What can tree pose teach you about work-life balance? 

What can tree pose teach you about work-life balance?

Megan Hoyt

Think of the word balance. What comes to mind for you?

I think of being in a yoga class. Most likely, I’m standing in tree pose, and most certainly, I’m struggling to keep my attention on my breath, instead of concentrating on not falling over!

If our society were to answer my question about balance, the first phrase that might come to mind is “work-life balance”. Hundreds of writers and thinkers have shared their ideas on the topic. Articles, books, and podcast abound with advice on how to achieve this elusive life goal.

I, too, think about this topic a great deal. In my role as Assistant Director in the Alumni Personal and Career Development Center, I think about work a lot. How do we find meaning in our jobs? How do we make informed choices about our careers? How do we balance our career decisions with our lives outside of work?

The important answers to these questions lie at the heart of occupational wellbeing. Our Office of Wellbeing aptly describes the dimension this way, “more than just a balancing act between work and life, Occupational Wellbeing is also about finding purpose and fulfillment in what we do.” There’s strong research to support the impact of finding balance and fulfillment in our lives and within our work. I want to share two theories from the world of career development with you, with the hope that these ideas will help you think in new ways about your own occupational wellbeing.

Psychologist Donald Super proposed the idea that we all move through different career stages and that we all occupy a variety of life roles. Think about these stages and roles in your own life. As a small child, you had ideas about your future jobs. Throughout school, these ideas may have morphed. As a college student, your interests may be leading you in new directions. If you are a staff or faculty member, perhaps your career has evolved in different iterations over the years. All of our career will continue to change as our workplaces keep pace with our changing world.

Regardless of your career stage, you occupy a variety of life roles at any one time. You might be a student, an employee, a child, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a volunteer, and a citizen. All of these roles interact with one another and take considerable amounts of time and emotional energy. Keeping these stages and roles balances is less about fitting everything in, and more about making choices that align with what is most important to you.

The second theory proposes the idea that we all can have different orientations to work. The research suggests that individuals can think of work in three ways: as a job, as a career, or as a calling. Those with job orientations find fulfillment in doing their work well. They are content in mastering and continuing to do the work, and may not be looking to grow into a different role or change companies. Those with career orientations find fulfillment in achieving in their work. They want new challenges and pursue opportunities to expand or move forward in their roles. Those with calling orientations find fulfillment in work that is deeply meaningful and personally relevant to them.

This language might be familiar to you. We tend to value these orientations differently, often privileging calling as the ultimate goal and assuming that “just working a job” is somehow less than. Many articles advise us all to “find our passion” so that we can “do what we love and never work a day in our lives!” Other viral quotes advise us to “hustle harder” and “sleep when we’re dead.” These contradictory opinions can crowd our own good judgment as we try to discover our own orientation to work.

It’s important to understand that not one of these orientations is better than another. What I find most interesting about this career research is how these orientations are not static, and in fact, our orientations to work can change as we move through our career stages and as we adopt different life roles.

Just as standing in tree pose reminds me that periods of challenge don’t last forever, finding fulfillment in work requires a long view. As you seek to find fulfillment in your work, understand that your career stages, your life roles, and your orientations to work will evolve. Your interests will change and you will find your way to new challenges. Give yourself the grace to be flexible and the space to center what is most important to you.