Work-life balance is long gone. The contest between work and life is over — work won. Work didn’t win because people are necessarily spending more time in the office or that we are more committed to the missions and visions hanging on the walls. Work is the champion because we are always “on” and proud of it. We are addicted to devices, and what’s at the top of the screen? Work. Are we working when we check emails at 9 p.m.? Are we working when we are at the youth soccer game and listening to a conference call (while on mute) at the same time? The answer is sort of.
In distinguishing between work and life, we tend to think of work as grinding it out on spreadsheets at the desk. Life, as defined in the equation, is sitting around the pool or a picnic with the family in wine country without a care in the world. Both work and life are probably in between those images. To many, the concept of balance is more about the outlets that we create to escape from work, even for just a short while.
Outlets will range from mountain climbing to quiet time with a spouse or from reading to restoring that old Mustang convertible. All are appropriate and create that “life” part of the equation. But most outlets that we create, like the ones I’ve mentioned, require planning, concentration, and communication. Those requirements sound like work. One outlet exists that is truly an activity that lets the mind relax and escape from work — trash TV.
No need to feel guilty about trash TV habits. I learned about its powers of such rejuvenation from no less than the president of a distinguished Ivy League institution. The President was asked how to create a work-life balance in an environment that is always “on.” Is it even possible to find a life and retreat for even a short while? The answer the President gave was, “The secret to work-life balance is trash TV.”
The message is that the secret to balance could be shutting down, even for a little while. And what more convenient vehicle to shutting down than trash TV? It’s free and in your house right now. You don’t have to do anything other than click the remote control. The definition of trash TV is a very individual choice and no judgment need be a part of your choice. The choices are infinite and could include “American Idol,” “Housewives of New Jersey,” or old reruns. Sometimes your brain just needs to shut down and let someone else do the work.
Your own version of trash TV does not even need to include a television. Trash TV is a metaphor for down time. True down time might include spending time with the kids with no plan and no device to check. Or a long walk without talking about or thinking about work. Or looking out the windows at the birds. You can choose but for most of us, that down time without any work is a key part of the life part of work-life balance.
When the brain is rejuvenated through activities like trash TV, you are more likely to be ready to go back to work and fight the good fight. You are more likely to perform better.
Outlets are an important part of the work world. The outlets are not always the kind you plug one of your many devices into so you don’t have to worry about power.
Homer Simpson would agree, trash TV is the way to save a career.
What is your favorite outlet?