The majority of people will reach a point in their lives where what they desire most is time, not money.
Just like gold, oil or money, time is a commodity. But, unlike the other three it can only be sold.
With most commodities you can normally buy more when it runs out, but you can't buy time. We can attempt to buy time by improving our health and well being in the hope that this will give us additional time, but this is by no means certain. At the end of the day we are given a finite quota, with an unknown expiry date and it's is up to us what we do with it. And the clock is ticking ...
Many people use most of that time to acquire more commodities/assets - more money, more houses, more cars … others do the opposite, not interested in the 'stuff' but using their time to gain experiences. No one should judge. You only get one life so it's about personal choice. Put simply, if it makes you happy - do it. If it doesn't, don't. But for most people it's a fine balancing act and very important to get right. Unfortunately the majority of people get it wrong. This tends to make us feel like we've lost control of our own lives or even trapped.
There are over 32 million employed people in the UK of which over 50% would rather be doing something else according to the Office for National Statistics (Feb 2018).
That's a lot of people who don't feel in control of their own ship.
We spend most of our lives juggling this work / life balance equation, but what actually is it?
Certainly in my twenties and thirties work and life were so inextricably linked that I would have struggled to separate them. I often worked 12 hour days, socialised with work colleagues when I wasn't out entertaining clients, and would quite often meet up with them at the weekends.
When you're first setting out in a career it becomes so all consuming that there is no balance. Work is life and life is work. This is particularly the case when you're straight out of school or university and moving to a new area such as #London, trying to make a new life for yourself. It's very easy to lose a decade or two in this way. And I don't mean this in a bad way. Some of my best times were had during this period, lost in a booze cloud of hedonistic fun and downright debauchery. Vague memories of buying bouncers 'smart' shoes off them to replace my old trainers so that I could get in to their nightclub, mingle in with working never-ending days with hangovers from hell (never trust anyone who says they didn't get hangovers in their twenties...). If anyone had asked me about my work / life balance back then I would not have a clue what they were talking about (and probably written them off as some old fossil who needed to get a life themselves). It was all about working hard, playing hard and maxing out what I could experience and earn.
Time was inconsequential - I had loads of it ...
For me it came in my early forties. I had just come through that period of having two young children and the broken sleep and hallucinogenic state that comes with it. Reducing you to a brain-dead, illogical, aggressive schizophrenic for a few years (If you haven't had children yet, you'll know which period I'm talking about if/when you get there). During that stressful - barely know your own name let along string a sentence together phase - I had subconsciously realised that I was no longer enjoying work like I used to.
Going out with clients was a chore and no longer the laugh that it once was. Basically it all felt very much like work. As soon as you get to this stage, the clock is ticking and you're on borrowed time. Either you need to come up with a plan to get out or you are going to slowly start dying on the inside - brought down by a combination of stress and bitterness. It's only a matter of time before it manifests itself on the outside too and becomes apparent through your health. Don't get me wrong there are a small percentage of people out there (mainly self-made business men and women or entrepreneurs) who have a passion for what they do and won't ever get bored with it. Quite literally their work and their life are the same thing. I'm not sure if I envy them or pity them (a bit of both I think). And there are a few people out there who can do the same for job for forty years and still enjoy it - although I haven't met many. But for the vast majority of us rat race dwellers, once you can clearly define that you are just living to work, rather than working to live, your job could and should have a limited shelf life.
Life's too short to waste the biggest part of your week doing something you don't enjoy. Don't let work define you if it's not what you want to do. A good indication that it's time for change is when the idea of working less hours is more attractive than a pay rise. Those money versus time scales are no longer balancing.
Younger generations seem much more aware of the work / life balance, and it's quite common these days to hear a twenty-something graduate openly state that they want to work fewer hours even if it involves getting paid less. This is great, but the obvious danger is that because it's a balancing act, it doesn't go too much the other way. Unless you're very fortunate, it's very difficult to have the life you want without putting in some hard yards at some point.
For me the tipping point came when I weighed up the sacrifices I would have to make against what I was doing it for. I had a happy, healthy family, and a nice house and car etc. but I could feel it having an adverse effect on my health working in a job that I no longer enjoyed. So at the most likely detriment to my own health I could carry on working as I was so I could buy a nicer house and a nicer car but less time with my family, or I could get out, reign in my lifestyle to a certain extent, and have the life I wanted to lead. For me, it was a no brainer. I was fortunate in that I had a plan from a relatively early age and had put provisions in place to allow me to do this.
The secret is to try not to get to this stage and then start thinking about preparing for what's next. Because of the nature of the rat race (being very long and nobody wins) not only does career boredom kick in around mid-life, so does the other potential nasties like health issues, marriage problems, or general stresses of raising a family etc. No matter what stage of life you're at currently and how happy you are in your job, now is the time to be thinking of your escape plan, not tomorrow. As soon as that pendulum swings, you are in a very different mindset and ideally want to be implementing a plan, not coming up with one.
Even though I had a plan in place, it took a few year's to carry out. As most of us will have discovered at some point, there's a big difference between theory and carrying it out in practice. So bear this in mind, as it can sometimes take longer in real life to line those ducks up than you first thought.
Some people just get to a point and then have to throw the towel in. This is good in that it forces you to come up with a back-up plan. But I would suggest it's a lot less stressful to take a more measured approach, and get your plan in place long before you need it.
Time is an amazing thing. When you don't have it, you can't see the wood for the trees. When you do have the luxury of time, you can take a very different view on life. Once you've stopped to breathe it's amazing how many different experiences and opportunities present themselves that you would never have had the time to notice previously. Unfortunately many people miss the opportunity to escape because all their energy and time goes in to keeping their head above water in day to day living, and not taking time out to plan where they're heading. A case of counting the pennies and missing the pounds
For anybody reading this who associates with that feeling of drowning, or struggling to keep control on modern day life - whether it's your health, fitness or finances - please use this blog as a free resource to help get your life back on track, and your plan in place, so that you can spend more time in the future doing what you want to do.
For those of you who have never been a wage slave, never felt like you were drowning in life or caught up on a non-stop conveyer belt, and don't associate in anyway with this blog - you probably don't need to read on (at the moment anyway - but please don't delete me from your history. Who knows what the future holds - and as we know, you can't buy time …)