Why you need to switch off in an ‘always on’ culture

When you’re at the top level of your chosen sport or profession, it’s tempting to turn into a walking meme. Be The 24/7 Athlete … Grind Now, Shine Later … or, as the songbird of our generation, Rihanna, puts it: Work, Work, Work, Work, Work, Work.

But how realistic is it to be ‘always on’? To my way of thinking, you can’t be.

Clearly you didn’t reach the top of your game – whatever you do – by ducking hard work and heading down to the pub. Success, as another meme says (sorry, I’m getting very memey), is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. That means choosing the right pathways to your goals – for me, that might be ordering the grilled fish and salad instead of a parmie and chips. Yet there also needs to be room in your life for family, friends and fun. In other words, all work and no play makes you very unsatisfied.

So as I stare down the barrel of a six-week international tour to finish out the year, work/life balance is very much on my mind. With 34-plus games in a year, rugby is the only footy code in Australia that competes for 11 months of the year. I understand if you’re the type who is kicking goals in business, maybe having even one work-free month a year sounds impossibly luxurious. I’m also studying for a Masters in International Business, so when any downtime does come, I know in the back of my mind that I need to be churning through an assignment, because who knows when there will be another break.

Yet somehow, we’ve got to make time and mental space for the things that are really important. Partner. Kids. Mates. Good times. Side hustles. Anything that gives you a break from that thing that dominates your internal dialogue for the other 95 per cent of the week. You need to know how to reward yourself.

For me, I try to make sure I spend as much spare time as possible with my wife. She’s my rock and I understand that I need time with ‘the boss’, no matter what the timeframe. While she’s the ‘yin’ in my life, the ‘yang’ is the unique solidarity I share with my teammates, which is something I can’t replicate elsewhere. it’s a bond that is also incredibly hard to put into words.

Finding balance between the two is an extremely fine thing, particularly if, like me, you have a tendency to be results-driven and look at things in retrospect. Didn’t get the result you wanted? “Too much time away from the job.” Got the result you wanted? “Am I sure I’m enjoying myself away from work enough?”

As a young player in your chosen endeavour, you need to find that level of professionalism to be able to get the job done, but also enjoy some down time and not just move on to the next job. I often struggle with this side of things. I need to get better at enjoying the wins because they are sometimes very hard to come by!

With your ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ sorted, you’ve got the mentality and temperament to be able to do your best work, whether it’s crossing the white line or stepping into your office.