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What is work life balance

Another Way to Look at Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance has been an increasingly popular topic since the pandemic. Not surprising, as the lines between work and home continue to blur and the competition for our time is steadily growing.

It was just recently that I began to realize, however, that the articles about work-life balance share a common, and somewhat disturbing, theme: Home is good – Work is bad. They all seem to begin, as this recent Harvard Business Review article did, with the predisposition that work is a necessary evil, and are premised on the importance of reducing it as much as possible.

Well, that’s one way to look at it. But here’s another:

Is dinner cutting into your eat-life balance?

Perhaps, just perhaps, you’re looking at work-life balance the wrong way. It is indeed true that working cuts into our home time. It’s an unavoidable necessity in most of our lives. Having said that, it is also true that things such as, say, eating, is also an unavoidable necessity. Yet, oddly enough, when was the last time you heard someone complain that going to a restaurant was cutting into their Eat-Life balance?

I know. “What a horrible analogy,” you’re thinking. But it’s actually a pretty good one. After all, the only real difference between going to work and eating dinner is that we’ve figured out ways to enjoy our food — and often even look forward to it.  We cook it in different ways, we present it on nice plates.  And, as my son-in-law taught me, even foods you don’t like can be made quite palatable with just a few alterations. For him, the magic ingredient is ketchup.

It's really work-home balance

It’s not really Work-Life Balance, is it? Like it or not, work is a big part of our lives.  What we’re actually trying to balance is Work-Home.  The question, then, is, why are we more willing to look for ways to make our home time more enjoyable, but not our work time?

Maybe it’s time we reconsidered the “necessary evil” viewpoint of work. While we still want to make sure that our employers are good, decent, fair and rewarding, perhaps we should take a hard look at our own destructive “it’s just a job” attitudes.  Cynics can scoff all they want at Mark Twain’s wisdom, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” but the man makes a good point.

In the last chapter of my book, Win at Work, I summed up the secret to success at work and work-life balance. It is as true now as it was when I wrote it ten years ago.  Here it is:

Excerpt from Win at Work

“It’s too late to wait until tomorrow to decide whether or not you should have been happy yesterday”

It would appear that the number of people actually enjoying themselves at work is continuing to decrease at a steady and alarming rate.  Even worse is that many of us can’t even imagine having fun at work.  Suggest to someone that work should be an enjoyable place, and there’s a good chance you’ll be met with scornful laughter.  “I don’t know what you’re smoking,” I’ve heard more than cynical voice say, “but I need some of that.”

On one hand, I find this trend most disturbing.  Work shouldn’t be a penance.  On the other, more mercenary hand, I console myself with the knowledge that as long as people insist on making the lives of themselves, their customers and coworkers miserable, I’ll never be out of work. 

Two good friends of mine recently turned down tremendously prestigious CEO positions with salaries that would make a professional athlete blush.  Interestingly, they both had the same explanation:  they were enjoying the jobs they had, and the extra money wasn’t worth the increase in stress.   One mutual acquaintance shook his head in bewilderment, saying, “Man, these guys just don’t get it.”  I, however, think they do get it – better than most of us.

Nowhere is it written that serious work has to be miserable work

 There’s the age old question, “Do you work to live, or live to work?”  My first question, however, is, why not live while you’re at work?  When you do the math, you’ll find that you actually spend more of your life at work than you do anywhere else.  If you’re not enjoying yourself, then what’s the point?  There are way too many of us out there that take ourselves way too seriously.  Should you take your work seriously?  Of course you should.  But nowhere is it written that serious work has to be miserable work.

Highly successful people – those with the winning attitude – are able to look the individual events in their lives from a positive perspective.  They can look back at their career paths and see how most every twist and turn, every challenge they faced, in some way helped them get to where they are.  Sometimes an event steered them in a different direction.  Sometimes it forced them to see things they hadn’t seen before.  Sometimes, it was just a very painful part of the learning curve.

Success at work, however you choose to define success, is there for the taking

My second question, then, is do we really have to look back on something in order to appreciate it?  Wouldn’t our whole life experience be better if we made the effort to find the positives in things today?  Yes, I recognize that it sounds terribly idealistic, but how could it hurt to try?

Success at work, however you choose to define success, is there for the taking.  All it takes is a winning attitude and the application of some fundamental principles that are achievable for everyone.  Maybe the best part is that we can all win at work.  There are no losers in this journey – just those who don’t pack their bags and get started.

Bon voyage!

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