Recently a PR agency called for contributors to a work life balance piece they wanted to pitch to media outlets. It's a common enough theme so I don't imagine the agency had any trouble finding contributors. However,
I don't think it exists or even think it should.
Although there are a lot of things that can balance - namely, see saws, scales, circus performers and flamingos - work and life don't have to because they can't. The reason this topic keeps coming up for discussion is simply that the concept of work life balance is an impossibility. It's like a mystery that never gets solved. And you don't solve mysteries by repeatedly asking the same question.
Well, this is the end of the mystery. Work and life don't balance because they're the same thing. You can’t separate them. When you go to work or do work, it’s still your life. You are still living while you work. You don't physically remove yourself to go to work. You take yourself with you. In the case where you disconnect and don't take your whole self to work that causes you tension. This is the catalyst for the work life balance discussions. When you choose to not be present at work it's like putting yourself on hold until something better comes along. This can happen if you put yourself on hold by distinguishing between the 'you' at work and the 'you' at home.
Even at home, the process of living still demands you do work. Whether that's washing clothes, the car or the dog, there are always chores to do. It's entirely up to you if you want to grumble while you do them or decide to get on with them. Yes you can outsource the ones you don't enjoy to focus on the ones you do. I know many people that outsource their 'home' work so they can invest more of themselves into their 'work' work. When they do this it's not about balance. It's about investing more heavily in what you enjoy. When you do that, technically, you're out of balance and there's nothing wrong with that if you love your work or what you do.
The only time the work life balance topic gets air is when you find yourself not enjoying your work and think it's taking time away from your life. When you hear someone say they have found work that's their life calling, it's because their work and life are one. Even if you think that's a lofty aim, the more your work fulfills you, the more satisfied you'll be in life. The more of 'you' you bring to your work, rather than pretending to be something you're not, the more satisfaction you'll have too.
If you're not convinced, just consider that anything you do really well requires you to be out of balance, maybe even a bit obsessive to do it really, really well. Malcolm Gladwell introduced us to the concept of 10,000 hours. The time you invest in one area, say 10,000 hours, is going to be so much stronger than other areas where you dedicate less time. That’s not balance. But what does it matter if that's what you enjoy? It's a function of what you value and the life you want to live.
So if work life balance is causing you tension, then to solve your mystery, ask yourself if you are doing what you really want. Then check whether you are being authentically who you are at work (same as your after hours self) and if not, why not?
* This article first appeared in LinkedIn on 30 October 2015.