Am I the only guy strange enough to wonder what actually happens when the dog catches the bus? Interestingly enough, I saw it occur once and the result was so disappointing. The dog ran around and barked loudly in a state of complete confusion but never even attempted to get on the bus. Apparently it was all about the chase.
And so it is with work-life balance.
The pursuit of work-life balance can feel like a chase- and the constant running in circles leaves us disappointed and discouraged. It seems like such a worthy goal and, with enough hard work and courage, we can attain it. Well, it turns out we are wrong on both accounts. I would argue that work-life balance is neither a worthy goal, nor an attainable one.
One of my early career mistakes (and a risk for many individuals) is pursuing goals that are not worthy of who we are and who we were made to be. Let’s explore several work-life myths to see if we can uncover a worthy substitute.
What are the myths that drive our misunderstanding?
Myth #1: Everything important can be summed up as “work” or “life.”
Not true. We have a mind, a body and a soul, all of which need to be nourished in order for us to live complete lives. The work vs. life dialogue seems to avoid the dimension of the soul and its attendant spirituality or at best, it inadvertently minimizes it. Yet there is an argument to be made that it is the most powerful of the three dimensions in which we live. Certainly we do not want a firefighter who pursues this career predominantly because it affords better time off. Nor a teacher who teaches just for the summers. No, the dimension of our soul must be included as a driving force in any work-life discussion lest we turn our lives into a to-do list and destroy the more important to-be list.
Myth #2: Work is life’s rival.
Work is not competition to life, but it is a critical component of life. Work was not designed as a means of supplying the monetary resources to fuel the good things we do, but one that refines us into worthy participants in our communities and networks. Work is a training ground that can teach us how to handle the more important issues we face in other dimensions of our lives. Fundamentally, work is good and it is designed to directly contribute to the betterment of our lives and the lives of others. It should never be viewed in opposition to who we are.
Myth #3: The best we can do is balance these two opposing forces.
Work and life should in fact should be collaborative- integrated together in a way that is enriching to both. At times, we believe that ‘balancing’ work and life means that we must compartmentalize the two. However, when we separate work and life rather than integrating them, we put our integrity at risk. We are forced to choose which one is going to win our time, energy and effort day in and day out. So if work-life balance isn’t worthy, is there an alternative that is? I believe so. We find it on the road to real integrity.
It’s called work-life integration. Rather than chasing after unrealistic work-life expectations, focus on living in a way that combines them. The question then becomes: how do I spend my time and energy at work in such a way that it becomes a contributor to my entire life- financially, spiritually, socially and physically? By living a purpose-driven life with declared principles and priorities.
In my case that can be summed up as: Do the right thing! And do it right now!