieve their goals in all areas of life.

Sing #4: You dream about your career
Are you always thinking about your job?  Do you daydream about work?  Maybe you literally dream about your career as you sleep.  If you are constantly preoccupied with your job, chances are you’re sacrificing other important areas of your life.

Solution #4: Wind down
Our minds are constantly working to solve problems and find solutions to the challenges we are presented with.  Even on a subconscious level our minds continue to process items we have worked on throughout the day.  It’s important to help our minds let go of work related problems and refocus on other important areas of our life.  Make a conscious effort to quiet your mind.  Perhaps you can pursue an interesting hobby, sport or activity, but I have had the greatest success with simply taking the time to wind down every day.  One hour before bed turn off all of your electronic devices, read some fiction, spend time talking with your family, take a bath, meditate or enjoy a relaxing cup of tea – anything that will allow you to slow down and physically relax.  Your physiology can greatly influence your psychology, and so by physically relaxing your mind will also be calmed, allowing you to refocus, sleep better and forget about the stresses of your workday.

Sign #5: You’re addicted to crack
They don’t call it a Crackberry for nothing.  Blackberries, iphones, or any kind of smart phones can be incredibly valuable tools in the workplace, however their portability and accessibility also make them ruthless intruders into other areas of our lives.  Do you find yourself checking work emails outside of the workplace?  Does it interfere with your family time?  Taking 30 seconds to read an email may not seem like a problem, but add those emails up and consider the time you spend responding to or thinking about those messages and you realize just how intrusive they can be.

Solution #5: Unplug
Use your phone options to help manage your time and attention.  Turn off alerts when you’re outside of the office and commit to only checking work messages when absolutely necessary.  Better yet, turn off your phone all together and enjoy completely uninterrupted time with your family or friends.  Spending the night alone?  There is still value in unplugging from your phone.  We have a tendency to want to fill our time and keep ourselves busy, but that’s not always healthy.  Even if for just an hour every night, unplug and enjoy some time offline.

Our careers tend to be the one area of our lives that demand more than others which can result in an unbalanced, unfulfilling life.  Watch for the signs that you may be sacrificing too much for your career and find solutions to regain balance.

What signs indicate that you’re sacrificing too much for your career and what solutions have you found to regain balance?

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  1. Great post. I often feel like that in school… but that’s partly because I can spend hours on the internet without realizing, then miss out on important things.

    There’s just one thing. “You’re health is deteriorating” is not a real sentence. “You are Health” is a sentence if your name is “Health”, “Health is deteriorating” is a sentence, “You’re deteriorating” is also a sentence.

    Sorry to be nitpicky

    An engineering student (who doesn’t have to take english classes)

    • PS: sorry about that “your vs. you’re” comment. I think I have a grammar-correcting reflex.

      • Hi L!

        Thanks for the correction. It completely slipped by me.

        I often have the same issue with the internet stealing away my time. It’s so easy. I’ve found it helpful to get my important work done first, then surf for fun. If I need a break from work and don’t want to get sidetracked too much, I’ll even set an alarm to remind me that I need to get back to work.

        Good luck with your studies.

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