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  • What I thought I would do is I would start with a simple request. I'd like all of you

  • to pause for a moment, you wretched weaklings, and take stock of your miserable existence.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now that was the advice that St. Benedict gave his rather startled followers in the

  • fifth century. It was the advice that I decided to follow myself when I turned 40. Up until

  • that moment, I had been that classic corporate warrior -- I was eating too much, I was drinking

  • too much, I was working too hard and I was neglecting the family. And I decided that

  • I would try and turn my life around. In particular, I decided I would try to address the thorny

  • issue of work-life balance. So I stepped back from the workforce, and I spent a year at

  • home with my wife and four young children. But all I learned about work-life balance

  • from that year was that I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn't have

  • any work. (Laughter) Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.

  • So I went back to work, and I've spent these seven years since struggling with, studying

  • and writing about work-life balance. And I have four observations I'd like to share with

  • you today. The first is: if society's to make any progress on this issue, we need an honest

  • debate. But the trouble is so many people talk so much rubbish about work-life balance.

  • All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask

  • the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible

  • with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family. Now the first step

  • in solving any problem is acknowledging the reality of the situation you're in. And the

  • reality of the society that we're in is there are thousands and thousands of people out

  • there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they

  • hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like. (Laughter)

  • (Applause) It's my contention that going to work on Friday in jeans and [a] T-shirt isn't

  • really getting to the nub of the issue.

  • (Laughter)

  • The second observation I'd like to make is we need to face the truth that governments

  • and corporations aren't going to solve this issue for us. We should stop looking outside.

  • It's up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that

  • we want to lead. If you don't design your life, someone else will design it for you,

  • and you may just not like their idea of balance. It's particularly important -- this isn't

  • on the World Wide Web, is it? I'm about to get fired -- it's particularly important that

  • you never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation. Now

  • I'm not talking here just about the bad companies -- the "abattoirs of the human soul," as I

  • call them. (Laughter) I'm talking about all companies. Because commercial companies are

  • inherently designed to get as much out of you [as] they can get away with. It's in their

  • nature; it's in their DNA; it's what they do -- even the good, well-intentioned companies.

  • On the one hand, putting childcare facilities in the workplace is wonderful and enlightened.

  • On the other hand, it's a nightmare -- it just means you spend more time at the bloody

  • office. We have to be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want

  • in our life.

  • The third observation is we have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which

  • to judge our balance. Before I went back to work after my year at home, I sat down and

  • I wrote out a detailed, step-by-step description of the ideal balanced day that I aspired to.

  • And it went like this: wake up well rested after a good night's sleep. Have sex. Walk

  • the dog. Have breakfast with my wife and children. Have sex again. (Laughter) Drive the kids

  • to school on the way to the office. Do three hours' work. Play a sport with a friend at

  • lunchtime. Do another three hours' work. Meet some mates in the pub for an early evening

  • drink. Drive home for dinner with my wife and kids. Meditate for half an hour. Have

  • sex. Walk the dog. Have sex again. Go to bed. (Applause) How often do you think I have that

  • day? (Laughter) We need to be realistic. You can't do it all in one day. We need to elongate

  • the time frame upon which we judge the balance in our life, but we need to elongate it without

  • falling into the trap of the "I'll have a life when I retire, when my kids have left

  • home, when my wife has divorced me, my health is failing, I've got no mates or interests

  • left." (Laughter) A day is too short; "after I retire" is too long. There's got to be a

  • middle way.

  • A fourth observation: We need to approach balance in a balanced way. A friend came to

  • see me last year -- and she doesn't mind me telling this story -- a friend came to see

  • me last year and said, "Nigel, I've read your book. And I realize that my life is completely

  • out of balance. It's totally dominated by work. I work 10 hours a day; I commute two

  • hours a day. All of my relationships have failed. There's nothing in my life apart from

  • my work. So I've decided to get a grip and sort it out. So I joined a gym." (Laughter)

  • Now I don't mean to mock, but being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn't more balanced;

  • it's more fit. (Laughter) Lovely though physical exercise may be, there are other parts to

  • life -- there's the intellectual side; there's the emotional side; there's the spiritual

  • side. And to be balanced, I believe we have to attend to all of those areas -- not just

  • do 50 stomach crunches.

  • Now that can be daunting. Because people say, "Bloody hell mate, I haven't got time to get

  • fit. You want me to go to church and call my mother." And I understand. I truly understand

  • how that can be daunting. But an incident that happened a couple of years ago gave me

  • a new perspective. My wife, who is somewhere in the audience today, called me up at the

  • office and said, "Nigel, you need to pick our youngest son" -- Harry -- "up from school."

  • Because she had to be somewhere else with the other three children for that evening.

  • So I left work an hour early that afternoon and picked Harry up at the school gates. We

  • walked down to the local park, messed around on the swings, played some silly games. I

  • then walked him up the hill to the local cafe, and we shared a pizza for two, then walked

  • down the hill to our home, and I gave him his bath and put him in his Batman pajamas.

  • I then read him a chapter of Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach." I then put him

  • to bed, tucked him in, gave him a kiss on his forehead and said, "Goodnight, mate,"

  • and walked out of his bedroom. As I was walking out of his bedroom, he said, "Dad?" I went,

  • "Yes, mate?" He went, "Dad, this has been the best day of my life, ever." I hadn't done

  • anything, hadn't taken him to Disney World or bought him a Playstation.

  • Now my point is the small things matter. Being more balanced doesn't mean dramatic upheaval

  • in your life. With the smallest investment in the right places, you can radically transform

  • the quality of your relationships and the quality of your life. Moreover, I think, it

  • can transform society. Because if enough people do it, we can change society's definition

  • of success away from the moronically simplistic notion that the person with the most money

  • when he dies wins, to a more thoughtful and balanced definition of what a life well lived

  • looks like. And that, I think, is an idea worth spreading.

  • (Applause)

What I thought I would do is I would start with a simple request. I'd like all of you

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A2 BEG balance life life balance work life laughter balanced

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work

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