Work-life balance – existential crisis or a need for a framework overhaul?
Just like many things in this world, work life balance is a complex subject, perhaps with the wrong term/title that forces people to search for answers in the wrong place.
What is balance? According to the Oxford dictionary, it’s a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.
Meaning Your Work and Your Life, magically, need to be equal and in correct proportions! I have so many questions! What are the proportions? Who determines them? Should work be as important as life or vice versa? Should these proportions stay the same for the rest of your life? Even if we look at the basic math, taking averages it’s already not very equal:
168 Hours in a week
40 hours – WORK
56 Hours – Sleep
72 Hours – Life
Seventy two hours for life, that is double of work hours, assuming, at least for the purpose of this conversation, sleep is recharging ability to live and work. If we already have such inequality by pure numbers, why is there so much conversation today on work life balance? I would also assume that most people refer to Life part of the “work-life balance” conversation, that time is running out and at the current pace there is not enough life in the equation.
Just like anybody else, I ask myself this question, especially as I’m getting older the time is running at the faster pace each year, “What is work life balance?”
Let’s look at it by breaking it into 10 year span terms:
In my 20s I wanted to work all the time, weekends, evenings, all the time. I would take 40 Work hours, add 72 Life hours and even try to cut off a few hours from sleep. I was driven. I wanted to prove to myself and my family that I could make it! There was no balance. However, there was happiness. It made me happy that I was pursuing what I wanted. I was building my own company and even when I wasn’t I would drive around rich neighborhoods of Chicago, “working” on my goals, imagining living in one of those mansions! If I had a choice to do all over again, not in a chance I would do anything differently! I call it the “red bull decade”. You can survive on 4 hours of sleep, 2 cups of coffee each hour and a redbull. I’m not advising it, but it’s an option for a particular goal or personal ambition.
Even if one is not pursuing ambitious goals to change the world, it’s still important to give it your best in the 20s to mess things up, make mistakes, own up to it and try to correct things. The learning experience is enormously important and the more you gain the more value one can create for future self. It’s more important to give it your best, try a career, business, side project, etsy store, etc. Push yourself to work a little harder and see what happens. Ironically it’s also the best time to go all in on Life and experience things before family. Visit new countries, travel and explore yourself through the uncomfortable setting of being in a different country with a different language. Take unpaid leave for 1 or 3 months and just go. I would call it retreat with your future self as you get a chance to face your fears and look back. Ask yourself “Is the direction I chose is truly mine?” By the way, if your employer is mad and/or not supportive, you are part of the wrong company! When you consider “leap of faith” decisions in your 20s the brain will try to tell you “that’s impossible?” or “how are you going to pay for it?”, don’t listen, get creative and just do it. This is the time in your life to train the brain – “If there is a will there’s a way! Don’t miss this important opportunity!”
This is my territory at the moment. When I turned 30 I could feel something was different. I was different. More content with what I have, less materialistic possession and on the mission for what I know I want. I wasn’t guessing, I invested in my 20s to explore, wander around, work really hard on the wrong things, businesses and a relationship. In my 30s I understood the difference between arrogance and confidence. I learned the value of being honest, telling how you feel and practicing the “if it’s important do it now” mentality. I was 33 years young when I took my first real vacation, with close friends, on a yacht hopping popular Greece islands. I enjoyed every minute of “Life” time and towards the end of the trip I couldn’t wait to get back to Work life. My energy was restored and I knew in order to see more in life I needed to continue working hard to create life opportunities again. This sounds simple and basic, and it really is. In order to create quality Life moments I need to create resources to allow life moments. Resources are created by bringing value to this world in the form of ideas, hard work, and being able to execute on the ideas. We can’t exactly predict the outcomes in dollar amounts or what our efforts are going to be worth, but at least we can give it our best try!
In the 30s you start choosing friends, dropping negative friendships, discovering hobbies, establishing a personal health program that includes diet, working out, and choosing your one favorite activity. Many start running marathons, triathlons, Ironman, etc. It’s important to pick the camp and learn all you can about it. It also provides a certain “escape” from day to day activity. I recently learned, from an Interview Tim Ferriss did with Mark Zuckurberg, that running is a great physical activity but it doesn’t help to zone out from day to day activities. Ideally you need to find sports that take up ALL of your attention. I picked hockey! When I play and practice, 3-4 hours a week, I’m fully present. There is no phone, no smart watch, nothing. Even if my wife is watching the game I rarely notice her. I’m fully in the game. Otherwise I’ll get run over or hit by a bigger guy into the boards (survival element).
Most importantly you start re-evaluating close family as it becomes more and more important to stay close with the loved ones and create your own island of stability -your own family! This era is full of investments into your current self but more importantly into your future self. Most people start settling into “Well that’s how it is”, “This is what life is”. I recently started hearing “Who would play hockey at my age?” or “It’s too late to start the business” or even worse “Who do you think you are?”. This is really sad and I can’t help but think that I’m so lucky that I made a lot of time investments in my 20s to remove even the possibility of these thoughts entering into my universe!
So it’s hard to imagine equal distribution of work and life up until this point. It always tilts and swings in different directions with an effort to live a full life and work really hard to provide yourself an opportunity to have great life moments in the future. Maybe things start to change in the 40s?
I’m not there yet, but I hear from those who are there that it’s awesome to be 40! You are wise, experienced and accumulated a great deal of resources. I do feel most people start tilting towards life and experiencing things that they simply didn’t have time nor the resources to explore prior. One downside of the 40s that I do hear is that your inner circle is closing down. Meaning the number of people you interact with is getting smaller and one has to make a lot of effort to meet new people and maintain existing relationships. I really don’t know anybody in their 40s who thinks about the subject of Work Life Balance, however it seems to me most double down on trying to squeeze the most out of the productive phase of life and build a great future. Most importantly I noticed people are very clear on what “great future” means to them. The saying of “climbing the wrong ladder” becomes a lot more obvious and you still have time to swap the “ladder”. Again this is not my area of expertise and all I can do is observe people and so far it looks promising!
I have no place contemplating work life balance ideas in my 50s, my gut tells me you are ripping the benefits of all the hard work. One of my fears since I was a kid is what my life would look like when I’m at the retirement age. I care less about driving a nice car today vs when I’m 60. I try to imagine myself being a dad or grandad who buys a nice car for cash and can easily take the entire family on a trip to Italy for a month. Perhaps having a clear vision of what the “end” looks like brings the whole work life balance idea to an actual balance.
Balance of time, goals, ambition and where you currently are is what makes sense to me. I know what my life would look like in my 50s/60s and for that I want to work my tail off today. That makes me happy and focused. It also helps me choose the right friends who are like minded and on the same mission. There was a hint of that in 2018 on a yacht in Greece with one my close friend Ivan, who I knew since we both immigrated to the US in 2005 with no money and no friends. We had a great time conversing over life since we immigrated and what the future could look like. Imagine the same place and same people when we are in our 50s and 60s, the conversations we will have? I can’t wait 🙂 So much is ahead of us and a better term for what I see as work life balance is Work Life Zen (or harmony, as Jeff Bezos famously coined the phrase).
Definition of Harmony – the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole (according to Oxford Dictionary)