RANT: I know people mean well, and they like to think they know what my problems are, and therefore want to fix it for me. I do appreciate the intentions… But I am sick and tired of people telling me I need more balance in my life. As if somehow I can just push a button and it will all just happen. END RANT

Chasing balance becomes in itself a stressor. OMG I have not achieved balance yet! Oh no! I am running out of time to get balanced! OMG OMG OMG… etc.

Do you notice yourself working like crazy to finish things just to be able to go on holidays? Is your work expecting you to cancel holidays at the last minute behest of clients? And when you do eventually get to your holidays, do you then stress out trying to relax and rest? OMG OMG I am not relaxed yet! Why don’t I feel more rested?!

The ads selling quick-fixes don’t help – meditation, herbs, pills, aromatherapy, high-intensity spas, 20 massages for the price of 8… These are all stop-gap measures to lessen the symptoms in the short term, but not actually fix anything. They can even cause more stress as they remind us we are stressed out!

You are not actually replaceable; at least not in the immediate term. It takes time and effort to replace anyone. This is exacerbated by the fact that more and more of us are actually doing the jobs of 2-3 people. This makes us 2-3 times less dispensable! There is even less incentive for management to replace us. Maybe this is more noticeable in Singapore; I hear it is worse in Hong Kong.

Do you find yourself constantly thinking “I have no time!”? How many workplaces give us time to stop and think and reflect – before and after each project? How can we be creative if we simply don’t have the time?

Government jobs in contrast sounds like heaven. Strict 7.5 hour days, and a strict days-in-lieu regiment when weekend of after-hours work was inevitable. Friends of mine who have transitioned from private sector to government work concur – they have time to think! Is government the next hotbed for innovation? Perhaps this ProjectHDesign initiative with the town of Bertie is leading the way?

Government jobs have their own challenges of course, and factors that work against innovation. But it does seem to be scoring high points in terms of work-life balance.

I think the issue of balance is ultimately a systemic problem. It is aligned with cultural practices and societal expectations. It is rather interesting that no one seems particularly keen to change the system. Or even to notice that the system is broken. “Work hard then die of a heart attack” seems to be the preferred path.

Is it because it is not possible to change the system when you are inside it and perceived to be totally dependant on it? “I don’t like this situation. But I need the work. I’d better not rock the boat; just suck it in and soldier on…”

Working within the system to change is has merits and potential – but that change can be slow. How much spare time do you have now to complete your work? Let alone think about a systemic change?

Leaders need to want to change. Someone needs to be brave enough to say “I want to make a difference, starting with my company.” When enough leaders do this… Then again, it is probably easier to just do what everyone else is doing.

At the end of the day, we as individuals have a choice. If we cannot make a systemic change fast enough to save our own selves, we may well just have exercise the ultimate choice – leave.