A Note on the Work/Life Balance Fallacy

It’s all just life.

Jessica Wildfire wrote an article about how much work it is to pretend you’re having fun.

“ … not everyone defines fun the same way. Some people don’t enjoy what most of us think of as ‘leisure’: riding carousels, standing in line for cotton candy at the state fair, going to a cookout.

“If you don’t like that stuff, you’re labeled a ‘workaholic.’ Many of us will do anything to avoid that label. We’ll even pretend to enjoy baseball. Well, maybe that’s pushing it.” — Dr. Wildfire in “Can You Enjoy Work Too Much?’

I love baseball, but not because it’s fun.

This scene from the movie ‘Remember the Titans’ foreshadows what happens to players who compete because it’s “fun” — as soon as the fun stops, the player quits.

For me, being a professor is fun.

What’s the point of a day off if I can’t spend it reading, thinking, drawing, writing, building, teaching and doing math? Because these are things I enjoy doing so much that I wake up like a kid on Christmas morning.

Now, most people will say, “Well, that’s just you, Dr. Seager. Don’t judge the rest of us. Let us balance our lives as we see fit!”

Allow me to offer you a different perspective.

The whole work/life balance fallacy is a false dichotomy foisted on us by the Industrial Revolution. Prior to industrialization, the United States was an agrarian society. Most of us worked on farms.

You think the cows took vacations?

Pre-industrial farming didn’t come with time cards and 401K benefits.

I’m not saying we should go back. I’m saying that the idea of work/life balance is an industrial construct designed to solve the problem of unsatisfying factory (later, corporate office) work. Given the dehumanizing expectations imposed upon the old company man (and now, woman), it’s no wonder they feel like they need a demarcation between the time surrendered to employers and what Dr. Wildfire calls “free time”.

“When we are at work we ought to be at work. When we are at play we ought to be at play. There is no use trying to mix the two. The sole object ought to be to get the work done and to get paid for it. When the work is done, then play can come, but not before.” (Henry Ford,in My Life and Work 1922) and quoted in ‘More Play = More Done.

Far better to build a life you don’t need a vacation from.

I don’t have work/life balance.

I don’t want it.

I just want life.


I was at a workshop on career development for doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars last summer. It was at the University of Minnesota and a friend was kind enough to invite me to come and serve on a panel and dispense what passes for my wisdom to my junior colleagues (and future colleagues).

What I learned there changed the way I counsel my students.

My friend, in her remarks, asked the audience:

Do you want a job, a career, or a calling?

The workshop participants used to think they all wanted jobs. They didn’t realize that jobs were merely building blocks to larger careers, and that careers only had meaning when they were in the service a calling.

No one will ever ask you to have “calling/life balance” because the question doesn’t make any sense. When you have a calling, you’re not interested in fun, unless it comes in the service of your calling.

It’s OK to want a job. And if you have one, you’ll confront the problem of allocating your energy between your job and your life.

Fewer and fewer people are enthusiastic about jobs.

This scene from the movie ‘Office Space’ tests the fallacy of work/life balance.

So when you’re done with the whole job thing, then maybe what you’ll also be done with the idea that success is measured in the “balance” between two competing extremes of a false dichotomy. That’s when you’ll be free to align your efforts with a higher, more integrated, holistic life purpose.

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Thomas P Seager, PhD

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TPSeager@StoryGarden.co Self-Actual Engineering https://www.youtube.com/c/ThomasSeager @seagertp Join https://www.linkedin.com/groups/13613731

The Productivity Revolution

Curated Writings that helps you achieve more with same, dramatically improve productivity and reignite top-line growth.

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