I have been hearing about “work-life balance” since the time I started working. From what I could understand it’s about a desirable division of time and energy between one’s professional and personal efforts.
I was told that if you have a good work-life balance, you are not sacrificing the health of one part of your life for the sake of the other. The two parts are therefore effectively balanced.
While I do respect the spirit of the phrase “work-life balance” and the sentiments associated with it, I do have a disagreement with its premise. I don’t think balance is the right way to think about work and life because it assumes that we can separate our work and our life. It somehow makes the assumption that we can each neatly separate ourselves into two people, and create two lives – one at work and the other at home. The only problem with this type of thinking is that it doesn’t give us an opportunity to live a complete, unified life — one where what we do for money and what we do with that money are completely aligned.
The “work-life balance” model of managing your personal and professional is outdated, and needs to be replaced. You should rather focus on harmony in your life. Harmony of all those dimensions in life which makes ‘you’ who you are. The benefits can be immense.
Debunking the Work-life balance ‘myth’
We have come to use the phrase ‘work-life balance’ to describe a relationship between two aspects of our life. We coincidently chose to describe such a relationship in term of a balance. Don’t you think the analogy of balance is in itself a description of the opposites? Like in the balance scale one side’s loss is the other side’s gain.
“Balance” comes at the cost of compartmentalization, and makes us more unhappy as we start to live life as two different people – one of work and the other at home. It exacerbates the inner conflict in people as the find it increasingly daunting and stressful to keep and sustain the difference.
As you try and maintain the so called ‘balance’ in your life you find out that you are required to make important decisions on both sides of life which in turn adds to the stress. You realize that when you make a decision in one part it starts to affect the other parts of life and they are so closely intertwined that keeping the difference is frustrating.
The attempt at “balance” also sets us up for unhappiness cause it chokes off what should be a collaborative relationship.
The simple virtues of your job i.e., quality work, keeping commitments, serving others, active listening, problem solving, creative thinking, innovation, and so many others are present as opportunities every day on the job. When you choose to ‘balance’ your work against your life, rather than integrate the two, it’s certainly becomes a weak choice. Similarly if we do not integrate our professional success with our personal ones, we start to miss the opportunity to allow friends and family to connect on a deeper level with us. Being able to celebrate with family and friends when you succeed and being able to vent and seek comfort on a stressful day can only help your personal relationships. This idea we did explore in our earlier episode on ‘coping with stress’ the emotion-oriented approach.
Because we try to keep our life compartmentalized we tend to try not to “bring work home”, we don’t include our closest people to us in the conversation about work, and so they effectively never understand that part and see it as disconnected from your personal life. This is also the cause of many conflicts at home. Your family is not able to see that work is only one part of an integrated life and they are active participants in it.
Harmony and the ‘Wheel-of-Life’
Rather than viewing your work life as something that competes with your personal life, it is far more helpful to view it as something that collaborates with and enriches it. It’s however going to be difficult if you hate your job, but that shouldn’t’ be an excuse. Mostly the reason why people hate their jobs is because their daily life is filled with the constant tug-of-war between their work and rest of their life which demand their time and attention.
Your ‘wheel of life’ has many parts to it and work is only one part. There is your family, friends, networks coupled with your own personal needs which demand equal if not more attention from you. You must look at bringing a sense of harmony in the way you lead your life.
Every decision you make does have an impact on other parts of your life. For example, if you choose to work late it means that you have less time with your family. When you have an ailing family member to take care at home, your work gets affected. Therefore it is important that you put a lot of effort towards involving all the relevant stakeholders in your life and make it a collaborative approach to lead life. Otherwise, you will always have the stress and pull of competing needs leading to increased tension. This can also lead you to externalize and fix the blame on one or the other part for your condition.
The only way to achieve a wholesome and happy life is to bring in a sense of harmony among all dimensions of life, which I would like to call ‘Wheel of Life’. This includes Work, Finance, Family, Health, Leisure, Personal development (passion, hobbies), Social, Spiritual etc. If you notice, work is only 1/8th of your whole life. What do we do? We spend so much of energy only on one dimension that we cannot escape the stress and pull of the other. The problem is that the pain prolongs for ever and one day we will be forced to pull the plug on one or the other dimension. It’s a vicious cycle in finding a semblance of balance.
What then is the alternative?
While there are several alternatives in bringing harmony in your life like learning new skills like assertiveness, expectation management, problem solving, creative thinking, cognitive reshaping, etc., there is one which can be a major contributor – your time mastery.
When you look at all dimensions of your life, the only common thread which is constant and runs in all parts is ‘Time’. The stress primarily comes from the fact that you are not able to spend equal amount of ‘time’ in one ‘part’ or you are probably spending more ‘time’ in another. Whenever, the discussions of work-life balance happens, the common factor is about ‘lack of time’.
So it becomes important that you look to master ‘time’ and learn to use this limited resource judiciously so that you get great harmony in your life.
Time Mastery will and is the key!
Therefore it is important you assess your current state of ‘time mastery’ and see which dimensions need your attention.