Siddhartha Gautama, most referred to as Buddha (“the awakened”), was a spiritual teacher in Nepal during the 6th century B.C. whose teachings served as the foundation of the Buddhist religion. Gautama was a spiritual leader who taught people to live their lives in the present moment, no matter what that moment happened to look like. This is the perspective I strive to bring to my daily experience, whether I’m completing work tasks, taking care of personal responsibilities, or enjoying a nice evening out with family or friends.
For me, these activities are not distinctly separate. In fact, I’m going to jump in here with perhaps a controversial hot take – it’s high time we rethink the whole “work-life balance” conversation.
I don’t look at my journey as including opposing segments of “work” and “life” that are somehow supposed to be in balance. In my eyes, work is life. For me, it’s a critical part of my life that allows me to provide for my family and brings an immense sense of pride. At the same time, life is also time spent doing every other activity I enjoy or find valuable.
When I’m spending time with my loved ones, I’m living. When I’m taking a walk or watching a movie, I’m living. When I’m strategizing for my business or making calls to colleagues, I’m living. When I’m folding the laundry, I’m living.
What I appreciate most about this free-flowing and flexible perspective is that there’s no metric or measure I must reach or attain. I don’t have to worry I’m not hitting the right mark for perfectly balancing my “work time” and “life time” and constantly wonder if I’m doing it wrong. I don’t have to pressure myself to switch off my work emails at night when I’m genuinely excited about what I’m doing, and I don’t have to bring career-obsessed fanaticism to every hour between nine and five. I can instead absorb and enjoy every moment to the best of my ability, regardless of what side of the work-life fence I’m on.
“I don’t have to adhere to arbitrary parameters and expectations or view my life as two sets of activities that need to be balanced on opposite sides of a scale.”
Most significantly, I don’t have to adhere to arbitrary parameters and expectations or view my life as two sets of activities that need to be balanced on opposite sides of a scale. At the end of the day, I design my own experience and determine the best way to spend my time.
And what are my rules, exactly? Here are a few I try to live by:
Make the most of your time, knowing you have a time limit.
When you’re cozy on a rocking chair and well into your retirement years, how will you look back on your working life? Occasionally thinking about how you’ll reflect on your life while in this current moment is a healthy way to push yourself to make each moment count. This may sound morbid, but I maintain a steady awareness of my own mortality – and I think that’s a very healthy and useful attitude to have as I go about my life.
I once read a list of the top regrets of the dying, as shared by a longtime hospice nurse. Many people confided in her on their deathbeds, and she gathered the top five regrets she heard time and again. The most uttered regret was not the common expectation: “I wish I hadn’t worked so much.” In fact, the most common regret was actually: “I wish I had lived a life of my own design, instead of doing what others wanted of me.”
When I’m conscious of my limited time and the opportunity I have each day to decide what matters to me and soak in as much of it as I possibly can – I feel noticeably more energized. This attitude invigorates me and spurs me to action (at home, at work, and everywhere in between).
Work when it feels right to work, and don’t feel bad about it.
As an entrepreneur, I could potentially be working and building my business at any hour of the day – and you’ll often find me doing just that. I don’t want to be made to feel badly about that, just because someone else told me it’s time to “switch off” and have some “me time.”
For me personally, work frequently does feel like “me time” – and I know other women who feel the same way. While it’s of course necessary to take time to truly recharge and rejuvenate, here’s the bottom line – when and how I structure my time should always be entirely up to me.
Live a life that works for you and recognize when it needs to change.
There is no person on this earth that can understand your own drives, desires and goals better than you can. There was a time in my life when working third shift was the best option for me and allowed me to finish my degree. The nature of that role was such that I didn’t take it home with me. I worked set shifts, and that was exactly what I needed when my additional time in that period was devoted to writing papers and caring for my very young son.
After completing graduate school, I knew the allocation of where I spent my life’s minutes needed to change. After years in school, I wanted a larger portion of my time to be spent working, shadowing good leaders, and learning to bring my own ideas to life. Now, I am in a place of change again as my children are older and my business is growing exponentially.
I am fueled by my team and the solution we have brought into the world, but I also make time to watch the sunset on the lake from my back porch and travel. Allowing myself to redefine what a balanced life looks like and not comparing myself to others has been key.
Perspectives on work-life balance
Don’t get me wrong here. I love that some people have found inspiration and encouragement in the “work-life balance” conversation we’ve been having over the last decade. For some, this is a reminder to truly carve out personal time away from work responsibilities. For others, myself included, attaching a seemingly opposing structure to “work time” and “life time” in order to find balance feels unnecessary, limiting and shortsighted. I think there’s room in this conversation for different viewpoints and perspectives. And no matter where you stand, I’m sure you can agree that what’s most important is to live a life you love and live it as presently as you possibly can.
Let’s reframe the work-life balance conversation and instead start talking about what we want our full lives (every part, including work and play) to be and how we can define our own version of a balanced life. I’m eager to read your thoughts and perspectives in the comments below. And before I go, I’ll leave you with the immortal words of Buddha: “Be where you are. Otherwise, you will miss your life.”
Deanna Meador is the CEO and Co-Founder of Couture Technologies, the leading AI-powered virtual fitting technology that helps apparel businesses reduce returns, increase conversions and grow their brand by ensuring customers get the right fit the first time. The company empowers direct-to-consumer fashion and workwear apparel brands with virtual try on technology, 3D garment creation services, and enhanced data analytics designed to reduce returns and increase conversion rates. Deanna is a successful serial tech entrepreneur and inventor who has never met a challenge she didn’t like. She started and sold her first company while in graduate school, then spent 7 years conducting education and juvenile justice research for Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute. Beyond her work at Couture, she is Deputy Director at the Wond’ry, Vanderbilt University’s innovation center. She is the recipient of the Unsung Hero award for her work in teaching over 15 cohorts of aspiring entrepreneurs and over 400 teams in the early stages of their ventures.
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