HR Insights, Talent Management

True Work-Life Balance? It’s a Myth We Need to Quit Worrying About

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Work-Life balance.

As a Baby Boomer teen born to Depression-era parents, I never heard that term once.

It didn’t exist back then and, if it had, it would have never come out of my father’s mouth. Hard work was his life, and when he had a day off, he worked. To my dad and those who were his age and older, balance was something you did to your checkbook when the statement arrived.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s when this three-word term entered the American lexicon, and it wasn’t popularized until the late 1990s. Now, those three words are said in conjunction as frequently as pass the salt.

Work is what interrupts the “life” part

When was the last time you made it through a day without hearing a co-worker, friend, or associate talk about achieving work-life balance? It’s almost as if this had become the ultimate destination where everyone wants to go — a Shangri-La where life and work co-exist in perfect harmony; the intersection of meaningful contribution, passion, relaxation, and prosperity.

Who doesn’t want to go there, even if only for a weekend visit?

Trouble is, true work-life balance is a myth. I’ve never met the individual who says they work just the right amount of time (and no more) and that their work provides them everything they need and want, making their life balance perfectly.

We know what work is. It’s the “life” part of the equation that interrupts the balance.

Life is an all-inclusive term that encompasses our health and fitness, our social relationships, our family time, our personal interests and recreational pursuits, our spiritual growth, etc.

Now, what King or Queen lives a fairy tale existence where all of those things by themselves are in balance–not-to-mention, in balance with work?

I confess that my life is rarely “in balance.” And I carry around a lot of guilt and angst about that.

Why I’m not pursuing work-life balance anymore

This weekend, a good friend sent me this video of a brilliant Ted talk. It’s changed my perspective

I’m certainly not going to stop working hard, nor will I abandon my desire to seek balance with the various aspects of my life. But what I’ve discovered from Dan Thurmon’s inspiring 18-minute presentation is that it’s OK – make that it’s perfectly natural and normal – to be out of balance, as long as I do so on purpose.

So beginning today, I’m going to let go of my pursuit of work-life balance and focus on staying on purpose.

Heck, I’m even going to finally learn to juggle; something I’ve always wanted to do but never have purposely created the space to pursue.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the emerging workforce and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 3 leadership books including Reviving Work Ethic . His new book, On Fire at Work: How Legendary Leaders Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out, will be released later this year. Learn more about Eric at EricChester.com.
  • AllisonOKelly

    Very interesting piece, Eric. I agree with you that work/life balance is a myth, but work/life alignment is possible. Balance implies equal efforts in all aspects of life, and this rarely (if ever) happens. Therefore, you’re right, it’s perfectly normal to not have this sense of balance. Alignment on the other hand is something we can all achieve by adjusting our schedules, embracing new work and life management skills and finding the right mix that works for us as individuals. I can see why many abandon the purist of balance, frustrated that it’s just not a reality. But by acknowledging your priorities and then finding the right workplace situation that works for you, your employer and your family, you are one step closer to aligning work and life. – Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO Mom Corps

  • http://www.hughculver.com/ Hugh Culver

    Thanks for this Eric. The myth is still real and alive, unfortunately. I think one challenge is that work gives us so many rewards that it’s easy to slide off balance and neglect the pleasure of down time/family time. One idea (a solution?) is to put a lot more reward on the non-work time. Duhigg’s book The Power of Habits explains that it’s all about getting your rewards aligned with your hopes, goals, and desires. The action and habits will follow.