Jul 19, 2020

The ideal work life balance

The term work life balance is one I hear often. Companies use it to convince employees that theirs is a good workplace. Friends use it to tell each other how important life outside work can be, even though it doesn't show up in tangible forms in the short term such as a monthly paycheck.

For me, I first understood this concept when I was working on my startup while interning at a different startup in Israel. Much of my weekdays were spent interning at a startup and my weekends on working on my startup. I quite enjoyed both, but it did certainly take a toll a few months in. I came across the term when my roommate at the time, a few years older and wiser than me, suggested I consider not spending as much time on work as I do now. 

The concept of spending less time on work and more on travel, leisure, relaxation, netflix or whatever else this life outside work included came off as strange to me at best. I wasn't clear on what I could achieve from this other than lower stress levels and perhaps increased productivity that would in turn help me work better. It didn't take me more than a year or so to learn how there is so much more to this. 

It was when I found myself devoting a 100 percent of my time to my startup that I started to miss the other aspects of my life that I saw my friends experience - travel, late night hangouts at college, hobbies that aren't going to push your work life forward, and the list goes on. More so, in times when my startup wasn't doing so well, my whole life wasn't great, because my work was 100% of my life. 

At that point I started to see work life balance almost as a diversification strategy - one where my "life" can be diversified into a few different components. When one component isn't going very well, there are a few others to balance each other out. If work is only 50% of life, and the other 50% constitutes life outside work, a bad day at work doesn't feel as bad as it would be work was 100% of life. 

A lot of the times, the personal life side of things includes one's friends, family and "me time". For me, I realised that the life outside work has to be much more than that. Traditionally, one's life purpose is derived from work. No matter how little time you spend on work, that itself can make work a more important part of life even if it constitutes a small percentage in hours. So even if you spend half of your waking hours on work, and the other half on friends, family and me time, the purpose that work gives you can give it more than a 50% weightage when it comes to how a good or bad day at work influences your mood and emotions. 

So to truly have a balance, I think life outside work has to constitute some purpose and/or meaning for it to truly balance out work. That could come from a lot of things. For those who are parents, life purpose or meaning could come from parenting. For those who have a solid network of friends and family, it could come from that. For me, I felt that the balance only really happens when I have a bit more going on in my personal life. These could be hobbies or side projects - ideally a mix of both. Having some sort of interest to pursue outside of my main job that could eventually turn into a part time or full time profession of it's own really helps me lower the influence my work has on my life. In the past, yoga teacher training and volunteering with a non profit have been very helpful to me in balancing my life out. Hobbies such as learning a language or being part of a book club help too, but not nearly as much as a more serious side project. 

This is not to say that one has to balance out their lives such that work has lesser influence. I mean, high risk high reward right? The more eggs you put in one basket, the bigger the reward might be at the end of the day. So for those are more of go big or go home, work life balance isn't a great idea. It takes away the time and resources they would need to go big. It is always a good idea to have a support network, but the purpose of a support network may no longer be the balance their life, but rather to propel their career in times they need more emotional support. 

For me, I have found that putting too much time into my work doesn't work for me in the long run. It increases my stress level and frequency of burnt out, putting me in a situation where I am not prepared to run the marathon. I have noticed that this is not always true for everyone - some are able to work 12+ hour a day all their lives without too much else going on in their lives. I think these types of people do really well in professions that demand more time - like medicine, law, banking, entrepreneurship.

But for those who are seeking a work life balance, it is key to think about what life outside work would hold meaning and purpose the same way work can bring purpose to our lives. For it's not so much the number of hours, but rather the meaning behind the hours that strike the balance.

Jul 13, 2020

Creativity makes my life better

Just a few days ago, I started work on a mini personal project which involved more creativity than my usual day does. It involved editing a video and adding any musical or artistic touches to it. These are not areas my eyes and ears have been trained in, but I still think its fun to play around and see what magic I can make with my limited skill. 

Whilst doing that this past week, I noticed all sorts of side effects of adding some creativity into my otherwise non creative routine. While I often read, design PowerPoint presentations and do those sorts of things that exercise a tiny bit of my creativity, it is highly limited and not something I spend a lot of time on. Spending a few hours this past week doing something creative led to improved quality of conversation, increased curiosity and the desire to pursue more creative endeavors. 

When it came to conversation, I had more to say and humor came more easily. My conversations overall felt more entertaining, at least to myself if not to other people. I asked more questions, which led to further quality conversation. 

More so, the whole creative endeavor felt like a drug in some way, one that I wanted more of when I was done. It wasn't just fun in the moment, but I liked the life it brought back to me after all the stay at home and lack of the usual stimulation that I was used to getting living in a bustling city. 

It also made me realize how the lack of creative work in my life had slowly but surely negatively impacted my life quality outside of work. It made me think of how important it is to keep those elements in my life whether its a part of the work I get paid for, or the part I do in my spare time. 

Going forward, I hope to find more ways to keep creativity as a part of my everyday, even if its just for the sake of it! 

Jul 5, 2020

So what you would like to do this weekend?

