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Can we keep our personal and professional lives separate?

Hint: It is a futile attempt!

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One Monday morning, I was facilitating a workshop on Emotion Management to a class full of business professionals. The first question I asked them was “How do you manage your emotions on a daily basis?”

To my astonishment, more than half the class replied, “By keeping our personal and professional lives separate.” And I wondered how on earth can one do that? I fuelled my curiosity further to solicit solid examples from the class and these were their responses:-

1. We are too busy to carry our problems everywhere!
2. We settle our problems in their respective areas amicably or just ignore
3. Work is a getaway from home and vice-versa, so why bother? Things will settle down with time
4. It is do-able!
5. By diverting our focus to something else


Interesting responses!

Without discounting their opinions, I asked 2 questions that I thought would have possibly decided the fate of my workshop, but I had to. And they were:-

1. Would you be able to give 100% at work if your loved one is unwell at home?
2. Similarly, would you be able to sleep peacefully if you’ve had an argument with your colleague, knowing that you are going to face the same person the next day?

The answer to both my questions was “No”. There can be a number of questions and situations that we could frame. But the point I want to drive home is that there is no such thing as a personal and professional life. We are often advised by people around us to keep our personal and professional lives separate and not allow the challenges of one area to affect the other. But how true is that? Our brains don’t function that way. In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article summarizing research on human thoughts per day. It was found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. It is therefore primarily impossible to separate our thoughts from our environments.


The truth is, we have one life and we experience many events in a day in both the environments. The moment we take setbacks to heart with failure to deal with it is when we categorise them as a personal or professional challenge. 

World Economic Forum published the top 10 skills needed for one to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution and Emotional Intelligence is one of them. It is one of the skills that will have far-reaching results in business and people. With such a revelation, it is imperative for us to take a hard look at our capabilities and deal with events that happen to us let alone scatter our energies in categorising them or resign to fate.

“We are not animals. We are not a product of what has happened to us in our past. We have the power of choice.”

– Stephen Covey

Now, we all do have a choice over our responses. Therefore, here are my thoughts on how I’d deal with these approaches:-

1. We are too busy to carry our problems everywhere

Really! Do you carry your problems? I thought they followed us everywhere whether we like it or not. If only I dealt with the ones I possibly can and return later to the ones that cannot be handled immediately, I could have possibly saved myself from a bigger meltdown.

2. We settle our problems in their respective areas amicably or just ignore


It is true that not all situations can be resolved with immediate effect but ignorance isn’t always a bliss either. It is equal to an open wound that isn’t addressed. It only gets worse! There is power in dialogue and I believe everything can be resolved through the power of communication and empathy. Even if it means that you need some quiet time to reflect, do communicate.  

3. Work is a getaway from home and vice-versa, so why bother? Things will settle down with time

No matter how many miles you run from difficult situations, they always catch up with you. Marathons have a finish line. Problems don’t. Time may heal but it may also worsen the situation or severe a connection. Take a call! You will regardless be swinging between work and home so why not make it places to thrive.

4. It is do-able!

Well, congratulations! But take a rain-check to see if you aren’t doing this to just keep the peace. Suppressed emotions and situations often erupt in a bad way.

5. By diverting our focus to something else

This is yet another example of ignorance. However, it is a good idea to sleep over an issue that needs deliberation. It’s a matured way to look at it with a better lens. But just make sure, you return to address it.

While we go through countless difficult and not so difficult situations in our everyday lives, each demands that we structure our approach to grow with them. Our behaviours are different at home and work and therefore we categorise them as personal and professional life challenges. However, it is imperative for one to know that emotions are simply triggered because of how you’ve allowed yourself to feel. After all, you will experience joy in equal measure on your promotion at work and the birth of your newborn. Wouldn’t you?

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