The ever-elusive work-life balance….how does one achieve this?

Perhaps the problem is that we have a pretty clear understanding of what constitutes the “work” part, but how exactly do you define the “life” part of this equation? Did we ever feel “life” balance before work entered the picture?

One important component of life is your finances. From the very beginning, this blog has been focusing on the wellness part of financial wellness. In fact, the original name of this blog was Financial Wellness DVM. 

So I couldn’t help but feel compelled to attend the AVMA Wellbeing Summit. This was a chance to see how this profession is talking about and tackling the subject of general well-being, which is a more complete way of looking at how to balance different parts of your life. This was a subject matter that was definitely NOT a part of the vet school curriculum when I graduated in 2003. But times are changing, and luckily, veterinary medicine is leading the conversation surrounding the importance of well-being. 

WHAT, EXACTLY, IS WELL-BEING ALL ABOUT?

First, let’s define well-being. According to Merriam-Webster, well-being is defined as:

The state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

I think we can all agree that going through life that is devoid of happiness, health, or prosperity sounds downright miserable. It’s only natural that people want to strive for a high level of well-being.

Achieving a state of well-being will look different for each individual. Typically, the focus has been on emotional (mental) and physical well-being. Your well-being at your job is factored into the idea behind work-life balance. However, there are other dimensions of well-being that play very real and tangible roles in our overall sense of well-being. 

No doubt, financial wellness is an important component to your general well-being, and it’s one that is typically glossed over or over-simplified. The typical line of thinking is “The more money I make, the happier I will be.” However….

If you think that simply having more money is the answer to all of your financial woes, then you’re mistaken.

If you think that solving all of your financial problems would lead to living a carefree, happy life with no worries, then you’re mistaken.

If you think that financial wellness exists in a vacuum, then you’re mistaken.

LOOKING AT THE WHOLE PICTURE

We all go through trials and tribulations throughout life.  Financial stress is a common underlying current, but it’s hardly the only one. If you aren’t addressing other aspects of your well-being in addition to your financial well-being, then you’re missing out on some profound opportunities to truly live a richer life.

At the AVMA Wellbeing Summit, I was pleased to see these dimensions of wellness being presented visually as a Wellness Wheel.

Handout at the 2019 AVMA Wellbeing Summit

It’s undeniable that each of these dimensions are interwoven and inextricably connected to one another. Having a balance that fits your current life stage and circumstances is key to feeling happy, healthy, and prosperous. Here are the eight dimensions of wellness in a bit more detail:

EMOTIONAL

Also referred to as mental wellness, this is a dimension of wellness that is often cited when discussing issues of compassion fatigue and burnout in veterinary medicine (note that we’re talking about mental health here; mental illness is a medical condition and should not be confused with mental health).

The practice of veterinary medicine can often test our mental well-being. Not only are you emotionally invested in your patient, but you are also having to take into account the emotional state of your clients and your staff/co-workers. Compound this with any challenges you may be dealing with on a personal level, and you can see how quickly you can start to feel drained and overwhelmed.

Understanding how to successfully navigate these emotions has not been adopted by the mainstream culture until quite recently. There is still some stigma attached to the words “emotion” and “feelings,” especially when you are working in a field that has traditionally focused more on attaining and applying book knowledge over “soft skills,” such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills.

Talking about your own emotions can come across as overindulgent and unnecessary for those who are used to ignoring their emotions altogether and “powering through” to get things done. 

Embracing ourselves as emotional beings means that we’re embracing what it means to be human. As much as we like to think of ourselves as completely rational, logical creatures, it is very clear from our behavior that we are not mere robots that are devoid of emotion. Recognizing the importance of emotion and mental health is a positive step towards improving our overall well-being.

PHYSICAL

We all understand the importance of physical health.  For those that rarely get sick, an illness or injury is a huge wake-up call that being in good physical health is often taken for granted. For those that live with chronic diseases (many mental illnesses fall under this category), a day of good health is greatly appreciated. For those who are sleep-deprived, a few days of good, uninterrupted sleep can do wonders for your mood and energy level. For those that switch a healthy diet, the old adage that “food is medicine” rings true. 

There is no doubt that our physical state of being has a huge impact on how we go about our day. A migraine, hunger pangs, the fog of sleep deprivation, the smallest papercut in exactly the wrong place: any alteration to our baseline physical state will affect everything from how we move to our mood. 

Our busy, modern lives often work against us when it comes to improving and maintaining physical health. We are becoming more sedentary, non-healthy food is more convenient, and we have endless sources of activities, responsibilities, and forms of entertainment to fill our days. This all leaves less time for sleep and rejuvenation. It’s more important than ever to actively prioritize our physical health in the face of these factors that work against us.

ENVIRONMENTAL

Our environment can include something as small as the room you’re sitting in to the planet that we reside on.  Our environment affects all 5 senses; what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. We also value safety and comfort in our surroundings. Here are examples of different types of environments and questions you can ask yourself to assess your environmental well-being:

  • Home environment: Do you live in a house or in an apartment? What’s the normal noise level? Is it cluttered or neat? How do you have your place decorated?  Do you use candles or diffusers to add an element of scent to your environment?
  • Work environment: Are you in a clinic or do you work out of your truck? Who do you work with, and how do they make you feel? Is it a place of calm or constant chaos? Does going to work make you feel stressed or rejuvenated?
  • Community environment: Are you in the middle of a bustling city, a tree-lined street in the suburbs, or in a quiet rural community? Do you have pride and a sense of belonging to your community? How deep are your ties to those that live around you? Do you feel safe?
  • Natural/Global environment: Do you have an awareness of your natural environment? Are you the type that finds every opportunity to escape and appreciate the great outdoors, or is that not really your thing? Are you taking steps to live sustainably in order to preserve this one planet we all call home?

