Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Michael Van Osch of ThinkTankMen.com.
“Work-life Balance. Work-life balance. Work-life balance.” You hear about it a lot. And given some recent stats that show only 20% of Americans are passionate about what they do for a living, it’s hardly surprising that work-life balance is a major topic of conversation.
We all want to have meaningful work, we all want to spend quality time with our families, enjoy non-work activities, have some fun and relax. That’s pretty normal and yet it seems so unrealistic for so many people. I speak with a lot of men every week in my coaching practice, and the desire for achieving some work-life balance is one of the top issues I continually hear about.
So why can’t we solve this thing called Work-Life Balance, or more correctly, the lack of it? Why does this seem so unattainable for so many? The reason is this: work-life balance is a false concept. It’s a fallacy. It’s a notion that we’ve erroneously bought into. The very nature of the words lead us to consciously (and subconsciously) believe that we should be able to keep all the different parts of our lives in neat little, correctly proportional boxes. And if we do that, then life will be grand.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way for most of us and we feel this gnawing sense of pressure. What is that pressure that we feel, and where does it come from? To help shed some light on this, let’s look deeper at a basic divide that splits the population into two groups. Generally speaking, you have people who like what they do for a living (or even love it), and you have people who don’t like what they do for a living (or even hate it). Given that, who do you think feels more pressure about attaining work-life balance?
Think of your own situation; think of the people you know. Does it follow that those most consumed with their lack of work-life balance are the same people who don’t like (or even hate) what they do for a living? They certainly are in my world – and I used to top the list as one of those men. So the pressure that we feel then is more related to lack of fulfillment in our work than it is to the false concept of ”˜balance’. Granted, there are people who love their work and just need to take a break and schedule some leisure time – but I’ll deal with that scenario in Part II of this article.
Moving Beyond “Balance”
So if lack of fulfillment is the major culprit that leads to the very real pressure we mistakenly attribute to work-life balance, then what is the answer? In other words, if it’s not a question of ”˜balance’, then what is it? How do we obtain this elusive fulfillment from our work and life in general?
The answer is alignment. It’s about aligning what you do for a living more closely with who you are as a person (meaning your strengths, preferences and goals). It’s about aligning your work with what you’ve been put on earth to do, which is what I call your personal mission in life. As an example, why do you think blogging has become so popular? It’s because the technology arrived that allowed anyone to dig into and write about what’s important to him or her, to what turns them on. It’s even allowed some to make their livings from it and that’s why it has changed many lives – because people who are well aligned with their work (or vocation) are people who have the energy to make a difference.
For many years I was a marketing executive, and although it was good to me, I felt I had no work-life balance whatsoever. I wasn’t fulfilled doing that work by any stretch of the imagination. I became burnt out and depressed by it and wanted out, but felt locked because the money was so good. Just waking up to face the day was a chore. Can you relate? I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and it totally soured my personal life, my health, my fun factor, and frankly, made me old before my time.
However, after a very concerted effort of turning over a lot of stones, my life is happily quite the opposite. I’ve been able to align my work with what is right for me. With my personal mission as a writer, speaker and coach for men, I’ve never worked harder or longer hours than I do now, and I absolutely love it. And the kicker is, even with all the “work” I do, I have more time, energy and joy in my personal life than ever!
That’s the litmus test: finding or creating work that is closely aligned with who you really are gives you energy instead of draining you of it. For most of us, it’s not about balancing the see-saw, it’s about finding a new, more suitable playground.
Sure, it takes work to find a new job, start a business, become an artist or do whatever is aligned with your real strengths and preferences. Hell, for many of us (me included), it takes turning over a lot of stones just to figure out that there is such a thing as a personal mission. It takes hard work, but here’s the thing – you’re going to work hard either way. And you can either work hard in a situation that doesn’t fulfill you (which can be very boring and painful), or you can do it in a situation that you intentionally create and that is right for you. The choice is yours.
When you’re doing work that is right for you, when your work is aligned with your why you were put here, most of the time it doesn’t even feel like work. Try the litmus test I mentioned above – does thinking about the work you have to do next week give you a spark of energy or does it drain you and make you feel weaker, tired or overly stressed? If that thought seriously drains you or really stresses you out, that’s a sign. And it is your choice whether you do something about that or not – just as it is your choice to manage your personal finances or to exercise. Of course you don’t have to do anything about it – no one else will really know or even care.
Start By Excavating What’s Most Important to You
But if you do choose to act, to begin the process of changing your work and life, then I recommend starting with excavating what is most important to you. Some call it your passions, but whatever the term, take the time to go deep, look back in your life and be totally honest with yourself.
