I don’t like the concept of “work-life balance.” While I appreciate the goals of work-life balance campaigns, I worry that we are not using the right language and, therefore, not always finding the best ways forward.
My biggest complaint is that it sets up an incorrect distinction between “work” and “life” as if work is not part of my life, and I am not living when I’m at work. Work is a significant aspect of my life, part of my identity, where I find meaning and purpose, and where I spend a lot of my time.
However, my life has several facets in addition to work such as friends, family, hobbies, reflective time, exercise, and sleeping. I don’t turn off aspects of my life while at work. When my parents died, it impacted my work. If I don’t sleep well, it affects my work. If I don’t carve out enough reflective time, my work suffers.
Work will also impact the rest of your life. Work stress may result in poor sleep or mood swings that affect relationships with friends and family. Overwork may reduce the time you have available for hobbies or regular exercise.
The facets of our lives bleed into each other and are not separate and distinct. This video that Kristina Kuzmic posted on Facebook is an excellent illustration of why trying to balance everything can get us into trouble.
Rather than balance life’s facets, we should choose how to spend our time after thinking through the costs and benefits of these choices. That’s why I prefer “life integration” instead of “balance.”
For example, my dad chose to be home for dinner with his family every evening, which prevented him from taking volunteer positions. As a result, he didn’t get promoted. He happily gave up opportunities given the long-term benefits of being present for his family, who surrounded him with love and support at the end of his life.
I met an exceptional leader who schedules family vacations right after times when he has to work long hours. This way, he recovers from the work stress and compensates for the time he was unable to be with his family. He appoints someone to act for him and stays away from his email during these vacations.
A successful U.S. diplomat would go to a low stress (and not necessarily good for promotion) country right after serving in a dangerous post so she could decompress and enjoy more time with friends and hobbies.
For each of these individuals, nothing was in perfect balance. Instead, they chose to prioritize different parts of their lives depending on their needs at the time.
Instead of seeking work-life balance, identify what’s important to you, define your priorities, and set some boundaries. Strive for a well-integrated life by making a conscious choice about how you will spend your time, being aware of the pros and cons of these decisions.