6 Feb 2010

Work-life balance, demystified

Not for one minute would I suggest that this is an easy, one-sided topic. So, to make a well-rounded argument, I'll look at it from the two perspectives we are wont to in Advertising - the rational, and the emotional.

First, the Rational Angle
You can't escape it. You are, literally what you do.

Across the world, most surnames trace their origin back to an occupation. Take the Western name, Smith derived from the word 'smite' or 'to strike', denoting one of the earliest skilled jobs - working with metals. Over 1% of the US population has this surname.

Or the Chinese name, Zang meaning 'Master of the Bow', denoting bow-makers and archers. Incidentlally, the 1990 edition of the Guinness Book of Records listed it as the world's most common surname.

Or take the Indian name, Patel derived from 'patlikh' or 'record keeper'. They were commonly appointed by feudal rulers as village chiefs who would record and collect a share of the crops. In the US, this surname ranks 174 among the Top 500 list of most common surnames. In the UK, it is the 24th most common surname. And in the Greater London region, the 3rd most common surname, with the 2nd most common being - well, what else, Smith!

Second, the Emotional Angle
The very fact that one is looking for a supposed balance between 'Life' and 'Work' implies - with due apologies to Kipling - that "Life is Life, and Work is Work, and ne'er the twain shall meet!"

A 10-hour workday is 63% of an average 16 waking hours in a day. So 63% of our waking life is spent doing ONE thing: Work. In my opinion, we had better LOVE our work - or life's going to be miserable anyway!

My work is Advertising. It is also my life.

To me it is a beautiful profession full of high thinking, human truths, lovely colours, fascinating words, and interesting people. It is never boring. In the span of a few hours, it has me empathising alternately, with the humdrum of a housewife's routine; the struggle of a blue-collar worker to define his identity; and the investment travails of a jetsetting CEO.

I love it that my work has the power to hold out a promise, a hope of something better... Fulfilment for the harried housewife; self-esteem for the common-man; and ego-stroking reassurance for the ones who have everything but contentment.

I know many people in Advertising - especially in Creative - who have dropped potentially lucrative careers to join the ranks of the overworked and the underpaid. Most of our mothers still don't understand our line of work - leave alone approve of it. But I am yet to see a single person in creative who regrets being part of it.

As in any profession, it has its ups and downs. So I think it's ok to vent some. An occasionally crib about the insane deadlines, the inept servicing partner, the irrational creative partner, the agency, the senior management, Sir Martin... It's all ok.

But the moment you stop loving your work, is the exact moment you stop having a 'Life'.

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