Work-life balance

I’m back at work now. The “change” has come about and we are in a new phase. Along with my return to work, Master L has started preschool, Mr L has had a promotion at work and we have decided to move to New Zealand in June. Instead of the page flipping and finding ourselves in the new 2014 routine, the pages are fluttering in the breeze as we prepare ourselves for an even bigger change.

All this fluttering of pages has been quite stressful and I feel at times like I’m about to lose my place. Last week I really struggled with it all. And then it occurred to me today: it’s not so much the change that bothers me as the uncertainty. There isn’t an abundance of jobs for me in Auckland, so I’ve had to think outside the square and take a bit of a leap of faith that “something” will turn up. I have made a few enquiries and managed to find something that looks potentially promising. I’ve been struck by how much more cheerful I’ve felt each time I’ve made progress with this job opportunity. Not because it’s the perfect job, not because the idea of not working for a while bothers me unduly and certainly not because this job’s all in the bag… but because it reassures me that I can find something and it gives me something more tangible to start planning around.

I’ve always maintained that my job doesn’t define me. I like to think I work to live, not live to work. And that’s true. If I had to choose between my job and my life, my family, the job would be gone in an instant. And yet it is more to me than “just a job”. “Career” isn’t even the word I’m looking for… the job I do has required me to do a lot of study, gain a lot of experience and acquire a fairly extensive (yet specialised) set of skills. What really bothers me about not having a job to go to in NZ, the uncertainty I fear, is that if I don’t work while we’re away, I will lose a lot of the skills and knowledge I have. On the back of 2 lots of maternity leave fairly close together, how on earth would I going to function competently in my job once we get back at the end of 2016?

My job is part of who I am. No, it doesn’t define me, but it is part of me. That is, part of ME. Not “me” the mother or “me” the wife but just “me”. I go to work and leave the rest of my life behind for 10 hours. Not that I don’t think about them, show people pictures of the kids, text Mr L and curse that I forgot to take that night’s dinner out of the freezer but at work I get to talk to people about things that don’t need to involve any of that. And it’s nice.

I’ve worked for my current employer for more than 10 years. I like the people I work with (most of them, anyway) and in that time some have become good friends. But even when I do the odd bit of work somewhere different, where I don’t know people so well, I get the same feeling of “me”-ness. So I can’t even say it’s just about my work friends, it’s obviously more than that.

People talk a lot about work-life balance. But I wondered exactly what they say, so I Googled and ended up on Wikipedia (where I end up a lot). Surprisingly and somewhat reassuringly, it sums up what I’ve been trying to describe, only much more eloquently (but with annoying Americani”z”ation):

“By working in an organization, employees identify, to some extent, with the organization, as part of a collective group… However, employees also identify with their outside roles, or their “true self”… In other words, identity is “fragmented and constructed” through a number of interactions within and out of the organization; employees don’t have just one self. Most employees identify with not only the organization, but also other facets of their life (family, children, religion, etc.). Sometimes these identities align and sometimes they do not. When identities are in conflict, the sense of a healthy work-life balance may be affected.”

I don’t think my identities are in conflict, as such, in fact I think I have a pretty good work-life balance. But if I return, deskilled and unable to function at the level I do now, I know I’ll find that really hard to deal with.

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