January 25, 2017
I’m surprised at how often I’m asked for tips on balancing work and life. Whenever this question comes up I like to ask people why they believe they need work-life balance – and they usually look at me like I’m crazy.
Having caught them off guard, he or she usually stalls a bit and then out tumbles their answer: that someone else told them they needed better work-life balance. Ah-hah!
Since I love drawing on white boards, I ask the person to help me draw a diagram of what someone’s life looks like. After some initial laughter, the result is usually a curvy line (like a sine wave) across the white board. At various peaks and valleys are events such as birth, high school or college graduations, first job, getting sick, getting married, promotions, being laid off, having children, buying a house… anyway, you get the picture.
Then, I ask the person to explain to me their definition of work-life balance. That’s where it usually gets pretty funny. The person starts to speak, stops, looks at what we’ve drawn on the white board and then struggles with a definition. They usually end up saying something like this: “Oh, I get it now. I guess balance depends on where you’re at in your life, because different things are more important at different stages in life.” Exactly!
That’s when I like to ask my next question: What’s your definition of success?
I’ve heard some superb philosophical answers to that question. One of the most common definitions I hear is: “Happiness. Being happy in what I’m doing is my definition of success.”
That’s a good start. But the reality is that you’ll never love 100% of your job. Literally no one loves every part of their job – and that’s okay. There’s a reason it’s called going to “work” and not going to “happiness” (although, I once knew a retiree who was a part-time ice cream taste-tester for an ice cream manufacturing company – and his job might rightly have been called “happiness”).
I propose that a better definition of success is being able to find inner joy in the little things we each do each day throughout our lives. Finding inner joy is about waking up and being thankful we have a job to go to. It’s about getting excited to finish a project on time and having achieved the objectives. It’s about coming up with ways to make mundane tasks more enjoyable for ourselves and others. It’s about all those little things in life…because our lives are built upon the little things we do each day, not the big milestones that happen once every several years.
My grandparents were right: with age comes wisdom. What I’ve learned during my life is that, like snowflakes, everyone is unique and everyone’s life evolves in a sort of wave form rhythm. Nothing is a straight line with all aspects of life in perfect balance at all times.
There will be periods in your life when you are single and able to dedicate most your time to work and your career. There will also be phases, such as when you have children, when you’ll have less time for your career because you’ll put more emphasis on your family.
As the circle of life (or the wave form, in this case) continues, you may find that you have more time, once again, for career or personal pursuits when your children are grown. Life is filled with peaks and valleys, where you will spend more time in certain pursuits and less in others. That’s OK, and it’s perfectly normal.
Help me shatter the myth that people should strive for work-life balance, because it’s an unrealistic goal. The next time someone tells you that you need better work-life balance, ask the person why they said that. The reality is they’re probably comparing their life to yours – and, most likely, they’re at a different stage than you’re at.
Stop worrying about being in work-life balance and celebrate the times when you are off balance, as these are usually the times when you will learn the most. The key to success isn’t happiness, it’s being able to maintain your strength of inner joy through the good times as well as the bad.
Instead of being obsessed about achieving perfect work-life balance, strive for inner joy in the little things each day – because it’s through inner joy that you will achieve personal and career success.