Work and Life Don’t Balance

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Work-life balance is impossible. In fact, it might be the most insidious and counterproductive idea in this otherwise profound conversation we’re all having about the evolution of work.

While it sounds harmless, ‘work/life balance’ is based on a troubling assumption that isn’t often questioned. The assumption is that these two things are “equal” — that you can balance a certain amount on one side against a certain amount on the other, like you could with apples and oranges.

The work-life balance idea implies you have two separate personalities — the you who you are at work and the you who you are “everywhere else.” This subtle but powerful assumption might have you scratching your head. We’re so conditioned to be different at work — to be efficient and productive (meaning: leave your values and heart at the door). At home, you’re supposed to be slower — more loving and caring with yourself and others (meaning: embody your real values there).

But what if caring and ownership were universal values that applied equally at work and at home?

What if trying to balance them is the problem? Even worse, what if it has the effect of deepening the problem — making you more stressed and overwhelmed — rather than less? What if the constant state of anxiety you feel (whether it’s high grade or low grade right now) is there not because you can’t drag yourself away from work — but because you haven’t yet gone all the way into it?

You can’t balance two things that aren’t measurable by the same scale. Apples and oranges can be weighed in pounds — a certain number on this side weighs the same as a certain number on the other side. But life and work? They aren’t measured on the same scale because one is a subset of the other.

When you are at work you are by definition in your life. Right? When you are at home you are not necessarily at work (though sometimes you may be). Can you see how life can ‘contain’ work — but not the other way around?

Your life is bigger than your work — no matter how passionate you are about it or how successful you become. In fact, the more passionate you are about it, the bigger your life has to get. It can feel, and maybe often does, that your work is consuming your life. That’s a real feeling — but it’s just not a real reality.

Let’s be clear — you can work too much, and your personal life will suffer. Checking your email during dinner with your spouse is not an aphrodisiac. But being passionate about what you do definitely is.

Your business came from your life, it came from your choices, your vision, your financial dreams and realities. It came from you and it can never be bigger than you or “balanced” against you. It’s impossible.

If you measure your success in hours or “down time,” you are using business measurements to solve a larger life problem. Never forget that results are only as good as the standard of measurement you’re using.

Start measuring your progress by a different standard. How can you make today more meaningful than yesterday was? How can you bring more of yourself to your work (a big part of your life) and improve the lives of those around you? Start by choosing to begin your moments — your meetings, your phone calls, the moments when you have a chance to mentor someone — try coming from this place. You’ll automatically be more efficient, and whenever you go home you’ll do so with a clearer head and a less burdened heart.

Jonathan Raymond