Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Balance is Overrated

What do people mean when they want work life balance? I think when most people say this it means that they are stressed out at work and would really like time to do things that they enjoy like spend time with their family and pursue personal hobbies. But it turns out that balance in itself doesn't bring happiness. If you read between the lines what people are really saying when is that they are not satisfied with their work.

People don't really want balance. We are brought up thinking that balance is inherently good. But balance doesn't really mean anything. We kind of see it as a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and since we have some of each thing then we have our bases covered. So maybe if we are eating some junk food, if we are "balanced", then we at least will partly be eating well. But its impossible to be perfectly balanced on everything since life has nearly infinite choices for most areas. Instead we really are just taking a subset of our choices and if we differentiate enough then we might call it balanced. For work life balance we might say it is balanced if we do our standard 40 hours and work doesn't cut into our lives past that. Even in that sense, I wouldn't call this balanced because 5 out of 7 days are spent working. Balance is a really unbounded concept.

Studies have show however that people don't really want balance. What they really want is satisfaction. They want deep satisfying work and deep satisfying relationships and deep satisfying other stuff. In order to get this you have to prioritize that work, or that relationship or getting really good at the guitar, or learning 5 different languages. Building deep connections with those around you and expertise is going to take a special commitment. Going deep into building a skillset or working on a relationship or whatever you do is going to require work and commitment. This means that in order to have satisfaction you are going to need to sacrifice balance. This is a good thing, its called prioritizing. It means choosing your calling, choosing what is most important and what you really want. Now you don't have to choose just one thing, but you can't choose everything.

Would you say Michael Jordan was balanced? No, your probably wouldn't because he lived and breathed basketball. Would you say he believes he is living/has lived a very satisfied life? I think most of us would think so. What about Warren Buffet? Ed Sheeren? Oprah? I would guess that any famous person you know of does not have a balanced life in our traditional sense. And that's good because they chose satisfaction.

So don't look for balance but rather find things that you choose to be imbalanced on. If you are looking for work-life balance, a different option would be to look for work that you can commit to.