Let's ditch the work/life balance debate

#careers leadership May 18, 2021
Loic Leray @Unsplash

Every conversation about “work/life balance leaves me annoyed because it seems to totally miss the point.  What is this mysterious thing called “work” that somehow goes on outside life, and what is this mysterious thing called “life” that somehow goes on outside “work”?

Everyone that works, (and I include in that definition all those who are unpaid for the work they do) knows that work is part of life.  It is just one of the things that fill our days. It is also one of the things that gives us reward and satisfaction.

Where did this idea of work come from?  The question about whether people live to work or work to live?  The sense that very few people are lucky enough to enjoy what they do, and that any enjoyment could only be found outside of work?

Yet work is where we spend at least half of our waking day, a place where we make friends, find partners, and develop common interests. It is a major part of our social life.  Lock-down has revealed how much people miss the chat around the coffee machine. Furlough has given people a taste of what it is like to not work even though there has been an income coming in.  There is little evidence that permanent furlough would be attractive.  Most people are longing to be back at work, even if that work hard and repetitive. It gives focus and structure to life.  Let’s just talk about life balance and drop the work/life. 

That starts to be a very different conversation that embraces the whole of your life and starts you thinking about what you are doing with your time. 

As I get older, I realise that time is the most precious commodity we have and there is never enough of it.  You can never get it back, so we have to treat it with great care and spend it very wisely.  In spite of the psalmist’s plea “Lord let me know mine end and the number of my days that I may be certified how long I have to live” - we do not know.  They may be few or many, but they are finite – they are also yours to spend, do not let others spend them for you.  Employers, bosses, friends, family, parents are only too happy to spend your time for you.  “I need you on this call/at this meeting”, I can’t trust anyone else with this project”, “It would be great to see you”, “I wonder if you could come and help?”. 

Work in particular offers us infinite opportunities to fritter our own time away – how many hours of zoom calls and face to face meetings have you sat through knowing that this is not the best use of your time but unwilling or unable to leave. Why do we do it?  Mainly from fear, of missing out, of what people will think, of prejudicing the next promotion.  And so we stay in the office, or on the screen, when we could be meeting friends or reading bedtime stories, or any of the other ways of spending our time usefully.

The pandemic has brought an inflection point to many lives. It has also brought an untimely end to many lives.  A good moment to ask yourself whether you are spending your time in the best possible way?  Where is the balance in your life?  Who is in control of it?

Pat Chapman-Pincher 

Pat has spent most of her career founding and growing leading edge technology companies all around the world.   Pat believes that thoughtful and inspiring leadership is critical to the future growth of the world economy and now uses her skills and experience to help leaders and teams at all levels reach their full potential and to help companies succeed in a world where technology is transforming the way we do business. 

Pat is a Founder of www.defyexpectations.co.uk