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Imagine you are living in the world where you can have perfectly balanced life. It is world where there is a clear line between your personal life and work. How does it sound to you? If this idea looks more like an illusion, you are right. Unfortunately, many of us are living in this illusion every day. In this article, I will try to convince you to stop pursuing this illusion of work-life balance. You will never find it only end up depressed and alone. If you are ready to question your assumptions, let’s begin.
One of the biggest issues many people face today is balancing their work with their free time activities. This search for balance often occurs when we find ourselves struggling with some kinds of obstacle or struggle. It doesn’t matter what exactly this struggle is, all that matter is that it’s related either to work or our personal life. This is a place where many of us often stop. We find this wish for balanced life, but reject to continue searching for solution. What we often overlook is that the real problem may actually be hidden somewhere else.
What I mean by that is this search for balance can actually be a symptom of something much deeper. The real cause might be our inner dissatisfaction with current state of things. When you think about it, what symptoms are following or preceding this feeling of being out of balance? Lack of energy, mood swings, lack of taste, lack of enthusiasm and other psychological or physical problems. One possible conclusion can be that we are not imbalanced. We may just be unhappy with our work. In other words, this search for balance may be just a cover for search for meaning.
Does that sound crazy? If we will assume that in order to reach happiness in our lives we have to find some meaning to live for, this idea seems much more realistic. Another argument speaking for this assumption is that it is almost impossible to find anyone who is complaining or dissatisfied with his work and life balance while doing something he loves to do. Why we often see successful people working insane hours without any sign of dissatisfaction? Even our instincts are telling us that there must be something else. Something we don’t see yet.
With the evidence mentioned above on mind, I have to ask you a thought-provoking question. Is it possible that work and life balance may not exist at all? What if that thing you have been fed with from almost all sides doesn’t exist? What if this whole work-life balance thing is only illusion? Before you reject this idea, think about it just for a second. Also, consider the evidence you may see around you. Think about all those hard-working people full of satisfaction. Although this idea is uncomfortable for you, don’t reject it yet. Your reaction may be a sign that there is a grain of truth.
Work-Life Balance and Meaning
To up the ante, I want to mention Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. It was this man who came up with the idea that in order to live fulfilling life it must have some meaning. Before rejecting this theory, let me mention that this man was also Holocaust survivor. What’s more, it was not a short experience. He had to endure the cruelest conditions you can imagine from 1942 to 1945 in four different concentration camps. Considering what this man had to go through, think about work-life balance for one more time.
Is lack of balance the real cause of your dissatisfaction? Are you really striving for finding that magical line that would make it clear where your personal life and work divide? Or is it possible that what you are actually lacking in your life is meaning. Take a look in the mirror and ask yourself whether the meaning you have or think you have is strong enough. Maybe the reason that you don’t want to wake up in the morning is that you unconsciously don’t align with the meaning or goal you set for yourself. Maybe you even hate the work you currently do.
Does this option sound possible to you? It is uncomfortable to ask this “what if” question, I understand it. However, this is the only way to find out what is the real cause of the current state of things. Don’t reject this as some self-help woo woo crap. Think about it.
Now, let’s get back to business…
Work-Life Balance as a Business Model
Why are we as a society so obsessed with work-life balance and why is this obsession still on the rise? I think there are two main reasons. First, we are living in increasingly competitive age. Although the majority of people complaining about work-life balance have much lower work ethic and are less resilient than the generation before them (baby boomers). Previous generation was simply more used to hard work in pretty tough conditions without complaints. Let’s not forget that they also endured world war, some of them even two.
Am I suggesting that the current generation is weak and can’t handle what their parents and grandparents could? Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Just take a look at how many young people today go through any kind of army training or anything similar. Only a few of them. The rest will probably never have to endure so tough conditions. Why should we then be surprised that they start to complain when their work gets harder? Without any chance to cope with stress, physical or psychological, it’s just not possible for them to develop resilience.
Second reason, I think, is behind this work-life balance movement is that it is simply good for business. To understand what I mean take a look at Amazon or any other bookstore. What you will see are shelves full of self-help books waiting for another depressed man or woman willing to buy it. Besides tons of books, there are also dozens, if not hundreds, of various courses, webinars, seminars, audios and events. All of these things are created with the purpose to ride this wave of depression while earning solid amount of money to the authors. Few words about my experience…
Quick Note on Self-Help and My Naïveté
I have to admit that, given what I said, condemn the self-help industry as a whole. Sure, you may argue that self-help category is full of crap. You can argue that all those speaker calling themselves “gurus” are just talkers. Some of them are some not. It was not long ago when I was strongly against any one just distantly engage in this kind of business, or industry if you want. That being said, I had to change my mind. What was the turning point?
