‹ Go Back  |  Posted: September 24th, 2009

We all have a different definition of work-life balance

Here's me on La Plata peak in Colorado.  Can you tell that I'm thinking about work?  Does that bother you?

Here's me on La Plata peak in Colorado. Can you tell that I'm thinking about work? Does that bother you?

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.

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5 Responses

  1. Kirsten Ly says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful article. I find, too, as someone who has my own business in a creative profession, that it’s nearly impossible to shut off my work brain when I’m with family (nor do I always want to!), and as a mom of 3, it’s impossible to forget about my kids when I’m working. I have one “to do” list with everything on it–work deadlines, kids school deadlines, and my own personal stuff–because that’s how my life works. There are no compartments; it’s a total meshing together of activities. I don’t think I could go back to a typical office work environment, where you have to pretend to only be human on the weekends.

  2. Simmi says:

    Couldn’t agree more with you. to me life-work balance is not about ability to drop work altogether and focus on a hike or about forgetting all about my laundry and kids and just chase an almost never ending to-do list.

    Balance to me is when I close my eyes and rest my head on a pillow at the end of the day, to feel satisfied that my project proposal got great feedback and my kids enjoyed some Mom-cooked pasta. that I was able to catch up with that must-listen podcast and speak to my Mom.

    Think about it – how about calling it work-life integration and not work-life balance?

  3. Anna says:

    Simmi–I like that term! Work-life integration, that does really describe how I feel about it.

    Kirsten–I agree with you, I have been on my own for almost ten years now and it’s impossible to imagine going back to a typical office environment.

    Thank you both for your comments. I wonder if we’ll get anyone disagreeing with us?

  4. Oren says:

    I think the flaw is that you would skip the hike in order to take the call. There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where we are prevented from enjoying the world and all it has to offer because we have to “pay the bills”. We are really much worse off than people in primitive societies. Who go on a hunt for a few hours a week and then spend the rest of their time telling stories around a campfire and playing with their children or having sex, or whatever. I mean–call me cynical if you will–our careers are actually meaningless and we perform the duties for lack of greater meaning in our lives. We can work and work and work, but in the end…what does it all amount to? And is it any more meaningful than the simple pleasure of doing nothing at all?

  5. Anna says:

    Hmmm…I guess all I can say is that I’m sorry you feel that way, Oren. But I don’t agree that my career is meaningless, and I don’t find simple pleasure in doing nothing at all. I get bored doing nothing. I do think you’re right that many people feel as you do. It’s sad. What’s the answer?

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