Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash
Work-life balance is a phrase we throw around a lot. Ever since the industrial revolution made possible the adaptation to work en mass, employing millions of people, our western societies have had a distorted definition of balance (when it comes to work). As an example, since that same revolution we’ve made it illegal to work people to their early deaths with punishing hours (10+ hour work days, 6+ day work weeks, etc.)…and yet there are many in our “enlightened” society today who work punishing hours of one kind or another (often voluntarily). Are you one of them?
The concept of balance has enormous appeal; it sounds like something to aspire to, to master, something that is on our control to effect (you just need more balance). Like our ancestors who ushered in the industrial revolution, we often think we can solve the problems we face today by breaking things down into their components and re-mastering them in new and different ways, thus allowing us to become far more efficient. We conveniently forget our ancestral innovation was with respect to materials and processes; breaking things down into simple steps and motion so as to re-order work, yielding unseen results (for the era). The happy by-product of their results was that by becoming more efficient you could also save time, giving life to a fairy tale we still believe in today. Except, you cannot continually achieve greater and greater efficiencies with something finite, like time.
Balance, in our 21st century world, has become the “holy grail” of time management. We acknowledge we control what we do and how we do it, so it makes sense that if we pursue organization skills that allow us to plan our days mindfully, logically, we can do it all. In this process we have completely forgotten the essential definition of balance, we’ve skewed to to fit the 18th century fairy tale. It’s time for a re-set. Balance (within the context of work and life) is essentially following the common sense of all things in moderation. When you look at it that way, doesn’t the pursuit of continually striving to do more with less time seem ridiculous? This 18th century notion we carry also assumes we are machine-like, not living beings. We forget that in addition to not being able to iteratively become more efficient (past a certain point) we also have a hard-wired need to be effective in what we do. In other words we need to make a difference through our work or we lose access to hope, sacrificing wellbeing.
You cannot make as meaningful a difference moving through life at 185 kmph, as you can when you slow down and attend to what is happening in each moment, allowing the moments in life to guide your work (immersing yourself in the meaning and purpose of what you do). When we only have access to high-level “surface” meaning (proverbially checking the box), we derive no lasting joy from it. It doesn’t feed our soul, which brings on anxiety, self-doubt, vulnerability, and many other emotions we thought we’d avoided because hey, we got the work done. Not so. No one can avoid the impact (or collateral damage to our families and communities) of continually ignoring his or her deepest ambitions and potential. So, try this instead. Look at your day from the perspective of what purpose your effort serves (rather than how much time it will take). You may find with this approach that what you thought was really important…just isn’t. Saving you time and supporting your wellbeing.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ~ Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning