Is it possible to achieve a work-life-passion balance?

A delicate equilibrium

Generating and maintaining a balance between work, personal life, and passion for an activity or task chosen for interest or pleasure is often not an easy undertaking. For Robert Vallerand, a psychologist at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Canada, and one of the leading researchers on the Psychology of Passion, the possibility of finding a favorable balance between personal life, work and passion has a lot to do with the way that passion is lived.

Although passion is usually described within the confines of romantic relationships, it is also felt or experienced in other areas of life. A passion, says the Canadian author, is defined as a strong inclination towards an activity that a person likes or loves and invests time and energy in, such as a sport, writing, dancing, having a hobby, playing an instrument, singing, birdwatching, or traveling. The list can be endless and surprising.

Developing a passion, says Vallerand, contributes to transcendent results for positive psychology, such as Flow (which involves experiencing total surrender and fluidity), healthy emotions, psychological well-being, relationships (family and social), and performance in general, including work. Passion, the psychologist summarizes, can make people achieve “lives worth living.”

However, the same passion can also cause very negative effects. According to Vallerand, there are two types of passion: harmonious and obsessive. Harmonious passion allows one to choose the time, energy, and other aspects invested in the task one loves. On the other hand, obsessive passion creates an internal pressure or obligation that demands dedication.

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When a passion is lived harmoniously, people don’t experience an uncontrollable desire to devote themselves to that activity: it occupies a significant place in their lives, but not to the point of invading other areas or taking space away from other tasks. The person “controls” his or her passion; the commitment to that passion is flexible.

For example, a student who plays basketball may not choose to play with his/her classmates the night before submitting a college assignment that requires him/her to continue studying in order to pass. If his/her passion for the sport is harmonious, he/she will not “ruminate” about the missed game and will focus all the energy that night on studying to pass the exam he/she has to take the next day.

Barbara Fredrickson, an American author who made significant theoretical contributions to positive psychology, indicates that people who exercise a passion dedicate an average of 8 hours per week to it: experiencing 8 hours per week of these beneficial effects plus other tasks that also bring pleasure and satisfaction is an almost assured path to psychological well-being.

Contrary to what happens with an obsessive passion, which turns the person who cultivates it into a sort of “slave” of that activity – something that ensures good performances but has a negative effect in other areas of life –, Vallerand affirms that if for any reason the person who cultivates a passion cannot practice it, when lived in a harmonious way, the person will be able to adapt to the situation and focus his or her attention and energy on other tasks.

A key to not falling into the obsessive exercise of a passion lies precisely in not devoting too much time to it or giving up other activities in order to do it.

Travels and destinations

About Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and currently the richest man on earth, it could be said that he finds his passion in work. But it’s not the kind of passion that wrecks his life. His theory is that there is a feedback process involved in the various spheres of his activities and that this allows for everything to work well. “If I’m happy at home, I come to the office with tremendous energy. And if I’m happy at work, I come home with great energy as well. It’s a circle, not a balance, that’s why I prefer to talk about harmony between work and personal life.”

Awareness about the 7 boundaries what they mean and how they support work life passion balance

For Sammy Elazab, director of sales at Samsung ADS, certified coach, father of 3, and leadership expert, setting appropriate boundaries is key to achieving work-life balance. Establishing these boundaries, he writes, has been increasingly challenging especially since the pandemic and the growth of remote work, so achieving balance is a goal that must be actively pursued.

He adds that limits at work are mental, physical, and emotional. The mental ones involve taking breaks and setting realistic goals. The physical ones include creating a good work environment, taking breaks, and avoiding working late. The emotional ones include identifying one’s limits and communicating them to colleagues and bosses. “Setting limits is not a destination but a journey,” says Elazab, who explains that, like trees, “people can develop and reach their maximum productivity if they have good nutrients.”

Jo Nash, writer, researcher and coach, Ph.D in Psychotherapy Studies at the University of Sheffield, England, and founder of Focused Flow Writing Coaching, states that healthy boundaries are crucial to leading a good personal life and relationship with others in all areas: work, partner, family, friends.

“Setting such boundaries requires self-awareness: being clear about expectations of ourselves and others, which situations make us feel comfortable and which ones don’t,” Nash warns. Establishing boundaries means communicating them well, clearly, and assertively. It’s essential to be clear and direct, to affirmatively express our need about what we want, and to tolerate any uncomfortable feelings that may arise from saying what we want/need, whether it’s shame, guilt, or remorse.

For Positive Psychology, 7 types of boundaries bring us closer to a healthy life. Not all of them can be sustained permanently or at an optimum level, but having them as a goal helps design a good path where work, personal life, and passions are integrated.

Paths towards balance

Joscelin -Joss- Lowden is a 36-year-old British cyclist who broke several records in the sport she is passionate about. Her most notable achievement is winning a bronze medal at the 2019 World Road Cycling Championship. She is married and is the mother of Theo who is two years old.

