“Work-life balance” is a phrase that means different things to different people. What all who seek it have in common, however, is a desire to define the term in a way that makes sense for them, their families, and their careers.
To help you find your own definition of balance, you may find some expert insights valuable. And nothing provides inspiration better than a good TED Talk.
Here are seven such talks that touch on the issues of building a better or more balanced life.
“A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success” — Alain de Botton at TEDGlobal 2009
Using a mixture of humor and serious reflection, philosopher Alain de Botton talks about the global phenomenon of snobbery and what that means for people who are trying to succeed.
Most people correlate success with the acquisition of material goods, he says. In a society that believes in meritocracy, people feel like they own their victories. The problem is, they also feel like they own their failures, even if those failures are based on a flawed model of success.
The reality of our world, he says, is that you can’t “have it all.” Instead of believing that is possible and letting outside forces define success for us, we should make sure our ideas of success are our own. Then, and only then, will we build the successful, balanced lives we crave.
“How to Gain Control of Your Free Time” — Laura Vanderkam at TEDWomen 2016
Author Laura Vanderkam studies and writes about time management, and she says she has learned that time is “highly elastic,” meaning it will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.
When people say they don’t have time for something, what they’re really saying is that it’s not a priority, Vanderkam says. She recommends that people actively consider priorities and goals in both their work and personal lives. Then, break those goals down into smaller steps, scheduling time to complete some of those steps every week.
Everyone has the same 168 hours per week. Even people with full-time jobs and a “side hustle” can find time for the things that matter. “And when we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want in the time we’ve got,” Vanderkam says.
“How to Make Work-Life Balance Work” — Nigel Marsh at TEDxSydney
When author and marketer Nigel Marsh turned 40, he realized he was eating and drinking too much, working too much, and neglecting his family. He took a step back, spending a year at home. Since returning to work, he has studied and written about work-life balance.
He says we need to face the truth that governments and corporations aren’t going to solve the work-life balance problem for us. Rather, it is up to individuals to take responsibility for the lives they want to lead. That includes setting and enforcing the boundaries they want in their lives.
People also must approach their quest for work-life balance in a balanced way, Marsh says, considering physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
“The small things matter. … With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life,” he says.
“What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness” — Robert Waldinger at TEDxBeaconStreet
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, knows the secret to a long and happy life.
Waldinger talks about the Harvard study that tracked a diverse group of men for more than 75 years. The results, he says, are clear. Wealth, fame, and working long, hard hours don’t make people happy. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” he says.
Social connections are good for people, and loneliness kills, Waldinger says. It’s not just the number of friends you have, but the quality of your relationships that matters.
In other words, if you want a long, happy, healthy life, seek better balance and improve your relationships with family, friends, and others in your community. Replace screen time with people time, he says, and you will see the difference.
“The New American Dream” — Courtney E. Martin at TED2016
Journalist Courtney E. Martin has spent years studying what makes people feel like they are “better off” than their ancestors, and she argues in this talk that it’s time to rethink the standards we use for that judgment.
Traditionally, we have based that feeling of success on our ability to earn a lot of money or buy a huge home, she says. But in the 21st century, the “good life” is more about community and creativity than dollars and cents.
People should work like their mothers, doing what they need to do to get the job done. Her mom called that “making it work,” Martin says, but life coaches today refer to having a “portfolio career.”
Meanwhile, people should live more like their immigrant ancestors, she says, pulling together in a community and helping each other. “The new ‘better off’ is less about investing in the perfect family and more about investing in the imperfect village,” Martin says, encouraging listeners to live a life that is connected and courageous.
“How to Get Better at the Things You Care About” — Eduardo Briceño at TEDxManhattanBeach
Learning expert Eduardo Briceño points out that the most effective people go through life alternating between spending time in a “learning zone” and in a “performance zone.” In the former, you’re trying to develop new skills or build on existing skills, and you have room to make mistakes. In the latter, you concentrate on what you’ve already mastered and try to eliminate mistakes.
The problem is that most people spend too little time in the learning zone, or they are not clear about when they are in which mode. Instead, Briceño says, people must define time for deliberate practice, both in their work and personal lives.
In work, he says, we often discourage people from trying new things, because we’re so focused on spending error-free time in the performance zone. As a result, innovation ends, and performance actually suffers.
Briceño suggests that, instead of spending our whole lives “doing,” we should spend more time learning, exploring, and questioning.
“What I’ve Learned About Parenting as a Stay-at-Home Dad” — Glen Henry at TEDxMidAtlantic
Visual storyteller Glen Henry offers a humorous and touching view into his struggles and victories as a stay-at-home father. If you’re looking for a pep talk about parenting, this is the message for you.
Henry admits that he had no idea how to be a stay-at-home parent when he started. For example, he thought the best way to teach kids right from wrong was through discipline, but he learned that it was better to actually teach them by drawing pictures and helping them understand. He also learned to deal with the loneliness and emotional fatigue that come with parenting.
In the end, he says, parenting has more to do with learning than with teaching, and the best thing to do is to show up for class. “Be present, is what I learned as a stay-at-home dad, and let your presence be a gift.”
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