What does ‘balance’ mean to you? One simple definition states that balance is “…a state in which opposing forces harmonize, equilibrium.” I like this definition both because of its simplicity and also because it is the definition that lends itself most well to the concept of ‘work-life balance.’
As a member of my organization’s wellness committee I am very much interested in the concept of work-life balance and try to work to help others in my organization achieve that balance. Recently I came upon a piece written by leadership consultant Jason Lauritsen. The gist of Lauritsen’s message is this: work-life balance is artificial because too many people are working in jobs that they hate. Lauritsen’s view is that if we can just get people engaged in their work, then they wouldn’t find it so onerous and wouldn’t feel ‘out of balance.’
Lauritsen’s sentiment is echoed somewhat in a response by Michah Yost: Work Life Balance is Nonsense. Both Yost and Lauritsen entertain the concept that work-life balance equates to separating work from life. I think this is where the logic becomes faulty. Both contend that work is part of life and to try to separate the two is a futile endeavor. I would tend to agree with this but I don’t think that is what work-life balance is all about.
Lauritsen states that people who truly enjoy their work and are good at it don’t talk about work-life balance. They don’t need to. The concept is foreign to them. In my experience these are precisely the kind of people who are at most risk for being ‘out of balance’ when it comes to work vs. life issues.
I have friends and family members who I would consider to be ‘out of balance.’ They are ‘always on.’ Vacations are interrupted by cell phones and emails. School programs and sporting events are not attended due to travel and other work responsibilities. There is constant conversation regarding their work. They seem to take great pride in promoting the image of how important or successful they are in their careers. Money seems to be a great motivator and their never seems to be enough.
I don’t claim to be in perfect balance but I’ve been told by colleagues that they admire what I have been able to achieve in my own personal and professional lives to achieve balance. I have a demanding career but it is work that I enjoy. Do I enjoy it 100% of the time? NO! For the most part, my work is stimulating and gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. Still, when my work schedule keeps me from attending a school event, enjoying a holiday or getting exercise, I feel bad.
I have made choices in my career that have allowed me achieve a greater degree of balance between my work and family life. Some may view this as not reaching my potential. This line of thinking is short-sighted and underscores a fundamental problem we have in this society: WE IDENTIFY OURSELVES BY OUR WORK. If I turn down a leadership position at work in order to have time to volunteer in the community, coach my kid’s sports team or train for an Ironman does that equate to ‘not living up to my potential?’ I don’t think so.
We are not one-dimensional. We are complex beings. We are more than just workers, employees, or executives. The concept of ‘work-life balance’ is not dangerous, not artificial and not nonsense. It is essential to our very being and too often overlooked. To go back to our original definition, the components of our lives need to be in harmony and equilibrium. When I was working 100 hour weeks as a surgical resident my life was out of balance. Similarly when I trained for my first Ironman, my life was out of balance then as well. Just because someone who loves their job or other activities does not PERCEIVE their life to be out of balance does not mean that it is not.