The Myth of Work/Life Balance

Catch phrases and sound bites that make us worry too much

If you’ve looked at anything about business in the past year, I’m sure you’ve seen an article, video clip, podcast, or some other medium shoving the concept of work/life balance firmly down your throat. It’s become a borderline hot button topic where everyone has an opinion, and they’re more than willing to share it. Well, I have one too, big surprise! What, did you think this blog would be about tacos?

What if I told you everything you know is a lie?

And what if I told you that line never appeared in The Matrix? But I digress.

There’s a common thread in many narratives about career that tells us we work too much, and we need to make time for our family. This is a broad sweeping, feel good notion that doesn’t actually tell us anything. It’s far more vague than it sounds, and while it can be applied to some, it can’t come close to applying to all.

It’s a catch phrase. A sound bite. “Work/life balance.” It’s a nice bullet point like “pivoting your focus”, or “synergize”, or “ecosystem.” Work/life balance is a sham. There’s really no such thing. However, I did throw it in the title, and here you are. I like how marketing works.

Now I can hear everyone saying “this dipshit has no clue! Burn him at the stake!” Before you light up the torches and grab the pitchforks, please allow me to elaborate.

What is “too much work?”

Seriously. What is too much work? What dictates the limits? Is it an 8 hour day? Is it a certain level of exhaustion? Is it when your significant other decides you need to vacuum the steps? There is no standard. There is no set limit or number, and there is no dictionary definition. It is an incredibly varied and personal evaluation.

The full time American work week is 40 hours. This has become the standard for any full time employee, and those who work more are usually eligible for overtime pay. The average entrepreneur or business owner works 59 hours per week, or 47.5% more hours than a full time employee. Is that too many? If I didn’t work the hours I work, my business couldn’t function, yet most people will say 60 hours is too much.

Some jobs simply require more hours and deeper commitment than others. Some people PREFER to work a lot. Some people are in difficult financial situations and have no option. It’s no one’s place other than the individual and his loved ones to make decisions regarding what work/life balance constitutes.

On the other hand…

There are a great deal of people who have incredibly heavy work loads while neglecting family. This is where the concept behind work/life balance actually does come into play. Your family should never be neglected because of your decision to take on more work, and vice versa.

It’s not the amount of work that constitutes “too much,” it’s the effect it has on the person working and their family that matters. If every night a woman comes home from a long day and her husband starts in on her because of how much she works, then that’s something they need to address. Ideally, work should not cause conflict at home, and home should not cause conflict at work.

These are conversations that need to be had between the people in the relationship. Some people may feel just ducky about their partner working 100 hour weeks, and that’s between them. If it works in their relationship, then they have found their balance.

This begins to get into a much deeper issue, which is about relationships. That’s enough information for several books, but I’ll give my humble two cents. Clear communication and respect is the cornerstone of a good relationship. Both parties must be willing to listen and try to see the viewpoint of the other. We could go on about this for hours, but I’ll get back on track.

Let me straighten something out

Love and work are the cornerstones to our humanness. -Sigmund Freud

Let me rephrase that. Work and life are interchangeable. Our work is as much a part of who we are and our purpose as our relationships. This is why it is important to find work that you enjoy. You must find a level of satisfaction in what you do, knowing that it provides something of value to yourself and others. Maintaining self awareness of what that value is and how it affects others is integral.

This is why I say that work/life balance is a myth. They are the same thing. Many people spend inordinate amounts of time trying to find the best way to keep them on a level playing field, yet there are countless people who are home plenty but have no quality interaction with their family. Too much of anything can be bad. Too much work can neglect family, too much family can neglect work, and too much video games can neglect both. It’s about spending the right amount of high quality time in all aspects of your life. That amount is individual and can only be decided by you.

So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been working overtime to pay down a debt. These things are important, and an understanding partner will be able to help prioritize with you. Where your focus needs to lie is not static throughout your life, and that’s fine. Your career is a huge part of your life, and you need to find joy within it, and a home life that supports it. Always question your motives behind your behavior with work and home life, and always be honest with yourself about what you find.

Sit back and have a donut. You deserve it.