What started off as “work-leisure balance” in the 1980s has now morphed to “work-life balance”. Well, we all know that leisure is not life or we all would be sipping beer on beaches and cities would be empty. So, what explains such gross misinterpretation and why does it remain an elusive target for everyone. I see this, in many ways, a result of widespread increase in meaningless jobs. Mondays slowly began to be dreaded and fridays became a signal to life.
Does the quest for “work-life” balance have some parallels in other activities? Is there something like “school-life” balance for a child, something like “child care-life” balance for a mother or a “college-life” balance for teenagers. Well, think of it, college itself was life, childcare itself is life so why is work not life, perhaps only because we are not doing “THE work of our life”.
Work life balance is a recent construct, not more than 20-30 yearsold brought to take care of complaining factory workers doing mundane, meaningless work. The need for sabbaticals, maternity/paternity leaves are fundamental needs, however overarching it within a work-life balance framework is not appropriate. I think work life balance has been gravely misinterpreted, is misleading and something we should not aspire for.It hinders living truly productive and meaningful lives for ourselves and our loved ones.
We have one life and notion to split it is fundamentally flawed. Having two faces is a personality disorder and not a natural way to lead our lives, it disharmonizes lives instead of clean stacking. The truth is that we “do something” all the time, some of it pays financially, some pays emotionally and so on and so forth. Seeing work as a distinct activity and segregating it has reduced productivity and increased inequality (particularly against women), it has devalued personal caregiving work for generations and stereotyped the concept of success and growth. It is the miracle that will never work.
I suggest not work for work life balance. We should “look for work that requires no balance”. I know it sounds weird and I know it is very hard to achieve but all good things have no short cuts and sounds this way. History is replete with stories of dedicated people working continuously for days in their chosen area of work, these demonstrate that obsessive work ethic is the only way towards achieving human potential.
I suggest “Take work home, bring home to work”. This is not to say that you open a laptop as soon as your reach home, but conceptually, if an idea excites you, one gives it the time it deserves, the location does not matter. But, this not out of fear but only because of a self drive. However, it is not for every one, we can only do this when we know that this is the “work of your life”. This is a very tough nut to crack. Most of us (including myself) fail to do what I just mentioned. However, this is ok as long we understand and are continuously aware of this fine distinction and our limitations. Its no wonder, when I talk to entrepreneurs, authors, artists anyone who loves his craft, they clearly have no fixation for work-life balance. Moreover, it is hard to find anyone who is passionate about his craft but not passionate about family and life.
If you are young and looking for work, I suggest picking up activities that makes work life balance meaningless. Struggling and unpeeling yourself for such work. This maybe the best cue for long-term happiness, productivity and growth, if may also be a way to answer the question “ How to find my passion” or similar questions. Once you have a faint idea of your purpose, you will not look for living two lives but one life that takes adequate care of the demands for self, family, community and can devote energy into the life’s work you want to do, before you are gone. You will work around sleeping and eating routines and everything else if you are convinced that this is the only work that I want to be better at or be remembered for. We are never late in this game. I realized this some 15 years ago and it has led me to do things I never thought I would do.
I also understand that the kinds of jobs the majority of us have are by their very nature not meant to help us think freely. A coat of a preconceived, hard wired false notion through faulty education adds to the problem. The commodification of labour, the modularization of work and veneering superficial human resource initiatives have blinded most of us from seeing “the why of our work” and I know it is nightmarish. I speak from experience and know it is hard. I also know it will be the remain the same way atleast for people transitioning from substinence income to decent living. The complications of house/education debt keeps us farther from meaningful work. In countries like India where the supply of educated cheap labour propels early trading of dreams and meaning for standardized careers, it is all the more a privilege of the few . An awakened employee will be a disaster for the employer, hence society has left such issues to be tackled post 60 years when you truly have a “life-death balance”.
Almost anyone you meet would be inclined to say and believe that work-life balance is crucial to their lives. In doing this, they take standard view spread by employers with an incentive to do so, for them, it is simple and efficient this way, the workforce is to do as said and not think more than that. While they must have a feeling of freedom, but not really freedom. I am only hoping that you can see through this, beyond what is repeatedly said and find a path where the “work-life balance “ is non relevant. Such work, I am sure will shine on its own.
Technology was meant to reduce working hours, however, evidence so far suggests that it has done the reverse. Similarly, work life balance was meant to reduce human misery, however, it has added to more misery by providing an elusive, utopian goal based on splitting our lives.
Finally, to reiterate, do not believe in work life balance, pick up your “work of life” and build your life around that. That’s the only way to do awesome work. Always remember we are too deeply ingrained NOT to believe in this. I hope you can escape this elusive trap of work life balance, it does not exist. We have one life and need to live as one.