Work Life Balance Myth

The more things change, the more things stay the same. It is that time of the year again when we start reflecting on what we have accomplished in the previous year and making new year resolutions. As career people, most times we say “My family is the best part of my life and I will spend more time with them this year”. Another year comes and goes without living up to our promises and we blame work for being unreliable. It is not easier said than done. You can do it. When you have values that act as your compass, you are bound to head towards the right direction.

I would like to use my personal experience to illustrate how work-life balance plays out in our lives and how we have a choice to keep our promises or not. The reality is that with any choice comes ownership of results whether intended or not because when we choose a particular behaviour, it means anticipating and taking responsibility for the consequences that arise from that choice. Work-Life Balance does not mean an equal balance. A balanced life is a personal choice, influenced by your circumstances, your life goal and therefore priorities.

I believe that we should begin everything with the end in mind. Having a personal vision for your life not only helps you work out who is important in your life and what is important. My vision is: “To live my life with passion, integrity and ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear”.

I lost my sister on the 7th of December 2006. She took her last breath in my arms. On the 6th of December 2006, she called at 4:30 in the morning to say goodbye. Even though she had a terminal illness, she was not diagnosed as fatal at this particular time. I spent most of the morning on the phone with her and my mother. I had a meeting with a prominent black business person who is also supposedly my mentor and a friend at 10:00 that morning whose office was five minutes away from the meeting venue. Choice time presented itself. Should I cut off the conversation with my mother and sister thus making them aware that work comes first and call them when I am in the car instead of continuing to talk to them on the landline. Or rush to the meeting and come across as a conscientious business woman. Or continue to comfort my family. I chose my family. At 9:30, I realized I will be 15 minutes late as I was still on the phone. I sent a message from my cell phone to warn the person I was to meet of my delay.

As I arrived at the meeting venue parking at 10:10, I received a call from his personal assistant asking if I was going to make the meeting. I advised that I was parking the car and will be with him shortly. I then called the person I was meeting and he tells me he is already looking for his car in the parking area. My shock and surprise knew no bounds at this admission. I apologised for being late and attempted to explain that my sister is in hospital and that I did send a message informing him of this and the fact that I will be running 15 minutes late. Needless to say, finding his car was his priority. He said he gets lost in this particular shopping area and hates meeting there, though he agreed to meet there in the first place. As another fellow human being and supposed friend, no concern was shown for my situation or my sister’s. The fact that the face-to-face meeting was actually set up because they were documents to be exchanged was dismissed. He requested that the meeting take place over the cell phone whilst both of us were in the parking lot at different parts of the shopping centre.

At 18:30, I received a call from my mother saying my sister does not seem great in spirit, she thinks I should come home. The rest of the week was jam packed with critical meetings which were my last opportunity to get commitments before the New Year. Choice time – all meetings were cancelled. Including a date I was really looking forward to. But family is family. No regrets. The idea was to help lift my sister’s spirits as she hated any kind of discomfort. I needed to be with my sister. On the 7th of December 2006, as my mother and I walked into my sister’s room in the hospital, she was happy and said her family is complete. She was weak, but she wanted to go home where my father was waiting for us. The doctor agreed with us that though she was not 100%, she would be better at home.

As my mum, dad and I got her into her bedroom, she was in my arms. She took her last breath. It looked like she was just sleeping. Those were the last moments with my sister. We had been joking around and chatting about this and that. 14:00 struck. She had just asked my mother for the time, after asking me for the time at 13:40 and for water as well. Despite the most indescribable pain of losing my only sibling, the moment had never been more perfect. My personal vision has never been clearer. I never felt more authentic in my entire life. I realised what I really meant when I wrote my vision almost twelve years ago. “To live my life with passion, integrity and ecstasy so that every day can be the last with no regrets and no fear”.

You may be interested in how my mentor and friend reacted? He passed on his condolences when I told him of her passing on the 7th of December 2006. I have never heard from him again.

How many more promises are you willing to break to your family and the people who truly love and care for you so that you can get further up in the corporate ladder or to clinch that BEE deal? It is not work that is to be blamed for your lack of work-life balance. It is YOU. Take responsibility for your choices. Make choices that you can live with. Not even a call or meeting with the President of this country or any other, for that matter, should cause you to stray from making your family and sense of integrity paramount, if that is what you say you treasure. There were many crossroads during the two most critical days prior to my sister’s last days. I could have taken many other paths. But what really counts, as Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.


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