THE IDEA OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS BULLSHIT. You’ve probably heard this term a lot in the last several years. Usually, at least when I’ve heard it, it relates to the overworked mother who doesn’t get enough time with her family in light of her work obligations. Occasionally the term is applied to men, but not as often as women.
This cultural neologism has dug its little heels in hard and fast, spawning endless articles, books and profits.
But it’s wrong. Your work is, whether you like it or not, part of your life.
I contend that separating them into two different things is based on a completely made up premise whose precedent is only in the very recent past. A precedent, by the way, facilitated by a mere economic blip in the labor markets.
The blip I’m talking about is the post-WW II era boom that allowed men to come home from war and go to college for free and then move into white collar positions, which in many cases (but hardly all) provided the expectation of a set, predictable working schedule. One in which, only theoretically, the worker had plenty of free time outside his job to spend with his family or in any other way he chose. Read: only theoretically.
You’d have to be fairly low on the totem pole to never have to work a minute of overtime, which would require its own sacrifices to your quality of life; i.e. fewer things to give yourself or your family. But if this was the case, you were still able to get by because shit was cheaper then. Adjusted for prices relative to wages, shit was a lot cheaper then.
If you were moving up the corporate ladder, getting more responsibility, you were likely not in a set working schedule, not even remotely. So again, the idea of a separation of work and life is pretty fallacious.
[(Also during this time there happened to be a plethora of well paying blue collar jobs in factories. But factory shifts didn’t always remain the same, requiring re-scheduling and compromise on the part of the worker in order to keep his job, disrupting his work-life “balance.”)]
In fact, at no point before this blip in human history has a certain and definite amount of leisure time been afforded to the worker with a family, or the single worker for that matter. And hopefully, as I’ve demonstrated, the only thing this blip really created in terms of continuous, large and unfettered blocks of free time is the collective cultural fantasy of it.
Back in the day, anywhere from 100 to 5,000 years ago, farmers and factory workers and merchants and artisans had to work what we could consider major overtime in order to keep things going. The time they spent with their kids wasn’t at little league games or Six Flags on a week-long vacation. It was an hour at the dinner table, maybe an hour after that before bed and an hour in church on Sundays.
Community events gave reprieve and a reason to take a break from working for a short time if one could be had. And get this, parents took their children on their errands (rather than leave them in front of the TV) and this was also how quality time was spent. Helping with harvesting, helping with cooking; helping with bagging that night’s meal with a gun or fishing pole. This was work, but it also doubled as family bonding time.
That was how work and life was balanced. By combining them, not by separating them.
It’s not uncommon today for executives to work a solid six days per week, working from home on Sundays. It’s not unheard of for parents to adjust their sleeping schedule, waking up early or staying up late, to get work done after they steal some family time. Carpools with neighbors for school runs, so work can be done or attended on time is typical. This is how we blend work and life today.
And quite frankly there’s nothing wrong with it just because it’s frustrating and feels overwhelming at times. And given adjustment to modern lifestyles, it’s not any different than it’s always been. Or will always be. Unless you get bananas rich, or your children do. You could also not have children and/or be a bum.
Barring those options, look forward to negotiating and working around your life — and in your life — for the rest of it.
Originally published at itsaculturething.com.