Work-Life Balance is a myth

Work life balance in actionWork-life balance. Oy.

Everybody loves to wax on and on and on about the infamous “work-life balance.” As if it were some mystical answer to all the problems of the business world. How everyone would be happy little clams in the work-a-day world if only–if only–we could all achieve a work-life balance.

“Julie seems a little stressed.”

“You know, she doesn’t have a good work-life balance.”

“Tsk tsk tsk.”

(Both nodding knowingly.)

What a crock.

And I know, you come to blogs like this looking for information on “how to achieve a work-life balance.” I know you do. You’ve been motivated to do it. You’re searching for an answer.

And we don’t help the situation by sprinkling the term throughout our posts. We likely throw the term in, here and there, because it’s a way of describing a concept. We use it because everybody uses it.

Well, I’m tired of jumping off that bridge just because everyone else is.

Work-life balance is wrong. It’s hooey. So forget it. You’re chasing a unicorn, my friend.

You see, work-life balance is not the problem.

Yeah, I said it. Let me repeat it: Work-life balance is not the problem. The problem is lack of meaning.

Allow me to explain.

Your current dissatisfaction has absolutely nothing to do with how much time you spend at work. It has absolutely nothing to do with how much time you spend with your family. Or on vacation. It has to do with your struggle to find meaning.

Let me put it another way. You could spend 99.9999999999999999999% of your time doing things you love love love. Your favorite things in the whole wide world. This could be work. It could be vacation. It could be your family. But let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that this joyful activity is not work. Because, unfortunately, for the vast majority of the population, this is the case. Work is not the enjoyable aspect of one’s life. (Insert sad emoticon here.)

So, the 99.9999999999999999999% is something you love. Can’t get enough of it. You get to do it almost all of the time. Let’s call it “life.” You with me?

Okay. What about the 0.0000000000000000001%? This is something you dread. Let’s call it “work.”

Are you happy? Are you satisfied?

No. Of course not. Because even though get to do what you love for most of your life, you’ve still got this little cloud of dread that interrupts that life from time to time. And no matter how minuscule that commitment actually is, it begins to affect everything else. It grows. It festers. It creeps into your life.

This one little tiny meaningless activity starts to take away from the joy. And that’s the problem. It’s not a problem of how much time you spend with meaning, it’s about how much time you spend without meaning. We’re human. It’s a flaw.

Let me take a more positive spin on describing why I think work-life balance is hooey.

Let’s say you work 60 hours a week. (I know, not a huge leap of fancy, there.) But let’s say you love your work. It’s full of meaning and emotional reward. You love what you do and you make a decent living doing it. 60 hours a week of “work.” Pure meaning.

Now, this doesn’t leave you as much time for “life.” Because, quite frankly, you often get exhausted. But the time you do have for life, don’t you think you’re a little happier to be around? Don’t you think that joy comes through to the rest of your life? Don’t you think your spouse might actually enjoy spending time with you again? It’s high-quality time with meaning.

Because remember, it’s not the time you spend with meaning. It’s the time you spend without meaning.

So, please, for your sake and mine, please quit worshiping at the feet of the false work-life balance idol. Quit chasing that unicorn. Instead, spend your time looking for something that has meaning. Find an occupation that fulfills you. If you do, the rest will take care of itself.

I promise. I mean it.

What do you think? Want to tell me where I can stick the fulcrum of the work-life balance teeter-totter? I’d love to hear it.

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Career, Meaning, Myth, Work-life balance, Wrong. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Work-Life Balance is a myth

  1. Toby Lucich says:

    So you’re saying that I can’t simply sleep with a wealthy billionaire, and be happy for the rest of my life? Hmm.

    I’ll go with meaning – good post. It occurs to me that I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to work with people that were excellent at their work, fun to work with, and were committed to an excellent work product – but I still got bored. This provides a clear charge for finding one’s higher purpose.

  2. I agree. This is a good post and demonstrates insight about the real issue here – ourselves.

  3. Rick Turoczy says:

    Love it when people comment. Thank you.

    I hadn’t delved into the self vs. environment argument, but that may be a diatribe for another time. You see, Richard reminds us that the other dynamic happening here is one of acting vs. reacting. Interesting.

  4. Andy says:

    Oh please, budgeting time is a myth? That seems really odd to me, because budgeting time for your existence prudently is the only thing you have to do to ‘balance’ your work and your life. Budgeting your time is a very basic skill, indeed, almost like spelling. The lack of this skill is referred to as ineptitude. The main problem that most people have, is that the modern business world is WAY too inflexible to allow such budgeting of time.

    Just saying that you can’t achieve a work life balance doesn’t mean anything with out proof. Also, being given the freedom by an employer to create my own schedule in a fashion that best suits me and the way I work is one holy heck of a lot more realistic than having each and every human being find an occupation which they love so much that they don’t even notice the passage of time.

    Just because you can’t budget your time doesn’t give you the right to mess things up for all of the highly motivated, highly qualified individuals who love their jobs and want to make a difference but can’t because of the inefficiency and lack of insight intrinsic in the modern business world.

    We don’t all go to work at giant factories anymore. We don’t all work together in 12 man teams simply to operate a single giant stamping machine. The internet has existed for decades and, more and more, the work that people do is less limited in scope because of it. There’s no need for an office anymore, nor is there a need for a schedule, and there is definitely no need to spend 97% of your time sitting in an office when you could just do your work and leave…Get it through your head!

    That’s what most people mean when they talk about a balance anyway. The ability to go to work when you’re as fired up as ever, punch out large volumes of high-quality work, and then just leave to continue existence without waiting for the 967 hours left in the workday to elapse.

    and this inner reflection crap? please leave it for psychologists or philosophers…because it doesn’t work right here. Let’s try me: a computer programmer. I love computer programming…I find it FULFILLING, and just like was suggested I expect this to eliminate all other problems that I may or may not have with my job. So there, I’m fulfilled…completely and totally. So why am I unhappy? Why do I have to wake up over 7 hours before my body would wake me? That part hasn’t “taken care of itself” yet. Why do I spend several HOURS commuting when I could just wake up and work for those hours? That part didn’t just “take care of itself” as was suggested would happen when you find a career that “fulfills” you. Why do I spend hours, sometimes DAYS, sitting around in the office, bored off my ass with nothing to do? That’s not taking care of itself either…I personally resent being made to sit in a place for no other reason than that I am in fact sitting there, when I could be doing that sleep thing instead.

    Just in case you don’t get it yet:
    Work-life balance is about as far from a myth as the existence of the sun. The problem is that the modern world is too inflexible. If you don’t mind the inflexibility, then good, shut up and stop pestering those of us who would like what we consider better working conditions. Simple as pie.

  5. Toby Lucich says:

    Man, that is a fat rant, and a twisty one at that. You are one really pissed off fella.

    Let me try to break down this rant a bit:

    – “waking up” isn’t a chore if you springing out of bed to attack the day, knowing that you can do more interesting and challenging things than you accomplished yesterday;
    – you can’t bifurcate the state of “fulfillment” from the path of “self-reflection” – don’t try to rush the endpoint when the journey should be marvelous’
    – there is no greater gift than a company that leaves you with slack time if you are truly passionate about your work – and can do it on the clock.

    Kudos to you as a time manager, and finding a field of work that you groove on. Now, get hustling on finding the corporate culture that meshes with your lifestyle.

    Good news, bad news – you may have to reach out others, go out on limb to make new acquaintenances, or (wha!) sharpen your skillset to become attractive to those much-sought-after employers that put so much emphasis on culture.

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