Whaaat??? A Balance??? No it isn’t. I repeat what I’ve already said couple of times in my previous posts: Work is something people don’t want to do, but they still do it anyway because the system is made so to keep us wired and to be forced to work. There are exceptions of course but a massive amount of earth’s human population is working for the monthly pay check and they are ready to compromise everything and everybody they love just to work on something they hate.
When I was a kid I had nothing but my childhood and a lot of free time to spend with my friends and do whatever I loved. Now I afford almost everything I want, but I don’t have the time to spend with my friends and to do whatever I love. Why? What happened? Well…After finishing my studies I had to start my adult life and to start doing what all adults do: TO WORK. And I had to work hard many times on something that I didn’t really like. Exactly like me are billions of people on this planet. At one point in your career you could find your WHY by understanding the purpose of your work, and start working on something you love and of course make money out of it. But to say that in general “Work-Life balance matters most” is of course nothing but a big veritable LIE. How the hell can you balance something you hate, with your life?
Do this test!!. Get out, go for a walk in your city-center and stop randomly people on the street and ask them if they love their jobs. Do this!! Let’s say by asking 100 people. And collect all the answers, you will see that I am right. People could hate their jobs for different reasons, but one of them is for sure also that they don’t really enjoy it. They do it anyway because they HAVE TO. But to find a balance with that, is like trying to match a circle in a square both having the same size (diameter = length). It will never fit.
Work is hard. Every day, you feel the stress of performing, of delivering against your goals and objectives, of earning enough to support your family, of learning how to advocate in just the right way to advance your career and thereby earn more. And always, hanging over your head, is the threat of change as your company shifts its focus, outsources your role, or finds a particularly smart machine that can do your job better, faster, and cheaper. And then there are the other people you have to work with – an ever changing cast of characters, some of whom work across the hall, others of whom work across the world, whose collaboration you seek, but whose motives and methods remain mysterious. The commute doesn’t help neither, I am talking from my own experience, I did that too 🙂 : the daily battle with your fellow strivers on trains, planes, and freeways, everyone rushing in and rushing out, dogging the arteries of your city, raising your stress level. Forty-five minutes, an hour, ninety minutes each way – or a two – hour flight if you work for one of the big consultancies and have to show up at the client site – all just so you can begin your daily race of life-at-work. On the way home you steal a brief moment or two to decompress, and then, once home, you have a quick dinner with the family before dragging out the phone again for the evening volley of e-mails and texts, hoping to catch one last request so that it won’t need immediate action before your shower in the morning.
Work – our experience teaches us – is toil; a stressor, a drainer of our energy – and if we are not careful, it can lead to physical exhaustion, emotional emptiness, depression, and burnout. It’s a transaction – we sell our time and our talent so that we can earn enough money to buy the things we love, and to provide for those we love. Indeed, the term we use for the money we earn in this transaction is compensation, the same word we use for what we get when we’re injured or wronged in the eyes of the law. Our wages are not just money, then: they are money to make up for the inherent badness of work- A BRIBE, if you will, to tough it out.
Work is even a distraction from work. When we need to get something important done, we recognize that it will be hard to do unless we can somehow make our escape from the daily grind, and so we go on a leadership retreat to get away from the noise and stress of work, to better focus on other work. And because the effects of work are so potentially toxic, the obvious and sensible precaution to take, so that we don’t all expire at our desks, is to balance it out with something else, with something better. With life.
- We lose ourselves in work, and rediscover ourselves in life.
- We survive work, but live life. When work empties us out, life fills us back up.
- When work depletes us, life restores us.
The answer to the problem of work, the world seems to say, is to “balance” it with life. Of course, we are simplifying things here. Some people succeed in finding great satisfaction in their work, while others have hugely stressful lives outside of work. We know, too, that some jobs seem to be inherently difficult, or even inherently boring. No one’s work, or life, is ever completely joyous, or completely controllable. Yet still, the assumption that pervades our working world is that “work is bad” and “life is good” and therefore work-life balance matters most. “Does the company support work-life balance?” is right up there with “What’s the company culture like?” in the list of questions candidates inevitably ask during the interviewing process – which explains why, in these tight labor markets, companies highlight their on-site: dry-cleaning, banking, and child-care services, their quiet rooms, in-chair massages, sleep pods, and luxury shuttle buses. These perks are tremendously well intended and are often highly valued by employees – and at the same time are rooted in the idea that work is a heavy weight on the scales, and that the enlightened organization is one that does everything it can to lessen that weight, and thereby tip the scales back toward life. Good intentions aside, the problems with all this begin with the concept of balance – and it’s a concept with a long history.
