x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Balancing all forms of success

Why a balance between work, family and friends is more important than ever.

We all strive to find the right balance in our lives. Sometimes we work too much or play too much, and sometimes we even sleep too much. In this highly charged, fast-paced world, finding time to make plans for the future is becoming increasingly difficult, and we rely on pure adrenaline to see us through from one day to the next. Everyone wants to "have it all", but time constraints challenge people to juggle career pressures with social, family, and personal commitments, often with limited success.

In order to be truly productive, you need to find the perfect mixture of the three. Working 24 hours a day won't necessarily earn you more money or make you more successful. In fact, it can lead to a burnout, leaving you unable to function. This is why you should look for ways to work smarter, not harder, while avoiding too much pressure. Jane Spearing, 29, works as a sales manager at a financial institution in Dubai. Although her job can be stressful at times and she often finds herself putting in overtime at the office, it is her husband, James, whom she has been more concerned about.

"It all came to a head last month when he started experiencing chest pains," she says. "His job as a business development manager requires him to effectively be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and recently it seems to have taken its toll on his well-being." Having moved to the UAE two years ago from the UK, Mr and Mrs Spearing both landed dream jobs. They were able to rent a beautiful villa, buy two cars and generally make the most of what life here has to offer. However, things soon started to change, and Mr Spearing found himself under more pressure to perform at work, an experience many of us can relate to.

Workouts at the gym took a back seat, and instead of spending the weekends relaxing with his wife or socialising with friends he was in the office trying to keep his workload under control. "He was rarely home from the office before 9pm," adds Mrs Spearing. "I began to notice some telltale signs of stress. He was increasingly unable to unwind and to take his mind off work. Even when at home or on holiday his BlackBerry phone would be flashing with incoming emails or he'd be huddled over his laptop."

Now, after experiencing an acute hypertension attack brought on by stress, Mr Spearing is finally starting to realise how crucial it is to maintain a balance between work and play. "This is important not only for my mental or physical well-being, but also for the sake of my marriage and friendships," he explains. "I moved to the UAE for a better life, and so far I haven't been able to sit back and enjoy the benefits of my hard work."

Mr Spearing's story is more common than one might think. Devika Singh, psychologist and learning specialist at a treatment centre in Dubai, says up to 90 per cent of clients with work-related stress have some form of psychological problem that can affect their overall quality of life. "This is not uncommon," Dr Singh says. "Stress finds a way to manifest itself somehow." In the case of Mr Spearing, she explains, his recent attack is a clear sign of his struggle with meeting the daily demands of life.

Dr Singh believes the key to balance is setting boundaries. "There will always be work waiting for you," she says. "It's important to assert to yourself and others that in order to be healthy and productive you need to set the boundary. It is also helpful to have a hobby or activity you enjoy and schedule for after work at least once or twice a week." Thankfully, Mr Spearing has made some adjustments.

He has rejoined the gym, frequently finding the time to work out and improve his physical fitness. He now makes time to eat three square meals a day, rather than just grabbing something on the go, and he also makes a point to spend quality time with his friends and family. "My energy levels have shot up and I am now far more capable of prioritising my time," says Mr Spearing. "Although I am no longer a slave to my desk, far from being less productive at work my performance has noticeably improved and I am able to apply myself to my work with more vigour and assertiveness."

The Spearing's story is echoed by many others living and working in the UAE, all finding it increasingly difficult to switch off when it is time to go home at the end of the day. "We are all experiencing some degree of financial turmoil, whether we live here or back at home," says Sarah Harold, a marketing executive working in Dubai who is from South Africa. "This so-called credit crisis is having a direct affect on our daily lives in a very visible way," she says. "Cost of living is going up, we have to cut down on spending and job security is practically non-existent, with many of my friends being laid off from their jobs. I am afraid to switch off in case I am next in line."

The majority of us have been living unbalanced lives for a long time now, and the problem has only been exasperated by the economic downturn. Too many mothers have felt the pressure to return to work sooner than they expected, whether through guilt or financial necessity, and many of them feel as if they have to choose between their work and their children. Others have to hold down multiple jobs, often working straight from one shift to another with little time for respite just to afford rent payments at the end of the month.

There has to be a framework to help solve the problem of imbalance in our consumer-driven society. Far too many people are suffering from exhaustion, experiencing failing marriages or just struggling to cope financially for us to just ignore this worrying trend. And while no nationality, age or gender is immune to this problem, there are some people that, by using a little common sense, have successfully managed to strike a balance between their home life and the way they make their money.

"Always find the time to have dinner together with the TV, phone and computer switched off," advises Sunila Kapil, a housewife from India. "It's a great time to unwind and talk about your day," Ms Kapil says. "Initially, my husband found it difficult to clear his mind from work matters, but now he has come to rely on this daily ritual to help separate his home life from his time in the office. "We have even started cookery lessons together to make our evening wind-down experience more enjoyable, bringing us closer together." Similarly, after 25 years of living as an expat in the UAE, Simon Fowler has finally understood how important it is to separate the two sides of his life.

"By day I am an engineer at the Jebel Ali Free Zone in Dubai. I have huge responsibilities and there are a lot of people that rely on me to perform," he says. "But more importantly I am also a husband, a father and a friend. "Without my friends and family around me there would be no reason for me to work so hard to make a living," Mr Fowler adds. "Whereas I used to live to work, I have now finally figured out that my wife has been right to have encouraged me to work to live."

And there is no better time to strike balance in your life than now. Dr Singh says that the global economic meltdown has made dealing effectively with stress especially important. "One would assume or hope that technology and accessibility to global markets would have reduced this stress," she says. "However, it seems there is an increase in overall stress."