‘Death Bed’ Philosophy

There is a philosophy that I often espouse to help manage stress – it’s morbidly called the ‘Death Bed Philosophy’. This is what I often tell people when they have the urge to take their work cell phones or laptops on their vacation, send emails over the weekend or cancel personal appointments for an ‘important’ meeting.

The ‘Death Bed Philosophy’ is essentially getting people to think about what they are likely to remember when they look back at their life. It’s about trying to focus on the ‘big picture’ to give us perspective on what really matters so that we can disconnect from work when we need to. When team members tell me they want to take their laptop on vacation, I challenge them and ask them why? The idea of vacation is to detach and looking back, they won’t remember that one email they sent to a client on vacation, but instead that they found a really random cute café on some obscure street which had amazing coffee. 

This is hardly a novel concept. There is a plethora of literature on the internet on work-life balance, work-life harmony, managing work-life priorities, etc. Yet we tend to get caught up in the daily grind and put off attending our personal priorities day after day after day. There are also several studies and reports on how organizations can help set up more sustainable environments, but I want to specifically discuss how we as individuals can at least try to take back some of our power.

This is clearly not a gender-specific issue; both men and women struggle with work-life balance, harmony, whatever you want to call it. Given that women are fairly recent entrants into the workforce, there is a drive to emulate our male counterparts in commitment, dedication and time – all of which are admirable qualities and we definitely owe our employers a sense of accountability and responsibility. However, we should pay heed to when we are crashing and burning. A study published by Forbes noted that women are more likely to report workplace stress than men. 

This is where I try to use the ‘Death Bed Philosophy’. For example, it is Friday end of day and some work is not completed despite my utmost efforts at trying to complete it and my husband has planned a dinner out with me. I will try to be clear with my boss, colleague, client, whoever, of where I am with my work and next steps that I will undertake on Monday. At that point, the dinner my husband lovingly planned is more important and that time I will spend with him is what will rejuvenate me. Of course, like with any ‘rule’, I do need to ensure that my inability to complete that work on Friday won’t completely crash and burn the project. That being said, I find that most of the time, most things can wait and that no deadline is ever so urgent that you always need to put your personal life and priorities on hold. 

This is not easy to do and I will openly admit I have many times failed at following my own work ethos. Particularly earlier on in my career, I checked email everyday while on vacation, provided my personal email address if I went away and so on. Even now, after having been in the workforce for over a decade, fear of not meeting expectations or disapproval from a key stakeholder often get the better of me and I sacrifice the dinner or cancel a movie plan or check my work phone over the weekend incessantly to make sure I am not missing out on anything. And you know what? 99% of the time, there is nothing that is ever so urgent that I cannot handle during normal working hours. What I’ve also learned is that when I set my own boundaries, stakeholders at work respect my time and I am happier and not surprisingly, the work always gets done. When I do not and ignore self-care or personal priorities, I nosedive, both at home and at work. 

I recognize that this cannot happen in a vacuum; systems need to be set up to allow a person the ability to prioritize oneself. Work, home and social structures need to be established to truly allow for individuals to recharge, refresh and reinvigorate. Sometimes these systems aren’t perfect either. Ultimately, I want everyone, both men and women, to know it is absolutely okay to put yourself first, whether that be attending your child’s concert, or disconnecting from work for the entire weekend. 10, 20, 30 years from now, that’s what will matter.


Article provided by Sarah Iqbal-Khan

Sarah is an aspiring writer, who loves to travel and hopes to one day trek the Himalayas. She is an avid stamp collector and enjoys learning about new places and their histories through stamps. She currently lives in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband.

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