You’ve striven for it, haven’t you? You’ve tried to find that delicate “balance” between the needs of yourself, your family, your friends, your work colleagues, your boss, and your community. You’re aware that each of these constituencies places different and often conflicting demands on you, and you’ve struggled to give due attention to each one, satisfying their differing needs while still attending to your own. You’ve sat on a conference call in the car-pool line and mouthed “Sorry!!” to the kids in the back. You’ve rationalized a missed President’s Day outing with the family because, well, it’s a Monday, your other team members appear to be online, and besides, President’s Day isn’t a proper holiday anyway, not really. You’ve taken on a “stretch” assignment because it might – just might!-come with a raise, or at least a bonus, and so enable you to afford a better house for your family. But because you now have more work to do, and more resting on it, you’ve found that you can’t attend that school-board meeting, or your cousin’s wedding, or that online management course, because life is about trade-offs and this one is yours. You’ve found yourself spinning plates, or juggling balls, or plugging gaps-whatever the metaphor, you’ve known too often the feeling of too many requests from too many quarters and not enough hours in the day. You’ve told yourself that if you can just keep the plates spinning, the balls in the air, the gaps plugged, then perhaps you can parcel out your attention and energy so that no one, in your work or your life, will feel too neglected – so that, although you can’t be all things to all people, your unflagging efforts will at least achieve some sort of equitable distribution.
But in the real world does anyone, anywhere, man or woman, young or old, affluent or barely solvent, ever actually find balance? If any have, I haven’t met them yet. And this is why balance is more bane than benefit. In practice, striving for it feels like triage, like trying to erect some sort of barricade against the endless encroachments on our time and the relentless ratcheting of expectations to work more, all while worrying that someone else has figured out how to do this better than we have. Obviously, triage can be necessary in life, but it surely is not enough – it keeps things at bay, but it takes us away from ourselves. And in the end, balance is an unachievable goal anyway, because it asks us to aim for momentary stasis in a world that is ever changing. Supposing we ever get things just exactly in balance, we know for sure that something will come along and unbalance them and that we’ll be back to pushing our balance rock up the hill again. So what then should we do? Work can be hard. So can life. And there’s too much of both, too much of the time. If balancing everything out isn’t the answer, then what is?
Your life is the most important gift you have. All what you need to do is to stay healthy,enjoy the life and do something you love, money is then another subset of life. You are not wealthy if you have money, you are wealthy if you are healthy. Therefore we need a new way of thinking. About work. About life. Neither you nor your life are in balance, nor will you ever be. Instead you are a unique creature who takes inputs from the world, metabolizes them in some way, produces something useful, and does so in such a way that you can keep doing it. At least, you are when you’re healthy, when you’re at your best, when you are contributing all that your talents allow you to. When you’re flourishing you are acting on the world and it on you. Your world offers up to you raw material-activities, situations, outcomes – in all parts of your life, and some of this raw material invigorates you and gives you energy.
You are at your healthiest when you find this particular kind of raw material, draw it in, allow it to feed you, and use it to contribute something-and when that contribution actually seems to leave you with more energy, not less. This state, not balance, is what we should strive for. You want to find love in what you do. However, the moment you start thinking this to yourself, you almost immediately dismiss it as sappy or unrealistic. Watch any famous commencement address on YouTube, or take a long lunch with a mentor, and it’s almost guaranteed that at some point you’ll hear the advice to “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life again.” And when you hear that, your heart sinks. On the one hand, the thought seems to make perfect sense – wouldn’t it be great if we could all do what we love?
But on the other side, it seems, in this day and age, to be something of a luxury, it invites the response that it’s all very well for you, lucky person, to have made your way doing what you love, but for the rest of us work is very much a requirement, and love is just an added and rare-bonus. Linger on it for a moment, though. We’re going to take a longer look at love. Therefore I would just like to share the truth that-more than striving for balance between work and life love-in-work matters most.
Because love-specifically, the skill of finding love in what you do, rather than simply “doing what you love” – leads us directly to a place that is the epitome of pragmatism. On the face of it, though, organizations don’t appear greatly concerned with love. Southwest Airlines can stick a heart on its planes, and Facebook can claim that its mission is to “ship love,” but in these two cases, as in most others, the love refers to the customers, not the employees. It doesn’t matter which industry are you in, the first thing you as company owner must do is to LOVE YOUR EMPLOYEES, only the second love your customers. Unfortunately, most organizations are much more worried about the meaty stuff: performance, goals, achievement, discipline, execution, and rigor. Get all this done, meet all the deadlines with the necessary levels of quality, and maybe then you can sprinkle a little dusting of love on it at the end. If this is your view of your organization, then you – and it, if it shares this view – are missing the mark. Because the truth is that even the most hard-nosed, performance-oriented organizations desperately want you to find great love in what you do. They just don’t call it like that.
