The term “work-life balance” is so common that it has lost its meaning.
Ask a bunch of people what work-life balance is for them, and they all will come with a different meaning.
Balance means a state of equilibrium, a condition where everything is still and in equal proportion.
Have you ever had a day when either your work or your life was still? Do you spend your time in equal proportion on work and life?
This suggestion of work-life balance is based on the assumption that work is bad, and life is good; spend more time on life and less time on work, and you will have a happy life.
That is a wrong assumption.
Let me make a case for work.
Work is a major part of our lives. It defines us. It provides intellectual stimulation, helps us learn, expresses ourselves, pays for our bills, and helps us socialize and collaborate with other people.
When done for thirty to forty years of our lives, it becomes a habit.
Work is essential for a fulfilling life. Without it, life is purposeless, uninspiring, and dull.
But then we are expected to be at work 24/7.
There are no defined working hours.
Technological advancement means even when we are not physically at work, work can reach us.
If you can’t get out of range, you are not really away from work. It is very easy for your work to claim demands on your time, particularly your free time.
The demand for our time has been increasing with other technological advances such as social media.
Humans are not evolving at the pace of technological advances.
Evolution works at a very slow pace. Big changes take hundreds of generations.
Humans were designed for low attention spans so that we can scan our environment and keep ourselves safe.
We were also designed to rest and take it easy to conserve our energy. But we are expected to be productive for several hours of the day.
Evolution or rather lack of evolution is the reason why we are struggling to fit the huge demands of work into our lives. We are trying to get ourselves to do something very hard for us.
It changes the scale of our troubles. Although so often it seems incredibly personal that one fails to combine work harmoniously with family life or with exercise or with maintaining old friendships, the charge should not really be laid primarily against oneself. The fault lies with something much larger than our own individual failings (real though those are). It lies with where we are in history, with the nature of the economy and in the slow pace of evolution.The Book of Life
Then there is this argument:
Our brain is funny. Its primary function is to keep us safe from danger. It has us believe that in order to insulate us from such, we must work harder, meaner, and longer to stay ahead of potential competitors who can rip the rug out from under us at any moment. But the reality is, when we are well rested and reflective rather than reactive, we put ourselves in a better place; a place that is well insulated from the ultimate danger of meaningless or, even worse, toxic, self-destructive work.”Charles F. Glassman, Brain Drain The Breakthrough That Will Change Your Life
Poet and Philosopher David Whyte call “work/life balance” a “phrase that often becomes a lash with which we punish ourselves.”
In his new book The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship, he offers an emboldening way out of this cultural trap.
The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.[…]
Work, like marriage, is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself. It is a place full of powerful undercurrents, a place to find our selves, but also, a place to drown, losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.[…]
Good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it. We may not have an arranged ceremony at the altar to ritualize our dedication to work, but many of us can remember a specific moment when we realized we were made for a certain work, a certain career or a certain future: a moment when we held our hand in a fist and made unspoken vows to what we had just glimpsed.David Whyte in The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship
The truth is there will always be unbalanced in work and life.
There will be times (days or months or years) when work will be your number one priority, and there will be a time when life will take precedence over your work.
Your ability to identify those times and maturity to be flexible will determine the “balance” in your life. Your time and energy shift based on the rotating demands of each area of your life.
“There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” — Alain de Botton.
When we start losing ourselves in work, when we see ourselves as an extension of work and have no identity left outside of work, we have a problem.
Too many people fell prey to ‘work is life’ syndrome and pay a heavy price when work is no longer there.