Is Work-Life Balance Realistic?

is work-life balance realistic

Work-life balance is a popular concept, my Google search returned 2.8 million hits. It was very popular during my time at Intel with many people, including myself, seeking to find this ‘nirvana’ state. I heard stories of people who had achieved it, so I knew it was possible. But how to achieve it for one’s self?

Solving the Work-Life balance problem

I looked at it as a puzzle to be solved. If I could only figure out the answer, one of my life problems would be solved. And once it was solved, I wouldn’t have to worry about it again. This sounds very appealing and it was, in fact it was totally unrealistic. This static ‘nirvana’ state doesn’t exist, at least for longer than a fleetingly short time.

Work-life balance is aptly titled. It is a balancing act. Balance is only possible when the system is at rest. The problem is our system is never at rest, it is constantly changing. Achieving balance requires constant adjustment and this is where we fall down. If we are seeking a static state, we will always be disappointed. What felt good one moment, will quickly disappear. For me, this led to disillusionment. I gave up on the concept and considered it unrealistic. If I knew what I know now, my expectations would be different.

Life is a balancing act

In contrast, I see my life as a balancing act. Sometimes I will be too busy, and other times I won’t have enough stimuli. This in itself is a big change. In the past I always had too much to do and I was never in balance. For most people, the first challenge is to let enough things go to feel under utilized. I recommend Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks as a good read on how to do this. Don’t worry, it won’t last long but at least you are now experiencing both sides of the balance. The key is learning to recognize the signs of too much and too little. From there you can learn to make the necessary adjustments to achieve a better balance. Just don’t get complacent because change is coming.

Comments (4)

Work-life balance. Hmmm. It sounds as if we have work and then we have life. As if work is not part of life, when of course it is. So, work is part of life, right!. And so there is only life balance. And life. And one per person, though everyone is free to believe otherwise.
Here on the ground I believe things can be better for people at work and when things are better for people at work, work is better. My work is to enable that through the work I do with leaders and leadership teams. And I love it. I happily spend a lot of my time trying to work that out and experimenting with great people to see what can be done about work, cos it’s a big part of life.

Hi Dave, Thank you as always for your comments. As you note, the term work-life balance stirs up a lot of feelings. My intention with this post is not to debate whether work and life are one, separate or something else. We tend to seek a state where will be happy, as if there is a situation that once we get there we are done, everything will be good. The concept of balance says so long as nothing changes the system is at rest. Our lives are constantly changing which means we have to be constantly rebalancing. As an example, think about someone who just retired. They are excited by the prospect of having all this free time to relax. That will be good for a while and then they’ll need to rebalance, and keep on doing that.

Andy, I think you hit all the main points. I agree with your point about rebalancing, recognizing that your out of balance is the key.

Thanks Tom!

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