Separation Anxiety: Why We Have Trouble Separating Personal Life from Work

Sep 2, 2014 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments

You’ve probably heard someone say it before – “my work is my life.” Maybe you’ve been the one to utter those words. While no one has ever said that trying to balance your work and personal life is easy, knowingly sacrificing one for the other is a recipe for failure.

So why do so many Americans willingly put their personal life on the backburner for work?


Why People are Putting Life on Hold for Work

One of the first questions we ask a person we’ve just met is, “What do you do?” So, it’s understandable that our work is a significant part of who we are. It says a lot about our education, interests, past experiences, what we do on a day-to-day basis. The problem arises when workers actually base their entire identity around their job. Their world revolves around work, and life decisions are based around how it will affect a career.

People let their identity revolve around work for a number of reasons. Some people are truly passionate about what they do because who they are at the core influenced their choice of work. Others feel that their job gives them purpose, and therefore, rely on their work to express who they are.  When work is a part of your identity that’s fine, when it’s all you identify with – that’s when it becomes a problem.

A few years ago, CNN published an article discussing why people put their love life on hold for work. Some workers ruled out romantic relationships so they could put all their focus on their career. For them, a meaningful relationship was seen as a distraction. Relationship therapist Kim Leatherdale attributed this to an all or nothing mindset. If that’s the case, a significant number of people are choosing work over having a life.

When it comes to starting families, more and more people are also choosing to wait longer. Why? For some it’s because they want to ensure they’re financially secure, but for many women it’s a job security issue. A study from the University of Adelaide found that many women say they want to be well established in their job and field before having children so that they have better job security. There’s a common feeling that if women choose to start a family “too soon,” it will make their career stall or fall off all together.

Job security is important, but what many workers seem to miss is that personal relationships last a lifetime whereas a job may not. Not only that, your personal relationships can provide a support system that’s invaluable in your career.

The Problem with Personal Life Sacrifice. . . And the Answer

Unfortunately, many workers are thinking that they can put things off in their personal life and get around to them when it’s more convenient for work. But as we point out in The ONE Thing, your life isn’t waiting around for you. There are many moments that will pass you by, and once they’re past, the opportunity to experience them is gone.

Counterbalancing is the answer to having a successful career and a life outside of it. Counterbalancing isn’t about trying to make all things equal. It acknowledges the hard truth that trying to keep everything on a level playing field leads to nothing but exhaustion.

When you counterbalance you give things attention as needed. Work is on one side and personal life is on the other. Both are big buckets to be counterbalanced and there’s also additional counterbalancing within each bucket. In The ONE Thing, we ask readers to acknowledge that there are different areas of your life that require attention. Some things, like family, should never be completely put on the backburner when you counterbalance your work with your life. More emphasis may be put on work at times, but never for too long.

Counterbalancing is a fairly new concept that contradicts the idea of balancing everything and going all in on work rather than life. It can be tricky to figure out and may be a little unstable feeling at times, but at the end of the day counterbalancing is the only way to build a career and have a life at the same time.


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