Work-Life Balance: Why you should not do it
I met an old friend. Works in one of the largest banks in Pakistan. He has a high ranking post: he manages the operations for pretty much half of the country.
He told me a little story.
“I was at this opening ceremony on behalf of the bank,” he said, “and one of my office guys, the department head, was with me. It was around 8 o clock at night, all of us there were about to have dinner. So this office guy, this junior of mine, he just casually looks at me and asks, ‘Sir, you have a son, how old is he now?’. I said, ‘yes, he is a year and 2 months now’. We were now at the dinner table, plates being served to us. It was a good function. But then he asked, looking dead straight into my eyes, ‘does he know who you are?’
My friend was not expecting this. He told me that they laughed it off, that yeah, the work load is such that they really don’t have time for their families.
But I could see that my friend was visibly concerned.
“I am afraid that I will burn out sooner than later,” he told me, “I mean, I get to play with my son, but only on weekends man! Otherwise, I go home at around 9 on most days, he is sleeping. He’s a kid, right? And when I wake up to go to office, he is sleeping! The kid is always sleeping for me, and his father is always working for him!”
The subtle irony in our conversation was that it was the 1st of May that day. In fact, the reason we had time to meet was that he had a holiday. It was The International Worker’s Day, or more commonly known as Labor Day. The day is a celebration of sorts for the laborers and workers of the society, and one wouldn’t expect it, but the executives of most multinationals are as poorly treated (although well-paid) as any factory worker on low wages.
The Importance of Work
Do you work? Then you’re a laborer. A worker. A mazdoor if you may.
Please, I am not equating the work of a bricklayer with that of a Chief Executive. We are looking at the concept of work. One who works is a worker.
I agree of course that it makes a lot of difference if you are hauling bricks at a construction site, or you’re hauling paper at a photocopier, or you’re juggling numbers and phone calls in an air-conditioned penthouse suite on the ninth floor. What type of work you do is very important. It can and does make a difference in your quality of life. Yes.
But what is more important, is how you approach that work. As we have seen before here on the blog, our approach to our work makes a lot of difference in our quality of life.
Research by Dr Amy Wrzesniewski gave us three categories of work: our work can be a Job, a Career or a Calling. This distinction is actually an attempt to find fulfillment within our work.
You would take this seriously because you take your work seriously, right?
Briefly: A Job sucks, a Career is better and a Calling is where it’s at! We should be striving to either make our work our Calling, or keep searching for our Calling till we find it.
Click here to know more about this research and also see where I currently stand in my attempt to have a Calling instead of a Job!
So we understand that work is sacred. It demands attention. It is a big part of our identity, and is a very significant contributor to our level of fulfillment and happiness. So I must pay attention to it. Rightly so.
But work has its place in the day. Work is not the only thing that defines me.
It certainly is not the only thing that increases my quality of life.
And it certainly isn’t the only contributor to my level of contentment.
The Importance of Everything Else
So on one side we have work, and on the other, we have everything else.
The term work-life balance has always been silly: how can you possibly balance work against everything else?
But we are told that it’s OK. That work-life balance is the best way to manage our work and the rest of our life.
I smell a trade-off. A pointless sacrifice.
Here’s what work-life balance implies:
No matter if your work is the sucky Job, the OK Career or the saintly Calling, you sacrifice some of your life to get better at work.
And if you want to get some more of that life thing, you puny little creature you, then you have to give up some of your work habits.
So it’s a trade-off, right?
Why Are We Balancing Peas with Trees?
You would need a lot of them peas to balance against just one tree, right?
I suspect that the labour movement of the early 1800’s had something to do with this.
For example, one of their slogans was:
8 hour work. 8 hour recreation. 8 hour rest.
That too was a trade-off. A bargaining chip. The factory workers were being pummeled with 14 to 16 hour work days! So a 8 hour work day sounded reasonable. It made sense.
But what works for a factory worker in the 1800’s will still work for a bank executive? Will the same bargain work for a knowledge worker of today? For a tech startup entrepreneur?
Of course not. Yet the work-life balance myth persists.
Decades and centuries later, we are left to “balance” the Work and the Recreation side of our lives. But can you plan your recreation for eight hours every day? Who provides the structure for that?
The boss gives you your agenda for your work day, and then you are too tired to make an agenda for your Recreation. Note that now, Recreation effectively means “the rest of your day”.
So now we are stuck with balancing work and life itself!
Is There a Better Way?
The gatekeepers, people who don’t want you to change because they themselves are afraid, they will always be ready to pounce. They will tell you why you shouldn’t do this because “that’s not how it is done in this part of the world”! Or some other excuse to not try for themselves.
We need to defeat this mindset. Move past such attitude. Try something out if it makes sense. The following makes sense to me.
- First understand the problem: it is everywhere. Your day is divided into Work and “Everything Else”. Look around you, every corporate and company follow this division of day. Many freelancers and entrepreneurs fall into the trap of “organizing” their work and life on these lines. And this is not a good division to begin with
- Remind yourself we do not need to balance work against the rest of our lives. We can do meaningful, creative, fun, enjoyable work without sacrificing the variance of life!
- We need to convert our work from a Job to a Calling, or from a Career to a Calling. This is simple but not easy.
- We do away with work-life balance, and come up with a more wholesome way of living our lives. Integration of our lives instead of forcing compartments! I call this Total Life, or a Life of Adventure. There is a method behind this awesomeness (We’ll get to that soon God willing).
- We add more adventures in our lives! So we have our hobbies to look into, travel to plan for and families to enjoy and attend to and communities to serve and lead. God willing.
Can you imagine living? A life that is full of adventures, time with your loved ones, and work that actually pulls you? A readily wholesome and a severely adventurous life indeed! God willing.
It is possible, and the next article called “Total Life” (cool name, no? 🙂 ) will inshAllah attempt to present some research-based methodology of doing exactly that. (If you haven’t yet, do consider joining the LifeETC newsletter by clicking here.
Here’s to a life of adventure.
God bless and good luck!
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