The part of the world I live in is inching back to pre-covid times. Now that inter household interaction is allowed and many public places are open, there is opportunity for meetings and social outings. 

I found myself enjoying these outings quite a lot a few weekends ago when they initially become a reality again. It was nice to go eat outside and have a bit of noise around. It was also nice to exchange insights with friends and hear their perspectives again, which had reduced to an extent despite phone interactions. 

However, a few weeks into the old normal, I find myself quite missing the times I could spend more time at home, with myself. Not that I am complaining about being able to see my friends and loved ones again, but I certainly feel more pressure to see people now that it's a possibility again.

It's interesting to think about the subtle societal pressure of socialising that especially comes with being a young person in a city. For myself, I could certainly choose not to go out and say no to every social outing that I'm asked on, but it would come at the cost of a smaller social circle and fewer friends, which can be a dangerous situation to put oneself in especially if you're an immigrant living without family. 

In a way, saying "I don't want to socialise this weekend" too often to too many people is a way to dig yourself a grave of loneliness which is very hard to come back out from. Friends who want more social activity than you can give them will naturally gravitate towards other people who can give them the level of social activity they need on a regular basis. 

In that sense, I think it's harder for introverts to form friendships given that they won't always desire a high level of social interaction that may be ultimately required for a strong friendship to emerge. Sustaining a strong friendship is more sustainable for introverts, but only if the friends they make are happy with the level of interaction they can regularly get from the said introvert. 

It makes me think that perhaps a solution is to always set low expectations with friends such that they don't ask or expect you to be around them too often. I personally love the concept of friends who you text a lot with (almost everyday) but see in person only once in a while (once a month). That way, you are constantly in touch with each other and surrounded by love, but at the same time, you get time to yourself when you have the chance for precious downtime. 

That practice is easier to put in place at the beginning of friendships, but I think it is worth trying even with existing friends to make existing friendships more durable and sustainable. 

So the next time someone asks me "So what do you want to do this weekend?", I think I'm going to tell them how excited I am to see them next month. 

Is migration bad for anyone?

Recently I started to read Good Economics for Bad Times, a book recommended by Bill Gates and written by Nobel Laureates ...

One of the early chapters of the book talks about migration and its benefits. I knew migration was generally a good thing in that it benefitted the migrants country of origin as well country of residence, but I didnt realise the large extent to which migration is good for the world. 

To begin with, migrants make more than they would make back home. Often times, they send money back to their home country which helps the economy of their country of origin. Their kids, whether or not they come along, can get a better education and higher level of expsure to the world. More so, migrants add value to the economy of their country of residence. Low skilled migrants often do jobs the locals won't do, such as cleaning, gardening, domestic help. A lot of this allows for the local workforce to take up higher level jobs. The locals who were originally a factory worker can now manage the migrants who are doing their former job. Mothers who otherwise would have to stay home for child care can hire a migrant as a nanny and go to work. In the case of high skilled labor, often times, there are not enough locals in a population to perform tasks that the market needs, which high skilled migrants are equipped for. In the case of Silicon Valley, developers are in high demand and all positions would be hard to fill if it wasn't for migrants.

However, this isn't the story we hear on a day to day basis. When it comes to reading the news, it's not rare to hear about another developed country trying to reduce immigration. Immigration hasn't drastically increased much since the 1960s. Migrants account for 3 percent of the world's population. However, migration policies seem to get tighter. 

So why are migrants opposed by sections of the world population? One of the common misconceptions on the basis of which policy makers announce anti immigration policies is that they threaten the local population's employment rates. Based on the book, the numbers have hardly shown this to be true for low skilled immigration. Low skilled migrants often take jobs that locals dont want for pay that locals wont agree to. If migrants are taken out of the picture because of new immigration policies, their employers either switch to some form of automation or stop production of that product altogether instead of hiring locals at a higher wage. In the scenario that locals and migrants are competing for the same job, employers will often prefer the familiar ie. the local population anyway, which means the migrants are the losers of that type of situation. 

There are also other benefits migrants bring with them. Other than adding to their destination country's GDP, they also spend money in the destination country on food, shelter and other goods and services they require. This often creates jobs for the locals because of an increased demand. These jobs are typically created for the strata that most needs it - such as restaurants, barbers, shops, etc. In the case of high skilled migrants, many of them are willing to go places that the locals wouldn't. Relatively rural areas benefit from high skilled labor such as doctors, lawyers, etc which they otherwise wouldn't have as easy access to. 

One of the arguments politicians like Trump use against immigration is national security. Its unfortunate that many terrorist attacks come from the Muslim population. However, many of the immigrant populations of the past were not welcomed either when they started immigrating, such as the Germans and the Chinese in the United States. It almost seems like there is a threshold beyond which a certain migrant population becomes familiar, and is no longer a threat. For this to happen, however, there has to be some level of contact and integration of the population, such as mixed schools or neighborhoods where migrants live alongside locals. This may take some time to happen and lead to increased alienation and hatred until there is social integration. 

All in all, the book really made me think about why migration earned such a bad reputation in the first place, despite all the benefits it has brought to the world. Is this just another pure case of hatred and xenophobia? That's the only possible answer I can see.