The fiction of work/life balance

I’m not sure who first coined the phrase ‘work/life balance’ but it’s an unhelpful misnomer. Work is an integral part of your life. If you don’t see your work that way, you should find a role or profession which you are passionate about and which engages you. Until working becomes a manifestation and expression of who you are, you’ll be unfulfilled. Extra vacation, shorter hours, flexitime etc all pale beside the importance of that imperative.

Those looking for ‘work/life’ balance are often looking for the wrong thing or something which doesn’t exist. What they claim to want is a nicely confined role which is satisfying while they are there, and which they can switch off at the stroke of 5.30pm when they go home to get on with their lives. Sorry but if predictable hours are what you want, don’t work in PR. The news never sleeps, and so crises can break at any time. Get comfortable with work encroaching on your personal time and vice versa.

Nothing worth having comes easily. Success in PR often means hard work and long hours. If you enjoy what you are doing, this isn’t a problem. People who do any activity over a prolonged period, naturally get better at it. So to progress, you need to pump in the hours and improve. Experience isn’t necessarily a function of age, but hours at the coal face. There are no short cuts, I’m afraid.

We all have conflicting priorities in our lives. Rather than see them through a paradigm of ‘work’ or ‘life’, I prefer to see them as either mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. You need to balance each of those four elements of your life through the activities you do. Your professional career can easily encompass all four, even the spiritual. Spending time with family, going to the gym, seeing friends, meditating, even listening to your iPod all hit different aspects of those needs. Imbalance or even ignoring one of them is what can lead to a nebulous sense of dissatisfaction. It’s easy to conclude it’s a ‘work/life balance’ issue when in fact it’s something deeper.

Recognize too that no balance or equilibrium is static. Achieving a balance is a process, not a one time event. There will be times when work, family, church, friends etc become demanding and require attention. This is fine and natural. Chronically focusing on just one group, and hence just the one set of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual demands/rewards they bring creates imbalance.

So if your New Year’s resolution is to get more ‘work/life’ balance, look at it through a different lens. Is your work truly satisfying? If so, how can you weave in other elements which you’re not getting? That might be as simple as riding a bike to work to get more exercise, or it might be setting up a volunteer club after work to ramp the emotional payback. Blending the needs and rewards is what leads to balance.

Of course, consistently putting it into practice is another matter. And that’s one we all face. Here’s to health, wealth and happiness in 2008!

UPDATE – Cali and Jody kindly dropped me a note about their upcoming book ‘Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It’ and their blog which gives some excellent advice about work/life balance, together with their analysis of recent articles on the topic. Thanks – looking forward to reading it.