There’s an insight I picked up a few years back about the concept of work and life and that overused, misunderstood word balance. The lesson may be simplistic, but there’s nothing simple-minded about it. It’s vitally important to anyone’s happiness, and too few of us understand it.
The lesson is this: When we discuss work-life balance, we are tacitly stating that work is not part of our “lives.” (Phrased another way from my friend Ted Bauer: we should rebrand the concept of work-life balance.) That work is a chore to be tolerated because we must do it, because we weren’t born rich and we haven’t won the lottery yet. That work is the price we pay to have a life on the weekends and vacation two or three weeks a year.
How does that sound to you? Does that sound like a trade-off you’re willing to make, or one you have to make because you have no alternative, because that’s just the way it is?
Leaders, is this the outlook you hope your team holds about your time together? “I’m putting my time in all week so I can live a little on the weekend?”
Maybe you think this is just the way it has to be. And maybe it is. But I’m not convinced.
A few years back, I was speaking with a new member at our biweekly Technology Entrepreneurs of Naples meeting. He told me he has a day job as a developer, but that, at home, he and some friends are developing a new app together. His eyes lit up as he was talking about it.
Another guy, an investor, asked him how he was going to monetize it.
“Oh, we don’t really care about that,” the first guy said. “There are so many apps out there that don’t make money. We’re just going to make it available for free – ”
“Oh, freemium!” the second man said. “That’s smart!”
“No,” the developer replied. “We haven’t really thought about making money from it. If it takes off, we’ll think about that. It’s just fun to make apps with your friends. And it’s good to keep your skills sharp too, I guess….”
I have no idea of the quality of the app developer’s work, and I also don’t have a business that needs an app developer right now anyway. But I love this guy, and if I were hiring for his skill set, let me tell you, he’d make my short list for sure!
So back to the fallacy of work-life balance. Are you in a line of work that is so fascinating to you, so “fun,” that you choose to do it more when you get home? That’s called flow, that joy of work that inspires you to lose track of time, to keep going and going, getting energy from your work (or hobby) versus burning your energy up. Flow is where we all should be, and where some of us dwell when we work.
Flow trumps work-life balance every time, because you know what? Good luck finding that balance anyway! If you don’t take joy in the work that you do, it drains you of vitality. It also dominates your calendar, so all you have energy for each night is a few hours of mind-numbing TV before bed; a Saturday of recuperation; a whole week to detox before you can enjoy your vacation. I am speaking from years of experience. Is this your experience as well?
And leaders, does the work your employees do excite them the way the app developer’s work clearly does? If not, what changes do you have to make that will turn their work from soul-quashing drudgery into adventure?
Work-life balance is a crock. It’s unbalanced. What are you going to do about that?
A version of this post appeared on Ted’s previous blog in 2013.