There are two things in life that I find annoying: people who leave dirty dishes in the sink, and discussions about “work-life balance.”
It’s not that I don’t believe in seeking balance. It’s just that I don’t agree that there is something called “life” that doesn’t include “work”. The people who make this hard and fast distinction are usually the same people who criticize me for using a cell phone when I’m hiking, or for bringing a computer on a camping trip; they say that technology has ruined our ability to “get away from it all”. They are also the same people who insist that to truly “relax”, you must leave all things work-related at the office and refuse to think about them.
My life is cut of whole cloth. I can’t, and don’t want, to compartmentalize like that. Here are some of the things I want to say to these people who would criticize:
- In the old days, if I wanted to go hiking but I was expecting an important business call, I had to forgo the hike and stay home. Now I can go and bring my cell phone.
- If my cell phone rings in the woods, it might be that important business call without which I could not have gone out. But it also might be my friend who wants to know what trail I’m on and whether she can join me for the hike.
- If I only think about work while I’m in my office, I will never have the creative ideas that are often sparked by a change in environment. I will always feel that work is something I’m trying to get away from when I leave the office. I will eventually cease to enjoy or be inspired by my work.
- If I can only relax when I’m not thinking about work, then work will always make me uptight. Uptight people don’t have great new ideas.
A case in point: I just came back from a five day camping trip. I took this trip deliberately because things were getting stale in my office; I hadn’t written anything interesting in my blog for over a week, and I couldn’t seem to focus on or enjoy the pile of work-related reading on my desk. I needed some fresh thinking to help me finish a new teambuilding program I’m working on. So I packed up my hiking shoes and my dog and took off for a mountain range I’d never visited before. I read and wrote in the mornings, and hiked in the afternoons. While I was hiking I thought about what I read in the morning and pondered new ideas. This just doesn’t always happen when I’m in my office. Who says I’m not relaxed? Why can’t I enjoy this because I’m thinking about work?
I would like the people who talk about work-life balance to start talking about what works for them, and stop dictating what is supposed to work for everyone else. Just like I wish the people who leave dirty dishes in the sink would start washing them. But don’t get me started on that.