Work-Life Balance — Why so Serious?

Work-life balance is one of those attractive topics that is constantly debated and blogged about. It’s an elusive and seductive goal that everyone is striving for — the ultimate prescription for how to survive life as an adult.

For many people, being an entrepreneur is the answer to having it all — when you’re your own boss you can adopt a flexible and relaxed lifestyle where you set your own hours, deadlines, and workspaces. In reality, entrepreneurial life — particularly early-stage — is an absolute madhouse.

For the entrepreneur, work-life balance is a myth.

A myth is a story that explains a belief — in this case, that work and life need to be separate and ‘balanced’ in order to achieve optimal happiness and health. But what if your work happens to be your passion; something that exhausts and ignites you. This week I sat down with two entrepreneurs to better understand how they define work-life balance.

Paul Brassard (Managing Partner — Volition, husband, and father of three) is overly familiar with the challenge entrepreneurs face when trying to integrate work and family time, particularly when building a startup:

“[…] work-life balance doesn’t exist [when it comes to startups] — same with when you have a new baby at home. It will keep you up at night, always be on your mind, always be hungry, shit…a lot, and provide you with amazing moments you wouldn’t trade for the world; it will bring you to discover things about yourself you never even knew existed. Your world revolves around its schedule and needs — not your own.”

For Paul, the key is being present , whether at work or home. While it has taken time and practice, Paul has adopted some tricks to stay present, including putting his phone on the shelf when he first gets home from work and not taking it with him on family walks and outings. For a self-professed workaholic, this practice allows Paul to focus on his family, much as he would his startup during an important meeting.

Keith Ippel (CEO of Spring, father, and impact entrepreneur ) believes that how people deal with work-life balance is intensely personal, if not built in to their DNA — some people work around the clock and others are more attracted to the 9–5.

Keith’s personal approach to work-life balance is to fit life around his work. One way to do this is by applying the 70–30 rule; this rule means that if you commit to something, you’d better follow through at least 70% of the time, lest you become unreliable. Now, 70% might not seem like a lot, but if you think of all the times you’ve said “I’ll be home by 6” only to be waylaid by a meeting or client, you’ll start to see how reasonable the split really is.

As with most entrepreneurs, Paul and Keith have spent years struggling with work-life balance, and in the end neither could come up with a clear answer to the “is it a myth?” question. Perhaps it’s not really about answering the question so much as realizing that finding balance is an ever-evolving process.

While you go about creating your own definition of work-life balance, it doesn’t hurt to ask your colleagues, friends and mentors what they do to keep themselves in check. As for me, I’ve learned that the key is in setting expectations, practicing open dialogue, and not stressing too much about not being as balanced as you’re supposed to be.