It can be damn hard for many of us to get out of our own heads and get real with what is really important to us. And the higher-paying and higher “prestige” your current job or business is, the harder it is to admit it’s not what makes you happy – I know from experience. This is a good time to stop “shoulding all over yourself” and realize that the way you are, your likes, strengths and natural talents are there for a reason – you’re supposed to follow them and use them. That’s where fulfillment starts and grows.
Is the pressure mounting for you in your life? Is the mismatch of your work with whom you are making your days feel like drudgery and stealing your life out from under you? If so, take a close look at this issue of alignment. Start getting back in touch with who you really are – start now by creating that list of what’s really important to you and what really excites you.
Check back here for Part II of this post where I’ll talk more about how to make some real changes that lead to becoming more fulfilled from doing work that is meaningful to you. Until then, I’d like to know…
How are your work and your life in alignment? How are they out of alignment?
Photo Credit: Doug Beckers
That’s pretty right on. Up to June, I was working 80+ hour weeks as an English teacher (and if anyone tells me how much free time teachers get, GOOD teacher, please spit in their general direction.) I love the teaching, but all the bureaucrazy (not a typo) that went into testing, adminstrative hi-jinks, and well, everything that went into NOT teaching made me crazy. I never saw my husband, I’d wake up at 5 am, work on school stuff until 6:45, be at school from 7 am to 4 pm-ish, and then come home and work on grading and lesson plans and unit plans until 11 pm. And I’d work on school things pretty much all weekend.
That was no balance.
I talked about the myth of balance in one of my recent newsletters:
“A thousand articles and books will tell you how to achieve the nirvana of BALANCE. You know, mental, physical, social, emotional, career, family, partnership. . . all in balance. Sounds great, right? Yeah, well, it’s BS. Whenever you see a tighrope walker walking purposefully across that taut, narrow string, that stick they hold, their hips, their shoulders are all making minute, instantaeous adjustments to keep them from falling off that rope. They may not fall, but all of their body parts are not in that perfect, fictional state of balance.
Life isn’t a pie chart; you’re never going to be able to divvy up all the sections of your life into perfect little slices of time and emotional and physical output. If you’re a writer, there’s going to be days when that floor doesn’t get scrubbed. If you’re a businessperson, there’ll be days when your kid doesn’t get that 30 minute installment in the bedtime story. It’s about balancing ( verb, action, adjustments) and not balance (noun, idea, abstract notion that makes people crazy.)”
Good topic, good article. It’s something a lot of people struggle with
@Wordslingeuse Love this comment!
Thank you, worldmegan.
My wife is a school teacher, also. If I didn’t know better, I would think my wife is posting at Wordslingeuse!!!
We were talking about “balance” last Saturday at dinner. I’ll show her this post.
That’s great, Douglas! I hope it sparks some good conversation for the two of you, as it has done for the people commenting on here.
@Wordslingeuse great comments. and coming from a family (&wife) of teachers, you’re absolutely right.
I’m glad you tackled this, dude — it’s a heavy subject and it’s become really important to me over the years. Yes, I still need to take time off to recuperate… but that is less of an issue than it used to be, because I’m doing things now that I love so much!
@worldmegan It’s quite a change isn’t it? when you love what you do it just makes the world a friendly place…and vice versa. cheers
Owen Marcus says
Good post. I agree – it is about being congruent. The more all parts of me line up around my purpose and who I am, the more natural ”˜balance’ I have. The other option is to hold it, to force an artificial balance. We know that isn’t sustainable.
Right on Owen, thanks for the great comments.
I believe that it’s all a matter of priorities in every single aspect of our lives.
Karina Inkster says
Great post; looking forward to Part II. I’m following a personal mission via a career for the first time, and it’s exciting but simultaneously frightening! I have many ‘missions’, many of which are fulfilled outside of earning money, but when my livelihood depends on the business I’m creating stemming from some of my passions, it’s a definite risk.
Fantastic Karina. And it may be less of a risk than you think. There really is no such thing as job security, as the last 4 years have proven, and being aligned with your mission ensures you’ll be using your personal strengths/assets plus internal motivation. That, my friend, is a recipe for great satisfaction. cheers!
Excellent! I love the reframe that it is a fallacy. I’m curious what your source is for the stat that only 20% of people are passionate about what they do for a living.
@BestNLP Over at the passiontest.com, it was a Harris Interactive study.
All very well, except that ‘doing what you love’ often does not pay the rent (or mortgage, or health insurance, or day care bills); I made a career change to do something I was passionate about and it nearly bankrupted us – I had to change back to my previous boring-but-better-paying career.
@lisagrimm Definitely true Lisa that sometimes you can’t make doing what you love pay the bills – and there are lots of ways to have what you love in your life even if you don’t make a living at it. Before being paid as a marketing mentor, I chose to spend years doing it because I just loved it. I hope you still have a way to be aligned with what you love to do even if it’s not bringing in the dough. cheers.