Stress is an odd thing. While conversations about work-life balance are coming to the fore, they tend to focus on workload and role conflict. They often miss other elements that contribute to that sense of being overwhelmed. I’ll focus on one that feels – but is not – insurmountable: the sense that what you’re doing lacks meaning.
It’s hard to achieve a sense of balance when your work isn’t at least somewhat inherently rewarding and connected to your values. No matter how reasonable the workload or functional the work environment, if the work you do has no meaning to you, stress is almost inevitable. The exception seems to be when people can connect that work to something meaningful beyond the tasks they’re engaged in – a job that gives them time for the important people in their life, dull work in an organization that accomplishes good things, a temporary stop on a stepping stone to something exciting.
It’s important to note, though, that you can agree that work has value, and still not find it personally meaningful. Just because something is worthy in the grand scheme of things doesn’t mean that it’s the thing that you, personally, should do. That sense of obligation can keep people in roles they “should” find rewarding.
The work that makes you tired might well fall into that category of worthy obligations that could be taken on by someone else. If it’s hard to come up with new ideas, if the new ideas you come up with aren’t exciting or at least intriguing, or if you catch yourself habitually procrastinating with a certain type of work, those are signs to consider what would make you feel excited, proud, humbled, curious, or rewarded.
There will, inevitably, be some challenges in your life, including ones that exhaust you. If you’re looking for balance, explore whether some of the imbalance is coming from the work itself.
In my next column, I’ll look at some ways to figure out what energizes you and fulfills a sense of purpose.