Since 2011, Joss has been working at NTTData Business Solutions in England. First, she combined her work with running, and mentions that she often dealt with projects that required traveling via train and when that happened, she would get off several stations early and run to her house. “It required logistics, such as having proper clothing, a backpack, and determining the route, but this allowed me to combine my work and my passion,” she recalls.

Later, Joss turned to cycling. The soft contract she was able to negotiate at her job allowed her to attain the combination: remote work, flexible schedules. There are weeks that are more compromised than others, Joss says, but she can always return to balance. One key element has been establishing similarities and complementarities between her work and her passion, she explains.

“Both cases encompass teamwork and tasks involving high pressure and high goals,” she describes. “One of the most important intertwinings is the use of data. A training session and predictive modeling are very important both in NTT DATA Business Solutions and in the world of sports.”

“I think I’m a better cyclist because I work as a project manager and I’m a better project manager because I’m a cyclist,” Joss says. Having a passion in addition to personal life and work has an impact on our physical and emotional health, and it improves performance in all areas of life. Bosses should know that burned-out employees are absent more often and have lower work performance. In order to carry out a passion it’s important to have orderliness; an accepting and supportive environment; openness to modify schedules or routines and change the way we think: first, what makes us or would make us happy, and then adapt the rest to that passion.”

Choosing a passion in addition to work, says American sociologist Erin A. Cech, an associate professor at the University of Michigan, is a possibility that more workers indulged in after the pandemic. “Moreover,” she says, “I found that those who had held unstable jobs during the pandemic invested more of themselves in the pursuit of a passion than those whose jobs had not been altered by the pandemic.”

“On one hand, the flexibility and labor freedom of the marketplace, and on the other, the existential experience that ‘life is short’ scattered by the pandemic has meant that for many workers following a passion seems more logical and more within reach,” says Erin A. Cech. “However, we should keep in mind that pursuing a passion can pose significant financial risks.”

Matthew Kolinski is in his early 40s, he is married and is the father of two young children. He is a practicing physician, an entrepreneur and a businessman expert in the Human Capital Management Industry. Author of the book “Work-Passion-Life Balance: Finding Fulfillment Through Zones Of Efficiency,” which took him 16 years to write (it was published in 2020), he explains: “Balance does not mean achieving perfect symmetry every day. Sometimes I devote the day to strictly family activities, and sometimes I spend an entire evening trying to get a new project off the ground. Life demands a dynamic approach: I try to be flexible and open to what’s happening at any given moment.”

In order to combine work, family and passions, Kolinski advises 10 minutes of daily meditation, working in orderly spaces, drinking two liters of water per day, reading for 20 minutes, and sleeping 7 hours or more. Turning off the phone, controlling calls, stopping the use of social networks, and reducing messages are also recommendations to “regain control over one’s life. If we don’t take our foot off the accelerator from time to time, we will burn out the engine,” he assures.

He also warns that it’s not essential to earn money by practicing the chosen passion, but it’s extremely important to make a regular place for it in one’s personal life. Neither money, prestige nor approval are good motivators for a passion, which the more harmonious it tends to be, the more it responds to intrinsic motivations linked to the desire to practice an activity for the pleasure and satisfaction it produces.

Nine tips that will help you manage work-life-passion balance

There are no magic recipes on how to reach balance between work, personal life and passion. But some tips can give clues on how to help create it.

  1. Establish clear limits on how much time you can devote to the task you are passionate about. Keeping a calendar with established schedules can help, but also having flexibility.
  2. Lead a careful life in terms of food and nutrition, physical exercise and sleep.
  3. Try to incorporate your passion into your daily life.
  4. Manage time and objectives effectively. It can be helpful to set deadlines and timelines.
  5. Learn to say “no”. Too much work can be overwhelming.
  6. Learn to delegate.
  7. Disconnect from work and set aside time to spend with family or friends.
  8. Take periodic breaks and vacations.
  9. Set achievable goals and ask for help from family, friends and mentors if needed.
author avatar
Gabriela Navarra
I am a journalist with a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the Universidad de Buenos Aires (UBA). I specialize in health and quality of life. I am 65 and have been a journalist for over 46 years. I started at 19 years old in Telam, a newswire agency in Argentina. I worked for newspapers, magazines, and websites. My most extensive and fruitful working experience was as editor of La Nación newspaper (one of the leading newspapers in the country) and La Nación magazine, where I still publish articles and interviews. I also write for Medscape in Spanish, a renowned medical news website. I love many things: traveling (with the limitations imposed by the economy), reading, writing, music (various kinds and genres), singing,  and yoga. I enjoy pleasing and tasty food and being with people that I love. I recently sold my car, and my plan for this year is to buy a bicycle. 

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