Say Bye-Bye to the Bullshit of Work-Life Balance
Let me start this discussion of success and work-life balance by saying Tim Ferriss can take his four-hour workweek and f*ck right off.
In all honesty, I like what Ferriss has to say, but you’d better believe he worked way more than four hours a week building his success. If anyone could actually be successful working only four hours a week, several of my family members would be doing a lot better for themselves.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let me start this discussion of success and work-life balance by saying there’s no such thing, so stop looking for it.
What…you need more? Fine, I’ll dive into the details, but get ready for a few bruises because I won’t be pulling any punches.
No, You Can’t have it All, So Stop Asking
The idea of work-life balance didn’t have to be bullshit. It could have meant, “learning to accept career limitations in exchange for family time and vicea versa,” which is admittedly not very enticing but which accurately reflects reality.
Instead, pitchsters, hypesters, and other “gurus” use it to mean some fantastical life position where the rules of time, physics, and biology don’t apply and where you can make millions of dollars a year while sunning on the beach with your latest spouse and soaking up the truly significant things in life (OK, a small fraction of people actually can achieve this, but only after putting in years of 100+ hour weeks and grinding both smart and hard to the point that they can throw balance out the window and relax on their piles of cash).
They tell you every moment of your working life should be a pleasure, and every moment outside the office a spiritually renewing and invigorating experience.
Sometimes work sucks, even if you love what you do.
Sometimes life is boring, or frustrating, or even depressing, even if you’re generally pretty happy.
And sometimes you have to choose between spending time with your kids, spending time on that work presentation, or spending time on the back porch with a six pack and a stereo. And there are times when each of those choices is the right one.
But the fact is, most of us work because we have to. Our survival depends on our ability to make money that pays for food, shelter, and a modicum of material luxury. Our ideal “work-life balance” would be millions of dollars in the bank and a life free to do whatever we wanted, whether we made more money at it or not.
But the vast majority of the world’s workforce never reaches this ideal, so truly attainable “work-life balance” means settling for something less.
Yes, less. Not just “other than” or “different.” If you want something of everything the world has to offer, all at the same time, you’ll need to settle for less of each. If you want all the free time in the world to enjoy your family and your hobbies, be prepared to be broke (and I hope you have cheap hobbies and kids with small appetites). If you want millions in the bank and not a monetary care in the world, don’t expect to find your family waiting around for you when you finally have some time to spend with them.
You can’t have it all, and this idea that we somehow deserve a life full of meaningful work, money, and the adoration of a clan of loved ones is relatively new and more than a little insulting to the people who have sacrificed and worked their posteriors off to get what they want out of life.
No one talks about “food-life balance” as a way to achieve optimal health and fitness; you either get your butt to the gym everyday, rain or shine, and your track those macronutrients and calories carefully so your body gets what it needs, or you don’t. Anything less than 100% dedication means less than optimal health, and there’s no getting around it.
I’m not saying that with any judgement, either. I don’t think you have to strive for optimal health to be a “good person” or anything, and it’s simply not a priority for some. But if you truly want to achieve everything you can in terms of health and fitness, it will take time away from other activities and commitments, and you will have to give up other enjoyable activities like semi-professional competitive eating and all you can eat burger night.
Come to Think of It, ” Work-Balance” Is Bullshit, Too
In the current age of smartphones, texts, emails, Slack, Trello, SnapChat, and the next newest most vital communication app you haven’t even heard of yet, there’s no such things as “clocking out.” Your boss, colleagues, clients, vendors, and customers can send you a message anytime of day or night and be all but sure you saw it within minutes. And if you’re only answering from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, you’d better believe you’re pissing people off.
Humans are impatient. We want things done, like, yesterday. So you can set your hours and tell people what they are, but you aren’t going to change their expectations and you will lose customers/incur your boss’s wrath if you don’t make yourself more available.
You can feel like you’re entitled to fix work hours, and you may even be right, but it doesn’t really matter if other people don’t act that way.
And that might be a viable option. If you want to set strict work hours and actually stick to them and can actually find an employer who won’t fire you for it (because let’s be real, even if they use a more creative excuse to get around pesky labor laws, most employers will fire you for it), rock on. But you won’t have many options and you won’t be on the fast-track to the executive suite.
Don’t let them tell you that freelancing or contract work is your ticket to both freedom and riches, either. Though many prefer it, you’re not really getting rid of your boss—you’re taking on a new boss with every client, and each boss assumes their work is the most important thing you have going on. Plus you have to do your own taxes, handle the bookkeeping, and if you want your business to grow then reliable ’round the clock communication is even more essential.
Sure, contract work gives you a little more freedom, but it comes with a lot more work and a lot less security.
Like everything else, there’s a trade off. There’s no such thing as “balance” that hits high marks across the board.
Balance is Overrated, Anyway
Look, I don’t want you to think I’m sitting here all bitter and cynical and hating life. I actually like my life a lot, and I even love my work, most of the time.
But more importantly, I’m passionate about my work even during the moments where I don’t love it. Even when I have to grit my teeth and grind away to get everything done.
And those moments don’t mean things are “out of balance.” They just mean that I, like you, am an imperfect human in an imperfect world—a world that isn’t designed to give you or I everything we ever wanted all at once—doing my best to survive, to thrive, and to enjoy myself along the way.
Even if I can’t enjoy every moment.
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