It’s easy to acclimate to your current environment. It’s only when you leave that you realize what a difference a change in scenery can make, for better or worse.

INTELLECTUAL

When people hear the word “intellectual,” they usually envision that absent-minded professor or the person who can spout off random facts of trivia with little to no effort.

Getting through vet school certainly required intellectual capabilities. The sheer amount of material that had to be learned was impressive.

Thankfully, our brains continue to seek out novelty and opportunities for growth throughout our lives. However, after receiving a formal education, it’s easy to get complacent and stick with routines and operate from our knowledge base, thinking that all of our important learning years are behind us. Or we frequently tell ourselves that we simply don’t have the time, energy, or money to learn anything new.

Creative thinking, problem-solving, and lifelong learning all contribute to intellectual well-being, which we sometimes forget about in our busy, day-to-day lives.

As a parent, I am constantly inspired by my own children. What they are learning, inside and outside the classroom, is going at breakneck speed. I see their natural curiosity and capacity to use all the different parts of their amazing brains to see and experience the world around them. I am actively encouraging them to always ask good questions and learn new things. Watching them learn is re-igniting my own desire to nurture my own intellectual capabilities. Maybe this old dog can learn some new tricks after all!

OCCUPATIONAL

Here’s that “work” part of work-life balance.

When meeting someone for the first time, one of the most common introductory questions is “So, what do you do?”

It’s an unspoken agreement that this refers to your job/career/occupation/profession. The underlying question really is “What do you get paid to do with the majority of your waking hours?”

It is so interesting that this is such a common way to greet someone for the first time. We often define and categorize people by what they do for a living. Given that most people spend a good portion of their day at work, it’s natural to assume that their job provides valuable insight into who they are as a person. 

For many, the choice to become a veterinarian was a goal set in childhood, so it makes complete sense that being a veterinarian is not considered “just” a job. For many veterinarians, it’s a calling. Feeling fulfilled in the “occupation” portion of your Wellness Wheel is especially important to those that identify deeply with their profession. An issue arises when you only define yourself by your career choice, leaving little opportunity to know who you are outside of work.

A BIG reminder: If you’re not currently working for pay (as I did not for many years while I took a career pause after my children were born), whatever you’re focusing on at this moment is still valid and would fall under this category of “occupation,” even if you’re not getting paid for it! Paid AND unpaid work allows us to fulfill internal, personal needs and external, societal needs. Career paths are rarely clear-cut and linear, and your worth as a person should NOT be determined by whether or not you earn an income.

SOCIAL

How do we connect with people around us? The ability to feel like a part of a community runs deep starting from childhood. The need for loving caretakers at the beginning of life eventually turns into a need to feel like a part of a social group outside the home. Social media is a prime example of how people have an urge to feel seen, heard, and connected. 

Humans are social beings, to the point where isolation is a form of punishment. Even introverts need some form of socialization and a feeling of belonging in order to thrive.

It’s this social connection, not money, that is most highly correlated with happiness as people age. The Harvard Adult Development Study started back in the 1940’s and continues to this day, offering unique insights on health and happiness over a lifespan. As stated in this TED Talk, “social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills.” These findings sound obvious, but it’s also nice to back this up with proper data. 

So yes, please invest your money. But even more importantly, invest in your relationships. 

SPIRITUAL

The meaning of spirituality varies from person to person. At its core, it’s about finding meaning and purpose in life. Humanity has always grappled with questions such as “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?” Spirituality offers a framework where you can think about and explore these deep questions.

For many, their spirituality helps guide their core values. Examples of core values include:

  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Service
  • Creativity
  • Compassion
  • Reliability
  • Education
  • Fitness
  • Balance

These run deep into who you are as a person. If you’re living a life that is dissonant from your core values, it can create a lot of friction and frustration.

This sense of spirituality evolves over time. Our life experiences force us to question and think about the way we view the world, and how we navigate through our sense of spirituality is our own unique journey.

FINANCIAL

And of course, there is the financial component of well-being. Richer Life DVM is all about exploring this connection between personal finance and well-being.

Ultimately, it’s not about how much money have in the bank. It’s about making sure that you are using your money as a tool to live your best life. 

Remember that this is about using your money in an intentional way that makes you happy. Spending aligned with your core values is key to your financial well-being.

Spending can be limitless if we had the financial resources, but the reality is that we ARE limited by what we can afford, and we need to make sure that we’re good stewards of our own money.  Even those that have more money than they can spend cannot “buy” true happiness if their spending is trying to fill a void rather than used as a way to live out their core values.

By being financially healthy, you’re in a better place to actually use your financial resources to focus on what truly matters to YOU. You will have more options, choices, and freedom to use this resource to enhance other parts of your well-being.

CONCLUSION

Once you start diving into this concept, it will become clear that there are parts of your Wellness Wheel that need some extra attention. Some of these dimensions of well-being will matter to you more than others, and it’s expected that your needs will change over time.

Financial well-being, as a standalone, is not enough to be living your best life. There are people around the world who have almost nothing in terms of money and material things, but they still have a sunny and positive outlook on life with a high level of well-being. There are people who have a mountain of student debt, but they have made peace with this and still manage to live happy, fulfilled lives where their debt does not define them. The components of their Wellness Wheels are working in sync with one another.

So if you’re struggling with work-life balance, make sure you take into account your own Wellness Wheel. Are there areas that could use some extra work? What are some tweaks and changes that you can make, big or small, that will get you to that place of better (not perfect!) balance?

Have you explored all of these areas in the Wellness Wheel? Are there areas where you feel unbalanced? Have you thought about how you’re using your financial resources to enhance your well-being? Comment below! 

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