What started out as a plan to lower stress levels has turned into yet another way to nag the lot of us into doing more and more stuff.
The work-life balance obsession started out with a bit of scholarly research into why relatively well-off Western people were so miserable. It turned out we were working too much. The suggested solution was to spend more time doing non-work-related activities.
Well, not really. The problem is, we’re not working any less, we’re simply trying to squash more and more into our days. And even more irritating, what we’re told is leisure time is, in reality, an awful bloody lot like work.
There are parties to attend lest you want to be called a workaholic. There are play dates to organise to avoid being labelled a neglectful parent. There’s coffee with vague acquaintances from the office or school or mothers groups that render you a social leper if you don’t turn up. Holidays are status symbols, not a time to rejuvenate.
We tie ourselves up in knots trying to go somewhere unique, do something amazing, and Instagram the crap out of every moment of our trip to show the world just how happy we really are.
This supposed ‘balance’ is a whole new way of judging, nagging and pressuring each other into doing things we’re already too exhausted to do. Whatever happened to simply stopping?
As technology increasingly invades our lives, it’s almost impossible to not feel obligated to everyone else, all of the time. If the boss is at work on the weekend and sends you an email, you’re expected to read it. Even if you’re not working, Facebook will make sure that you have myriad ‘friends’ asking you to sign petitions, comment on their posts, ‘like’ their statuses and generally keep in touch every waking hour. It’s busy work that gets us nowhere and we’re fooling ourselves into thinking it’s making us better people.
Then there are the besties who insist you catch up with them. You know the ones. You politely tell them you’ve got work to do, or family commitments, or you want to catch up on housework before your kitchen spontaneously sprouts a new and special strain of ebola, and they testily lecture you about ‘taking some time for yourself’.
Of course, they don’t mean that. They mean you should take some time for them.
Sometimes the only way to fit in all the supposedly beneficial social time is to get up even earlier than usual to get everything done. There’s something ludicrous about meeting with a friend who has insisted you need some ‘you’ time when you’ve had to drag yourself out of bed at dawn to fit her in.
There’s nothing positive about all of this forced social interaction we’ve mistaken for a balanced life. Whatever happened to solitude? Spending a day on your own, even half a day, used to be a perfectly acceptable way of relaxing. Now it means you are a misanthrope.
It’s not just our social groups forcing us to spend more and more time running around in endless circles of supposed happiness. There are plenty of bosses who glibly lecture their employees on wellbeing whilst simultaneously giving them so much work, it’s physically impossible to do it all without finding a loophole in the space-time continuum. These employers aren’t concerned about our health.
They’re giving the appearance of being socially responsible because it helps their corporate image, or because they read somewhere that happy workers are more productive workers. The irony that they are adding to their workers’ stress doesn’t matter to them at all.
And don’t get me started on forced team-building exercises. Spending your weekend being whacked in the arse with paintball pellets isn’t fun, it’s Lord Of The Flies for grown ups.
Worst of all, business has now picked up on how easy it is to exploit the leisure deficit guilt. The endless ‘lifestyle’ articles in magazines and newspapers are not designed to assist you to have a better life, they’re designed to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong.
Those television shows about taking a break and not over-working yourself are funded by tourism boards, hotels and websites flogging everything from massages to abseiling. They want to make a buck out of you, not help you.
It all seems a little bit like bullshit to me. The boss that overworks you and then barrages you with emails about the importance of a healthy lifestyle; the friend who insists you go out with her because it will be ‘good for you’ when what you know would be good for you would be some alone time; the mindless hours spent on social networks; the pressure to ‘do something fabulous’ exhorted by television shows and magazines…none of it is helping us. None of it, in fact, is even about us. It’s about pleasing other people.
Here’s the easiest way to get a work-life balance: listen to yourself. Ignore the media, the internet, your boss, your friends and your family. Figure out on your own what will truly rejuvenate you and then do that.
For me, I feel my most relaxed when I tell everyone else to bugger off.
MORE STORIES BY CORINNE GRANT
*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release.