In the beginning, when I would read any book or article on goal setting or whatever I would always blame those people for my failure in not reaching my goals and not fulfilling my dreams. It was much easier than to take a look at the real cause of my failure – in the mirror. Back then, I don’t know why, but I naively believed that all I have to do is to read couple books and everything will come by itself. In other words, I was not willing to work for what I wanted. Honestly, this is something I see again and again around me.
People are quick to make some wish, but when it comes to putting in the sweat and actually working hard to fulfill those wishes, all that enthusiasm and energy is suddenly gone. Next, many of these people (I was among them) will start to blame others. Why? It is very easy. You read a book, fail and then just blame the author for your failure. It is so simple, anyone can do it. Many do. Anyway, it was when I finally recognized that it was I who was to blame when I stopped throwing the dirt on self-help industry.
It was after approximately a year of blaming everyone else, but not myself, when things started to change. Why am I telling you all this? Maybe you are at the same place as I was. If yes, it is time to realize that you will never reach any goal without getting of your butt and doing the work. You can read as many motivational and development books as you want. However, until you put in the hours, effort and sweat, nothing will change. Without your own actions, there is no self-help that will work or you. Just think about the word “self-help”. You have to help yourself. This is a harsh truth some people are not willing to accept.
Remember, it is not bad to admit your mistakes, to look like a fool for a while. Take me as an example. I was complete idiot. Ungrateful, arrogant prick (I apologize for the dictionary). Avoid doing the same mistake. Anyway, to close this sub-topic, I think it’s okay to say that self-help “gurus” and other people involved in this industry are not inherently evil. They are just trying to make a living. In the end, they are only taking the opportunities given to them by us.
Goals, Meaning and Hard Work
By now, I hope that most of you finally understand that there is no work-life balance to be chased. What are the next steps you can do? First, you should find out what meaning do you want to give to your life. I’m serious about this. What do you want to leave here after you die? Here is the thing. Your life will be the result of this simple equation – your goal or meaning + hard work. That’s it, no rocket science involved. All you have to do is decide on your goal or meaning and then just work incredibly hard so nothing and no one will be able to prevent you from reaching your goal.
Again, don’t take this as some self-help 10-minutes crash course. Otherwise, I could simply tell you to watch some motivational video, do a quick visualization and then ask you for buying my book or whatever. Isn’t this how it usually goes? Forget that just for a moment and think about what do you want to make happen in your life and in the world. Don’t be embarrassed. For example, my life’s goal is to build the greatest company every created and through it use technology to empower and change humankind.
Am I crazy? Maybe. Am I dead serious about it. You can bet! What’s the difference between those two things? Well, I know that it will take decades and enormous, almost surreal, amount of hard work, sweat and maybe even blood to make it happen. I am willing to undergo all of it and the only thing that will stop me is death. One interesting thing… Until now there was only one person on the Earth that knew about my goal. The reason why I now shared it publicly is not to brag. Honestly, it was and still makes me very uncomfortable.
I told it to you because, first, I want to make you feel comfortable with any goal you choose for yourself. Second, I want to make it clear that when you define a goal you want to achieve, you must get serious about the work and effort it will take to reach it. Otherwise, you are talking only about dream. Nothing more. So, no matter how big or small your goal is, accept that it will take certain amount of work to get there. Since you don’t know me that well, maybe I should give you some smaller goal as an example because, based on its size, it is hard to believe I mean it. I wish you would be here with me so you can see the level of determination and certainty I have.
It is only up to you to decide whether will you chase that tasty idea of work-life balance even though there is no such a thing. When you realize this harsh truth you can then decide what to do instead. You can be content with living an average life including some headache and depression here and there. Or, you can also find something meaningful for you to pursue and go all–in despite the stress and obstacles it may bring.
Closing thoughts on work-life balance
I guess this debate somehow went wrong. Does it seems like an article about goal setting only to me? Anyway, I hope it will inspire or at least nudge you to leave that work-life balance thing behind you and to think more about whether what you do on a daily basis fulfills you. Does the work you do brings you satisfaction? Maybe it is time for change. Remember, it is dumb to take aspirin to get rid of the pain when you have broken arm. You should take care about the fracture first.
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