The Problem with Work-Life Balance

Hint: there is no such thing as relaxation when you focus on a balancing act.

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I’ve been self-employed essentially my whole life, and this year marks the 25th anniversary since starting my entrepreneurial journey in 1992. Being an entrepreneur naturally comes with a lifestyle that makes it hard to draw the line between work and life.

Discussions about work-life balance simply aren’t very productive when your business is (such a big part of) your life,

especially when you’re the one who started it. And while many told me that we should separate life from work to be happy, I don’t believe in such a separation. Here’s why.

As individuals we all represent one unit — with a body, mind and (depending on your beliefs) soul. To think that we could separate our self into work and life without losing something bigger — is a mistake. Yes, certain circumstances require us to focus or specialize at times and in doing so make us successful that way, but keeping work and life separate doesn’t make us whole and in the long term isn’t fulfilling.

We all know that the sum is more than its parts and yet we give that sum so little attention in our daily lives. Mastering work and life in harmony isn’t the same as work-life balance, because in harmony and mastery there is nothing “to balance”. Instead it is about meeting all the issues you care about and all those which are your responsibility with 100% dedication, while carefully choosing which others you really want to concern yourself with. Because ultimately,

why bother, if you don’t care?

Some time ago I’ve watched the TED talk “How to make stress your friend” which deeply resonated with me and changed my attitude towards how we view stress. In fact it’s not stress which is the enemy, quite the opposite: stress is actually supporting us in mastering the challenges at hand.

Having been told all my life that stress is bad for you, changing my attitude towards stress wasn’t easy. The same applies for the aspect of work-life balance, or worse, having become accustomed to thinking there should be different principles for life and work.

So I was curious to find out how my principles (and consequently their values) differentiated from how I approach life vs. how I approach work. To figure that out, I asked myself whether my set of values and principles were a result of looking at the sum of the bigger picture or just a subset of its parts, i.e. work- or life-self. And while the origin of the questions and their answers to some extend vary depending on the culture you grew up (and/or are living) in, they can still serve as a simple guide to determine whether you’re on the way of achieving “life harmony” or whether you’re still struggling with “work-life balance”.

Let’s say you’ve told a friend that you’ll meet tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. Chances are that you’ll meet just fine — but if you’re not feeling well, you’ll cancel without a problem, knowing that your friend will understand.

Now picture the same in a work environment. You’ve told a colleague that you’ll meet tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. Will you still cancel with the same ease, assuming that your colleague will understand? Will you have the same sense of punctuality for the meeting? More? Less?

Whatever your answers are, this is just one example where, without much thinking, we apply different principles. The consequence, however, is that it forces us to dilute the value of our principles.

IF indeed I made punctuality one of my core principles, then there shouldn’t be a difference to whether I’m meeting a friend, a colleague or somebody new. Ideally that principle should count overall in my life, and not just in its different segments. It’s those values which we live by across the board and which we are most consistent with, which have the power to make us whole and contribute towards the life harmony we’re seeking.

We all have our principles and values, and perhaps they’re defining our self much more than we let ourselves believe. What are the principles you have, especially those where you make no separation between work and life?

Originally published at my blog

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