Work-life balance is one of those topics that just never goes away.
Society’s expectation for us to realize some form of financial success combined with our innate desire to pursue what we love are constantly at each other’s throats. And when we approach the problem in this way it’s inevitable: someone’s going to lose.
But I’ve got a problem with ‘work-life balance’. Even the term work-life balance is a tad bit ridiculous when you think about it. Work is a part of your life. So, let’s be straight and talk about what the real issue is.
Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.
– Stephen R Covey
Work-life balance is about the balance between work and, well… pretty much everything else in your life.
It’s an important issue that should always be at the forefront, but I feel that the perspective, as well as the context of the conversation, is critically flawed in two main ways. With each of these points, taken together, we can craft a more effective method for structuring our life that allows for something far better than simple work-life balance.
1. Work and life aren’t two separate things
Work-life balance assumes that the two are separate things. That is, work and family, health, hobbies and anything else you might include under the disturbingly vague “life” category.
But separating work from home and the rest of your life is the wrong way to look at it. The fact that you need to separate them in your mind is a sign of the real imbalance, not how much you put into one vs. the other.
Work serves two major purposes:
- To financially support ourselves and those we love
- To allow us to pursue our passion / what we love to do (whether that’s the work itself or by using the money or other benefits we earn)
The first reason is directly connected to everything else in your life, so to live in a way that you intentionally pursue to live out your life, working solely to get paid and not pursuing what you’re passionate about is a bigger problem than work-life balance.
However, it also makes the context of the work-life balance argument fall apart because it almost always is about two things of equal or similar importance, not a necessity (work) and what is really important (family, health, personal interests). But in this case, we’re talking about one thing which enables the other to survive. In that case, it’s less about balance and more about…
2. Structuring your life to promote what is most important
This is what it boils down to.
The entire work-life balance conversation is always about how to make time for what is most important. However, that very statement is a sign of a disturbing behavior: placing the majority of our time and energy into something which is less important (no surprise, then, why so many of us die with relevant regrets).
What’s more, we justify this with the idea of chasing an imaginary concept of happiness in the future that was an illusion to begin with, “I’ll spend less time with my family, taking care of my health, and enjoying life now so I can get the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow later.”
The truth is, we reach happiness by finding joy in what is around us now which, ironically, includes the feeling we get when we’re going after our long-term goals. However, don’t be confused. This isn’t because it’s the goal that makes us happy, but the feeling we get now, in the present, while we’re striving to do and become something better. Understanding this as you’re working towards your goals is critical to finding a real sense of happiness.
When you know what is most important to you and have designed your life in a way that promotes those things, work-life balance falls away.
Work-life balance, by its very nature, is a misplaced ideal which must be replaced by a new principle: work-life synergy, the idea that by structuring our life in a way that our efforts (work and elsewhere in life) build upon and center around what is most important to us, we’ll maximize our sense of meaning and happiness in life.