I keep hearing this term – Work-Life Balance.
What does it mean?
When I hear it I immediately think a couple of things.
You have work and you have life – and you should balance these things.
Life is supposed to be good, and therefore work is somehow bad.
Life and work are different things, somehow separate.
You should not spend too much time at work – as if what is meant by balance is allocating time properly.
I strongly believe that the four points above are all simply wrong.
My reasons are the following;
Work is part of your life – you don’t have life and then have work separately. It is all life.
Life can be good or bad; work can be good or bad. Some people with a bad life might come to work for relief.
You cannot balance your life in pure time terms – sometimes you are under pressure and the way to relieve the pressure is to spend more time clearing whatever it is that causes the pressure – whether at work or at home.
I strongly believe that the quest for each of us in life is to find meaning in what we do. Our whole life needs to have meaning, and therefore we need to see that we can find contributing meaning in all aspects of our life. We talk about stress. I think that the greatest source of stress for people is a lack of meaning, a lack of purpose. It must be awful just to drift, to wake up in the morning and to say, “Now what? Let me see what life brings me today.” That must be awful.
On the other hand, it is wonderful to wake up in the morning and to say, “There is a purpose for me. I know what I want to contribute, and I know how each part of the coming day will add to my purpose, and will give me meaning.” Of course this is a great simplification, and you will need to figure this lot out over a long time.
Each daily action will have different time horizons when measured in terms of your purpose. If you are studying it could be because you really just like studying, and the act itself gives some sort of meaning to you. Personally I would say that if this is the case you are getting a bit confused between what gives you pleasure and what gives you meaning. Alternatively, you might be studying something to improve your ability to make a future contribution to your society – that would give the studying meaning, and that is long term.
So my recommendation is for you to spend time figuring out what your purpose is. A good way to do this, is to think back on your life, and reconstruct in your mind those events or days which brought you the most fulfilment. Note that I have not suggested that you cast your mind back to when you had most fun. Fun in itself cannot give you any sense of meaning. Ironically fun can make you unhappy, because when you are not having fun, you somehow feel deprived, and you might long for more fun. Money is the same. You always need more. Have you ever noticed that truly happy people do not hanker after more of anything?
I am suggesting that you think hard about the days or events that brought you fulfilment, or a sense of meaning. You will probably notice that in each example you can think of, there was an element of contribution, or giving by you to others. If water skiing gives you pleasure, but on one occasion you managed to introduce the sport to someone special who may not have the opportunity to water ski – you will have had much more fun than if it was just all about you and the water skiing. Your day of sport gained meaning.
That is what you need to do with your work now. You need to find meaning in your work. Maybe it is the training that will enable you to make a more significant contribution to your clients, or to your subordinates. You may simply wish to be in a position to support your parents one day, after they have spent a lifetime looking after you. Whatever it is, you will know when you have discovered what gives you meaning. You will discover that almost nothing you do for only yourself can give you meaning.
Once you have defined your sense of meaning, and once you have found how your work life contributes to your life’s purpose, and helps to give you meaning, you will have found the secret to integrating your work into your life. If you cannot do this, it is of course quite possible that you are doing the wrong sort of work! You may need to change your work.
Now your work is part of your life, and you don’t have to “balance” it.
How much sense does the phrase “Work Life Balance” have when your work life is now successfully part of your whole life? It makes no sense at all to me, I can tell you that.
My proposal therefore, is that we start to talk about “Life Balance” or “Life Meaning”. Maybe you should stick to “Life Balance” or a whole lot of people will start to think you have lost your marbles. But you will know.
Then you can start to ask yourself about every single aspect of your life, not just work. You can ask yourself, “How does what I am doing now contribute now or in the future to the finding of meaning and purpose in my life?” You might start to find fewer places in your life for plain fun – parties, clubs, even sport. You might start to identify the takers in your life – people who drain your energy without ever putting anything back. You can start to focus on the energy givers – and those will be the people with whose purpose you can identify. You can give up the energy takers, like giving up smoking.
Next time you hear someone preach to you about “Work Life Balance”, tell them to get a life. Tell them that your work is an integral part of your life, and that you are already working on achieving “Life Balance.”
The final test of a leader
is that he leaves behind
in others the conviction
and will to carry on
- Walter Lippman