Why A Good ‘Work-Life Balance’ Shouldn’t be Your Primary Aim.
The notion of a ‘work-life balance’ is ubiquitous, present in pretty much all thinking about well-being, business, and success. And its central concern – that our personal worlds should not be dominated by our business life – is an important one. One that we should always bear in mind.
However, the phrase itself may cause more trouble than it seeks to fix. Because the explicit terms of the phrase – ‘work-life balance’ – point to something that seems to me to be wrong-headed and fundamentally harmful if followed to the letter.
The phrase, simply, is based on the predicate of two separate spheres of existence – one being ‘work’ and the other ‘life’ – that need to be held in balance. But the notion of ‘balance’ gives the impression that these spheres never come into contact. You aren’t working when you are living, it suggests. And when you are working, you leave your life somewhere far away.
Work-Life Balance in a New Era.
It strikes me that this conception of work corresponds to a way of working which is almost obsolete. These days, not many of us go to work in the morning and leave our work at work when we come home. And we don’t really consider our lives beginning when we walk back through our front door.
Rather, new patterns of work have blurred the boundaries between work and leisure, labour and rest. New technologies, an increasing amount of remote work, and the appeals of self-employment has meant that the concreteness of the ‘work-day’ has softened.
And further, younger generations of workers have different ideas of what they hope to get out of work. Rather than only the cash to pay the bills, they seem to want to feel like they are making the world a little better. Rather than working for someone, they want to collaborate, contribute, and grow.
In this new environment, and with this new mindset, there is less opportunity to draw a clear line between ‘work’ and ‘life’. Our values spread across life and work, and work takes its inspiration from wishes and desires from life. In this context, a ‘work-life balance’ does not really have any reality. And I for one think that’s a good thing.
Working and Living – Simultaneously.
The problem is, however, that whilst our ideas about work are changing, people feel a real need to cling to these separate categories of ‘work’ and ‘life’. Many don’t know how to manage a world in which the two are intertwined.
And that’s okay.
Because to optimise a life that includes work, and to work in a way that fulfils the desires of your life, you need to reflect. You need to consider your fundamental intentions, values, and priorities. (These will be common to both your life and your work). And then we can think about how to change everything for the better.
Many clients of mine have expressed a desire for a greater flexibility in their schedule. Yet, many of them have said to me things like, ‘oh, but I can’t just not reply to my clients when they get in touch!’.
However, if you want to enjoy a life into which work fits unproblematically, you’re going to have to remind yourself that this is exactly something that you can do.
You need to actively set your clients’ expectations about when, where, and how much you are willing to work. From the very beginning. If you value travel, spending time with your family and friends, or cultivating your art, you need to make time for this. Work is only one part of your life, among many – and this is another reason why the notion of a ‘work-life balance’ is necessary skewed.
Clients need to know what to expect from you. But the reality is that, if you have been clear, the majority of them will be quite happy to accommodate for your schedule.
If you don’t set these expectations, you could end up working all hours – and you’ll have less opportunity to take control of your life.
Identifying Your Zone of Genius.
Something that many people don’t really consider is their strengths and weaknesses. Whilst these are such buzzwords, many people don’t truly know what they are good at.
These are things that you are going to need to pin down if you want your work to become part of the rest of your life. Because, as Mark Twain said, ‘find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. Find work that you are good at, and the whole thing becomes a lot easier.
Everything else, stop doing. Outsource, automate, delegate. Work will not be the opposite of life if you take the boring bits out of it.
Enacting Your Values.
Too often, people tend to leave their values at their office door. This is not something that makes for a harmonious relationship between life and work.
So, what do you value in life? What do you think is important to you, to others, and to the world? Do you think the work you are doing is good for others?
If not, why not? And are you actually okay with that?
Our values are one of the things that define us best. They are integral to who we are. So, make sure that the things you do in work don’t trample on the feet of your ethics.