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Work / Life Balance is a Scam

If your goal is to have better work / life balance you’re going to be very disappointed.

Work / life balance is not a goal

I should explain.

You’re busy, I get it. You have a professional life, a personal life, a social life a family life and who knows what other lives you’re leading (hopefully no secret ones). Jamming all that stuff into a normal day or week is tough. I get it.

So you set the aim of getting better work / life balance so it’s easier to do all that stuff. You’re going to leave work on time. You’re going to set aside Saturday mornings for family time. You’re going to get up earlier in the week to go running. You’re going to say no when you’re asked if you can take on just one more little project.

It sounds like something that’s worth doing, doesn’t it?

I asked on Twitter recently whether it was a good idea to separate your professional and personal lives, because I noticed how not-separated my own professional and personal lives have become. They’re one and the same.

And while I wouldn’t tell you to follow me just for the hell of it, here’s what keeping them separate is really achieving:

  • It compartmentalises your life into boxes. Compartmentalising your life gives you a compartmentalised experience; it means that you’re different things to different people and that you deliberately lay out a structure for your life to fit into otherwise it generates an exception (i.e. conflict, stress, frustration).
  • It conflates the idea of “being happy” with “being in control”. “If only I had better work life balance” you tell yourself. You brain craves control and certainty and would love you to have a place for everything and everything in its place. The dopamine hit you get from putting boundaries around things is a reward for what your brain considers to be increasing certainty, and can easily be interpreted as happiness or success when it’s little more than exercising control.
  • It establishes rules for things that don’t need rules. Work / life balance requires that you establish rules for what to do, when, for how long and with whom. That goes over here, this goes over there, who in the hell put that there? You start to create a rule book to govern what should happen and then how it should happen. But that rulebook is a fiction that weighs heavier the longer you carry it.

If you’re working on getting some work / life balance in order to have better work / life balance then there’s likely to be trouble ahead. Work / life balance is NOT an end point or a destination. It’s a strategy.

Employ balance as a strategy in a bigger game

You can use it as one tool out of many to help you engage with what really matters to you, making it easier in the short term to do what you need to do in order to get done what you want to get done.

It only serves a purpose when used as a strategy that gets your soldiers in a row long enough for you to make a dent in something that matters to you.

Use it for 3 to 6 months, then revisit it to see what role it’s playing (i.e. enabling vs disabling, integrating vs separating) and then either reset it, change it up or get rid of it.

Do not keep work/life balance in place without paying attention. That way lies a separated, frustrated life that will lead you somewhere you never intended.

Integrate, don’t separate.

What do you think?

Comments

  1. Work/Life balance is bullshit. Usually when I hear people talk about pursuing it I want to ask “why? For what end?”

    If you’re insanely passionate about something and want to go for it…go for it. If you’re pulling back because everyone says you should have more work/life balance, you’re living your life by someone else’s rules.

    If you love your work and you love your life, leave it up to other people to determine whether or not you’re working or playing. For you, there won’t be any difference.

    With that said, recharge and retreat time is an important part of self care. But, who’s to say it’s not part of your work life…if you get your best ideas on a silent meditation retreat, then is it work or play?

    I’m much more interested in moving this conversation beyond work/life balance so we can talk about lives we’re in love with!

    • Steve Errey says:

      Hun, you’re dead right. I think people look to work/life balance as a solution for something, where really the answer lies somewhere completely different and that might be too scary to look at.

      PS: Congrats – you’re the first commenter to say “bullshit”! You win the car!

  2. Hi Steve,

    Nice perspective–seems to be one we share. In August I wrote a piece for my blog titled “Calling B.S. on Life Balance” where I state:
    “Balance is like perfection—an idealized state, not attainable, and one of those things that make us feel like we are never quite right or whole without it. The quest for balance is a total set-up and we suffer in our zeal to reach this illusory state.”

    So, yes, BS! It’s the ebb and flow, it’s a temporary place and state, this balance thing.
    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful and inspiring posts!

  3. Well said. I think the phrase ‘work/life balance’ often becomes shorthand for ‘I need to do something to make me hate my job/life less’. When that’s the case, balance is probably not going to fix those issues; leaving that job and/or taking a new direction in life just might. If you love your job and the hours you spend with it, great. The need to step back, recharge, revitalize is going to be different for everyone.

    • Steve Errey says:

      Hah! Right, people look towards balance as a way to fix stuff elsewhere, where in fact all it does is help them to ignore the real issue. Thanks so much for stopping by Rachel.

  4. Yup – I agree with all the above, spot on. But here’s the thing – I have two Twitter identities – a *work* one and a non – work one. Both are chatty, both are personal, they often cross over (what I do in my non-work life can bring in income too) and I end up having to re-tweet myself!
    Should I integrate?

    • Steve Errey says:

      I think that’s valid Abi, it’s a question of the specific messages and audience for each account. You don’t say whether you’re a solopreneur or the specifics behind the use of each account, but if indeed both accounts use your voice and have a common audience, then maybe integration is the way to go.

      I think it’s a question of how you can best add value and develop relationships, right?

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