Champion of the work-life balance cause, Nigel Marsh lays out a blueprint for how to make it happen, in this Ted Talk. Comments Marsh, who writes on how business and personal life interact, “All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.”
The author of Fat, Forty and Fired, shared his own experience of when he turned 40, “Up until that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior — I was eating too much, I was drinking too much, I was working too hard and I was neglecting the family. …So I stepped back from the workforce, and I spent a year at home with my wife and four young children. But all I learned about work-life balance from that year was that I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work. Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.”
He returned to work, but continued to grapple with work-life balance. He shared, “Now the first step in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you’re in. And the reality of the society that we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”
He recommends, “We should stop looking outside. It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. …We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our life.”
He shared an incident from his family life, when his wife asked him to pick up their youngest son from school, which had him leave work an hour earlier. “We walked down to the local park, messed around on the swings, played some silly games. I then walked him up the hill to the local cafe, and we shared a pizza for two, then walked down the hill to our home, and I gave him his bath and put him in his Batman pajamas. I then read him a chapter of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. I then put him to bed, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, “Goodnight, mate,” and walked out of his bedroom. As I was walking out of his bedroom, he said, ‘Dad?’ I went, ‘Yes, mate?’ He went, ‘Dad, this has been the best day of my life, ever.’ I hadn’t done anything, hadn’t taken him to Disney World or bought him a Playstation.”
His conclusion? It’s the small things matter. And being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think, it can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society’s definition of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived looks like. And that, I think, is an idea worth spreading.