Have you ever been deeply in love? Cast your mind back to when that was – when you were so in love with someone that you couldn’t wait to see that person, when time flew by quickly when you were together, and when, after parting, you ached to see your love again. When you’re in love, you’re a different person. Looking at the world through the rosy lens of love, everyone seems wonderful, people are beautiful, the world is happy and kind, and spring is in the air. Love lifts you up. It elevates you to a new plane, where you’re at your most productive, creative, generous, resilient, innovative, collaborative, open, and powerful. When you’re in love, you are simply magnificent.
Look at those adjectives again: productive, creative, generous, resilient, innovative, collaborative, open, powerful. Not only are they a pretty good description of how you hope to be in your life, or how your spouse or family wants you to be, but they’re also, surely, the exact qualities your organization’s CEO is looking for in every team member. Put the list of you-in-love qualities next to your CEO’s list of ideal-employee-at-work qualities and you’ll see that the list is the same. But you don’t get to feel any of these things by writing them down, just as your organization won’t create any of these in you merely by discussing them with you in a training class. You – and your organization – get them only if you create them, and you create them only through love. Most organizations shy away from the word love, preferring more business-appropriate terms such as committed or motivated or discretionary effort. But in the real world we have to engage with what really is, not some watered-down version of how we’d like people to be or to feel. If we want our people to flourish, if we want them to be creative and intrigued and generous and resilient, then we’ve got to help them find what they love to do.
There’s love in work, and we should use the word. We should be curious about how each of us can find it. We should honor the truth that our organization can never find it for us, can never define it for us. For too long we’ve allowed our organizations to appropriate human words – such as: love, passion, excitement, thrill – and persuade themselves that, by invoking these words, they’ve created genuine human feelings. They haven’t, and they never will. The organization is a fiction, an “inter-subjective reality,” and it’s simply not real enough or human enough to know which activities at work you love. Only you can know that. Only you are dose enough to yourself to know where you find love and where you don’t.
Organizations are not powerless, but their power (and their name) comes from their ability to organize what is already there in plain view. Your organization, if it is careless, can crush your spirit, can diminish or ignore it. But only you can animate it. Only you can bring love into your world at work. And when you do, all sorts of good things happen. The big question, then, is how to make this happen?. Whether we call it love-in-work or anything else, the fact remains that work is called work for a reason, and your work is not only busy and sometimes repetitive but – more to the point – is not always of your own making. You have a particular job, in which certain outcomes are expected, and your responsibilities are what they are. What’s love got to do with that?
So, here’s a way to remove the problem – here’s how to intentionally and responsibly weave love into your work. Think about the most successful person you know. Not in terms of money, necessarily, but in terms of her contributions to her team, and her organization – someone enormously productive, creative, resilient, and seemingly at one with her work. More than likely, as you think of this person, you’re thinking she got lucky. “How,” you’re asking yourself, “did she find that role?, how did she find that work?, how did she find that life? I wish I could find something that fits me as well as her work fits her.”
If you are indeed thinking this, then first, good for you for recognizing something special and precious, and second, you’ve landed on the wrong verb. This person didn’t find this work – she didn’t happen upon it, fully-formed and waiting for her. Instead, she made it. She took a generic job, with a generic job description, and then, within that job, she took her loves seriously, and gradually, little by little and a lot over time, she turned the best of her job into most of her job. Not the entirety of it, maybe, but certainly an awful lot of it, until it became a manifestation of who she is. She tweaked and tweaked the role until, in all the most important ways, it came to resemble her – it became an expression of her. You can do the same.
Think of these activities as your “red threads.” Your work is made up of many activities, many threads, but some of them feel as though they’re made of particularly powerful material. These red threads are the activities you love, and your challenge is to pinpoint them so you can ensure that, next week, you’ll be able to recreate them, refine them, and add to them. You are weaving red threads into the fabric of your work, one thread at a time. Now, you do not have to end up with an entirely red quilt.
The researchers found that when the physicians spent more than 20 percent of their time on activities they loved, there was no corresponding reduction in burnout risk. The 20 percent number was a threshold, which is to say that a little love goes an awfully long way: when you can deliberately weave your red threads throughout the fabric of your work you’ll feel stronger, perform better, and bounce back faster. These red threads are your strengths. Typically we think of our strengths as what we’re good at and our weaknesses as what we’re bad at, and that our team leaders, or our colleagues, are therefore the best judges of both. But this is not the best definition of either strengths or weaknesses. A strength is any activity that strengthens you, and a weakness is any activity that weakens you, even if you’re good at it.
