Let’s drop the work-life balance fallacy


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Why does there continue to be so much useless prattle about work-life balance? Work is life! Or are we dead at work? Every minute we are at work, or working, is part of our lives. There is and can be no boundary.

While we might try to compartmentalize our feelings and emotions, our life force does not compartmentalize. Just as we shape who we are when relaxing with friends, playing with our children, or enjoying our hobbies, so we shape our lives every minute we are working or at work.

Young employees say they want to work for a company that has good work-life balance. What does that mean? Who is responsible for the boundaries of life? Are we confusing hours at work with accountability? Is this really about flexible hours so that we can get home to walk the dog?

The idea of work-life balance is a total fallacy and a damaging one at that. It promotes living a divided life. And a divided life is an unhappy life; an unproductive life; a confused life. There is no difference between our work in the world, and our living our lives.

The first thing we need to do is rethink what the word “work” means to us. Typically, when we refer to “work” (noun), we are referring to a place. The work we do at this place is most often paid work.

When we say we are working, or “doing work” (verb), this may be less linked to our activities of employment or our paid work. For example, we may be doing our taxes or we may be cleaning the house.

Either way, it is a good idea for us to reflect on our relationship to the word “work.”

For many, work is considered something one is obliged to do. This implies that we would rather not be doing it. This is a sad state of affairs. If we consider the amount of time and energy that absorbs our lives in the endeavor we define as work, we are essentially dismissing a huge, and I mean huge, percentage of our lives.

Instead we should view work as our action in the world. All of our actions are work; our work of being, doing and becoming. Our actions that include work at an office, cleaning the house, gardening and checking the kids’ homework is our work in the world, whether we are paid for it or not.

Our task is to live each moment, recognizing that in that moment, whatever we are doing, we are expressing our life-force. It is in each moment, whatever we are doing, that we define our identity; that we shape the path of what is to come; that we weave the tapestry of our lives. There is no time out. Every moment counts.

If we feel our lives are out of balance — whatever that means — it likely refers to the fact that some, or a large part, of our work in the world does not nourish us. It does not reflect who we really are. It does not take account of, or foster our possibilities to exercise our creativity, our passion, our joy, our potential. That is what is out of balance.

So often when our work in the world is not feeding our soul, we work harder, longer, more fervently in the hopes of finding some deeper satisfaction. This usually does not help. If anything, it makes us tired, dejected, sometimes embittered and even morose. Often those chronic illnesses begin to manifest themselves in psychological and physiological protest. Yet we soldier on, growing in disgruntlement while feeding the coffers of CVS or Eli Lilly.

Life balance requires finding sufficient time to foster and nourish one’s deepest potential — that part of us that makes us the unique, authentic person we are meant to become. This inner discovery is an important part of self-awareness. It is so easy to collude with our daily misery which we call poor work-life balance, when in reality, we need to take the risk to push our true potential forward.

Anything that needs to grow and develop needs time and attention. Can we give our potential that is waiting to blossom, the time and attention it deserves? Once we begin, we will experience a new whole-heartedness in everything we do. The balance will find itself.

Annabel Beerel, founder of the New England Women’s Leadership Institute, is an organizational consultant.

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