You have been lied to and so have I. Blame our parents, teachers, and the last 20 years of business gurus for their deception. We have been aiming so hard for success — under the guise of “work/life balance.” There’s just one problem: we’ve been grasping for the wrong trophy.
Let me share a little secret — there is no “work/life balance.”
I have tried to stay quiet on this topic for some time, but I can’t any longer. For what seems like the 98th time since I co-founded Aha! (which is product roadmap software), someone asked me today, “How are you able to balance your work and life?” It’s just a more elegant way of asking, “Do you work really hard?”
Of course I do. And I love every minute of it.
If you believe what you read, nirvana would be achieving perfect harmony in our lives between the version of ourself that toils and the other parts that don’t. But what if real harmony comes from being happy in all areas of life?
My dear friend, Emily Hall, is the CEO of the strategy consulting firm Olive Grove. She recently pointed out that the fundamental problem with “work/life balance” conversations are that they assume these two things are oppositional. The starting argument is that work and life are in conflict with one another.
This is incorrect — work is life, and life is defined by our efforts. This argument assumes that work makes us fundamentally unhappy, and only “life” can balance out that misery. It doesn’t have to be like this.
To find joy in all aspects of life, we need to start talking about a new concept. I judge myself on my ability to achieve sustainable happiness, not “work/life balance.”
If you remain unconvinced that we should change the conversation, consider the following:
You have one life
We have one life and we should fill it with what is most important to us. We are told to focus on achieving a positive “work/life balance,” but rarely stop to question if that’s what really matters. We should check in with ourselves even once per week to track what we do and how happy it makes us. If we did, we might realize that although we look successful, we don’t actually do much of what makes us happy. “Work/life balance” doesn’t solve this problem; optimizing for sustainable happiness does.
Balance has no value
“Work/life balance” is an empty goal. It’s a state of equilibrium, but nothing more. Our focus should not be to balance work with our life; it should be to design our lives so that we purposefully do more of what makes us happy. When we regularly engage what makes us happy, the feeling carries over into everything we do. This makes us more productive people — better partners, parents, and professionals.
If you love it, do more of it
Fill your life with what you love. Fill it with your passions, family who you care about, and positive experiences. Sometimes, this involves small changes (such as taking a midday walk). Other times, bigger changes must be made (such as leaving a bad job or lackluster relationship that cannot be fixed). Make deposits every day and discard things that bring you down whenever you can.
Our ultimate goal should be sustainable happiness. By sustainable I mean that you must be able to continue to enjoy what you do for long periods of time — and it must not impact other’s ability to find their own joy. This inherently rules out quick-hitting highs and destructive behaviors.
I understand that sustainable happiness is not always possible. Some people are struggling with poverty and others are ill. Many people do not even have the fundamental freedom to pursue their own higher purpose or must serve others first. But for those who are free and can make intentional choices to be sustainably happy, the rewards are uplifting and lasting.
Sustainable happiness is a journey, because we all have lows. And life is unpredictable and even cruel at times. Reaching and holding on to this level of self-content is not easy to achieve, but it should be our ultimate aspiration.
Do you agree that it’s time to let go of “work/life balance?”
This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Brian de Haaff is the CEO of Aha! – #1 product roadmap software.
Image: A share trader reacts while checking share prices in front of the German share price index DAX board at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt, November 20, 2008. REUTERS.