When we talk about life balance we overwhelmingly discuss work-life balance. When you phrase it this way it purports to say that work and life should get equal amounts of energy/time/attention. If you break it down as 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working, and 8 hours life-ing, then sure you have balance. But there’s a few things that don’t add up here:
I challenge you to find someone in this 24 hours a day, plugged in society that only works 8 hours a day.
If you find this person does that automatically mean that they are happy?
Does that guarantee that everyone else who works more than 8 hours is unhappy?
Those are some big holes to punch in a term we throw around the workplace all the time. Hell, corporations are even striving for it – on your behalf – and we cheer them for doing so. But do we even know why?
Let’s examine some places where work-life balance is not only nearly impossible, it’s thrown around as a joke:
Being an entrepreneur – When you’re trying to get a business off the ground you might work 100 hour weeks for months on end. Becoming a parent – You’re suddenly on duty 24 hours a day with no set hours and no guarantee of sleep. Being a doctor – You might spend 24+ on a shift, only sleeping when it’s slow. And you’re on call constantly for whenever there’s an emergency.
Here are 3 examples (of many) where 8 hours is nearly impossible. At the very least it’s looked at as a light day. But does that automatically mean that all these people are unhappy? If you cut back all their hours to just 8 would that mean that they became happier? I doubt it.
But what do these people have in common? What is it about the positions these people chose to put themselves into that puts the whole work-life balance thing on its head?
You don’t choose to become a parent, or build your own business, or spend years in school to become a doctor because you only want to work 8 hours a day. You choose it because it’s satisfying. These people weren’t seeking balance and neither should you.
By the same token, you can to cut back your hours or not work at all and feel satisfied too. And it can change intermittently through out your life depending on what stage you’re in. There’s no right answer for any group of people. There’s not even a right answer for one person that would span their life. So how could we make this decision for an entire company of workers?
Think about it this way – pretend your life is a plate. You sit down to dinner with loads of food on the table. Do you take exactly equal portions of every food in front of you or do you take more of what you like, less of what you don’t? Do you stop when you are full or do you stuff yourself to the point of being sick? Which combination of these options would lead to you being satisfied at the end of the meal?
What that plate looks like today might not be how it looks in 6 months and not at all what it looks like in 5 years. Major life events will completely change your perspective on your plate and what you even want to put on it. Things that matter today might not matter in a year. And that’s not only ok, it’s normal.
Life should be examined and re-examined at regular intervals to help keep you evaluating what works and what doesn’t. I recommend every year or so, but more often if you’re trying to improve your levels in any particular area.
It’s your life. You need to decide what would make you happy – not just accept what a corporation thinks will make you happy.
In the next post I’ll examine some of the ways that you can figure out how to find satisfaction in your life.
For more reading on this topic check out Off Balance by Matthew Kelly. I don’t agree 100% with his book, but it does give some interesting ideas to consider – and also some ways to help you prioritize.
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