“Performance” is what you have done well or poorly, and your team leader can be the judge of that. Team leaders and colleagues, however, can’t judge what strengthens or weakens you. If you spend a week in love with your work and realize that you love finding patterns in data, then your team leader can legitimately tell you, in regard to your performance, “Well, you’re not explaining the patterns well enough,” or “Well, you’re not finding patterns that are useful,” or, “You’re not putting them on a PowerPoint slide properly.” Your team leader can say all these things. But what he cannot say is, “No, you don’t love finding patterns in data,” He can’t say that your red thread isn’t a red thread. You are the one and only judge of that.
And don’t imagine that your teammates in the same role as you share the same red threads as you. They don’t. You have a unique relationship with the world, a relationship that reveals to you things that only you can see. It offers thread-weaving opportunities all the time, but the only person who knows if those threads are red is YOU. The world won’t do your weaving for you – it doesn’t care about your red threads. The only person who can stop and be attentive enough to identify these threads, and weave them intelligently into the fabric of your work, is you. You’re often told, by the way, to “take ownership of your career.” This is what it actually means – it means taking ownership of the weaving of your red threads.
This is true not only in your work life but in your life in general. Despite how it might feel a lot of the time, you do not have many different compartments of your life, each of which must be carefully balanced. Instead, you have one life, one whole cloth, one fabric for you to weave your red threads into. It’s up to you to know what you love about work, what you love about hobbies, what you love about friends, and what you love about family, and those things will be different from everyone else’s things. So when people say, “Well, as a father/friend/colleague I think you should do this or that,” remember that they do not know you, like you know you, that they are well intended yet blind. Your world has an n of 1, and that 1 is YOU.
- Should you work fifteen hours a day?
- Should you have three kids before the age of thirty?
- Should you devote all your time to your career until you can afford the day care you will need?
- Should you take six weeks of vacation a year, or none?
- Should you quit your job and go surfing or van-ing?
These are all choices that only you can make, and the only way to make them wisely is to honor the truth that your life will give you strength, if you can but pay attention to your emotional reactions to the events and activities and responsibilities you choose to fill it with. Based on this assumption you can make a list of “Love It” things.
And what of the list of “Loathed It” things? Obviously these are your fraying, weak threads, and your aim is to incorporate as few of them as possible in your life’s fabric – either by stopping these activities altogether, by partnering with someone to get them done as painlessly as possible, or by seeing if, in being combined with an activity you love (by being braided with one of your red threads), they can become less draining for you.
When you start to think about your life in this way, you’ll quickly realize not only that “balance” is an unhelpful idea but that we have the categories wrong. What we all wrestle with every day in the real world is not so much work and life as it is love and loathe. Watch for your red threads. Take them seriously. They are light, they are strong, they are true, and they are yours. And when you feel run down, or burned out, or at risk, or that everything is coming apart at the seams, ding to them tightly. They will hold fast until you have the strength to begin weaving something new. This new thing you make, this new idea, or project, or job, or relationship, or life, will not necessarily be balanced as others see it. It will not necessarily be a life that others would have made or would even approve of. Nor will it necessarily be easy. But it will be yours. It will be crafted from sources of strength felt only by you, and so it will be strong. It will flourish. It will not wither, and neither will you. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if work were for love – if the point of work were to discover that which each of us loves? Obviously, today we don’t think of it that way. We think of it as a transaction: you get things done, and then we pay you to buy things you love. But what if we flipped that all around? What if we made the purpose of work to help people discover that which they love.
For example if we changed the American Management Association slogan from “Get work done through people” to “Get people done through work?” We’d fail, of course, because people are complicated, and so is work, and so is life. And besides, no person is ever “done.” But what if we made the attempt the entire point of work: To teach our kids and our college graduates, our workers young and old, our people in the second decade of their first career and our people in the first year of their third career, how to use the raw material of work to find their very own red threads and then to take responsibility for weaving them into something fine and strong?
But if you build technical craft on a loveless foundation, you net only burnout, because technical mastery absent love always equals burnout. Burnout isn’t the absence of balance but the absence of love.The power of human nature is that each human’s nature is unique. This is a feature, not a bug. So your responsibility is to take seriously the uniqueness of your uniqueness, and design the most intelligent, the most honest, and the most effective ways to volunteer it to the rest of us. We – your teammates, your family, your community, your company – are waiting for you to share with us your unique loves. We’re here for but a few short years. Please don’t make us wait too long.