We have all heard about work/life balance. Most of us have probably read a book about it or even sat through some sort of seminar or workshop on the topic (probably called something like “7 Easy Steps to Balance Work and Life”) by some guy who has it all figured out. He has a framework. He has a picture. He has 7 easy steps. Maybe he wrote the book.
But, the paradigm is corrupt. As presented, work exists on one end of a continuum; life happens on the other. And, our goal is to find the balance and personal nirvana that is supposedly somewhere in between.
Here are a few critical problems to consider:
Problem #1: The work/life duality is zero sum and linear. The nearer I am to work, the further I am from life, and vice versa. One side takes from the other. As such, it promotes identity schizophrenia, anxiety, and even guilt. In other words, the diametrically opposed forces create potentially paralyzing external pressures rather than generative, internal motivation.
Problem #2: Life, in and of itself, is entirely non-linear and is its own “balancing” act of an endless number of variables, one of which is work! Work and life aren’t distinct, but rather collectively come from and reinforce (or, worst-case, dismantle) our sense of self.
Problem #3: Work and life require different energy and different types of investment and skills. One doesn’t really take from the other, but they all do come from the same source (the self). So, cultivation of the self is the source of balance, if such a concept actually applies.
Who we are and who we are trying to become is complex. It’s messy. It’s emerging. It evolves over time in all kinds of (broadly defined) work and amid the relational and existential craziness that is often called life. However each is defined, work and life (not to mention play) are just different contexts for who we are and what we are becoming. It is about us (not about them).
If we are focused on cultivating our best selves, then we will recognize when our current work becomes a barrier rather than a facilitator of that process. Alternately, we will acknowledge when things happening in our relationships, or otherwise in our personal lives, are inhibiting us from becoming who we want/need to become. We then must have the discipline and courage to adjust our course as needed.
But, our goal should not be work/life balance.
Our goal should be finding life in our work and work in our life.