What is a balanced life in the modern age? We hear work-life balance all the time. What does it actually mean? To me, this indicates that on one side you have work — and on the other you have life. This statement in essence creates a divide between your life and work.
In today’s world, we are always connected, we are always available. There is no healthy balance in life. Nor should you aim for it (this is obviously dependent on what you want from life). So what does work-life balance mean anyway? Let us explore each in a bit more detail.
Taking the usual societal explanation, work is regarded as anything you do to earn a living — emphasis on the word living. The thing you do to make money, so you can pay for a life. You get paid to do this thing. Whether you love your job or profession, or you hate it, it is something you do to earn money to support your life. We often tell ourselves, our families and colleagues that we always had a passion to pursue this career, profession and job that we happen to find ourselves in (accountant, an office administrator or a project manager etc). We say it over and over again until we start believing it.
In this context, life is anything that you do outside of work — to not earn money but to enjoy and relax and get away from work. Things like; Playing sports, socialising with friends and family, going to the gym, or yoga or a walk, watching movies, reading books and taking holidays. All the things that are not ‘work’ — that you perhaps are not getting paid to do. The real fun stuff in life, for which we endure the ‘work’. Don’t forget this also includes all the maintenance stuff, making meals, cleaning your house, cutting your nails, cleaning the litter tray, washing your laundry — it’s a package, to have the fun you need to do the work and the maintenance.
Now that we have an understanding of work and life in the context of work-life balance. Let us take a closer look at this balance. But I want to start by not telling you something, but by asking a question. Outside of gender, religion, ethnicity and perhaps even a language group, what is the most important identity that people carry? What is your most important identity after all the aforementioned ‘groupings? Most often it is your profession, the thing(s) you do for a living. Whether you are a professional musician, a hairdresser, a financial advisor or a stay at home parent — it doesn’t matter. That is an identity that you have formed, accepted and perhaps are even proud of. This is one of the most common small talk questions at parties (and a way for people to assess how much importance or respect to give you); So, what do you do? Professions and the work we do for our livelihoods becomes a very strong and important identity in our lives.
I am going to expand the explanation of work and profession now to include things you do not necessarily get paid to do but instead, you do them because they bring you joy — like volunteering, helping your community, writing a blog, making YouTube videos, gardening — things, for which your intrinsic motivation is not money but the joy you get from doing the activity — it is not a means to an end, it is in fact the end.
Now, based on this understanding, let me ask you another question. If work is such a strong and important identity, then isn’t work something we should be embracing (much like we embrace and flaunt our religion, patriotism, and language groups) and not seeking a break and a balance from?
I have yet to encounter people who take a break from their religious or national identities and seek religion-life balance or patriotism-life balance.
Work literally dictates what we study, what we pay attention to, what kinds of people we spend the most time with, where we live, and what we spend most of our waking hours on. If you are a musician or a painter or a car salesperson — you probably want to live in a city or a locale that can get you the most exposure and provide for the best ‘scope’ for your work. Then why do we seek a work-life balance?
In this context, where does (should) work finish and life begins?
You say you are a professional but outside that profession, you have a separate life? In pursuit of what? Happiness? Shouldn’t your work bring you that?
Look At The Pros
Let me draw your attention to some names. Think of Picasso, Mozart, Michael Jordan, Stephen King, Gordon Ramsey, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and I am sure you can think of thousands of others.
Where do you think their work ends and their life begins? Or is it all the same? Do you think these folks seek/sought a work-life balance when they are/were creating their masterpieces and changing the world? Or is/was their work their life?
Perhaps at this point, you want to draw a hard line and say .. ‘oh well they are all pros and I am nowhere near their level’. Is it because you are seeking a work-life balance and are being led to believe that your work and life should be two separate things?
By no means am I promoting workaholic values and a culture where you work non-stop and kill yourself. There should be dedicated time to look after your health (mental and physical), your family, your needs, your community and your overall wellbeing. But if you want to make any meaningful contribution to your work, life, the life of others and the world — then there should be no such divide between work and life. Your work is your life, and your life’s work is the work you do.
Modern life has become increasingly mediocre where we try to be everything to everyone, try to do everything and in the end, we end up not excelling at anything. At best, we are average at almost everything in life.
There is an alternative.
Define what is important to YOU and pursue that. Your definition would be and perhaps should be different to the next guy — you are unique based on your experiences, upbringing and opportunities hence, what is important to you should not look like the usual cookie-cutter advice for the rest of the vanilla world. However, be aware that the compromise with this approach is that excelling at one thing means sacrificing something else. Example — If you want your child to be a great football player, then perhaps you should stop the piano lessons you enrolled her into. Or, if you really want to be the best pastry chef, then start prioritising and follow this calling. And if anyone (particularly fake gurus on the internet) tells you that you can in fact have everything in life that you desire, you just have to close your eyes, visualise and believe in yourself — stop listening to them and unfollow them. Now. Stop believing this crap. Life is a matter of deciding your priority and making the decision of subtraction. You can actually have anything you want, but you need to focus on one thing at a time, one desire at a time — this is how the universe works.
In the end
I want you to ask yourself, where does your work end and your life begins? Or is it one and the same? All tied together in your identity?
Stop believing in the glass wall which separates your life and work, reminding you that your work is not your life, and it should not be.
I have always heard that life is all about finding balance — actually, it’s not — perhaps only if you want to be average at everything. Life should be about excelling and pursuing greatness. Having extreme success in any field in life and having a balanced life is just not possible. It’s a myth.
If you want to be the best at anything, then life is about finding all the things that you are willing to sacrifice for it — finding the non-essential, lower priority activities and letting them go in pursuit of being the best at something. That’s how life works. Share this with someone who needs to read this. Now go and be awesome and pursue greatness.