I am currently on the “life” side of “work-life balance”, in the midst of a delightful week-long family vacation spent discovering some of the pleasures of Southern California. The weather has been fine, the food has been delicious, and my unexpected tax refund is subsidizing it all. Rarely in my life have so many advantageous things come together so well; this has been a good week.
Part of the reason it has turned out that way has been the ease with which I have put aside my work. In previous vacations, I have found myself preoccupied with work concerns. I brought work with me, or checked email constantly, or fretted about the ever-growing pile of duties that would be waiting for me when I returned. That has not been the case this time. I had one small, enjoyably creative, project that I attended to one evening, but otherwise my mind was not on my job. It has been wonderful.
I attribute this different approach to vacation to looking forward. On the one hand, I have been looking forward to this since the winter, all the while thinking of ways to make this holiday as enjoyable as possible. At the same time, over the past few months, I have developed a more forward-looking attitude towards work. I have been pondering medium- and long-term goals as much as I used to consider short-term goals. With that degree of foresight, it was much easier to prepare my office, my colleagues, and my students for my impending absence. People knew what to expect this week, and I knew what to get done before leaving. So this week, I have felt like I have been fully present with my family without abandoning my co-workers or my responsibilities at work.
It’s been great. I am actually looking forward to my upcoming return to work. I had never realized this before, but foresight is one of the keys to work-life balance. When you take a long-term view, you give yourself much more space in which to work out potential conflicts. I had time during the month before vacation to take care of my work issues, leaving life for me to enjoy without distraction. Perhaps work-life balance is never something you can just achieve today. Maybe it’s just something you can (genuinely) plan to enjoy later — but as long as you then keep planning, you also get to keeping enjoying it.