The Work Life Balancing Act

"I just want to work to live"

People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are

Meister Eckhart

My natural inclination, for whatever rebellious reasons, is to try to avoid ‘work’.

As a child, lessons bored me. I always did the minimum needed to survive, get good grades and tow the line. Yet I adore projects, ideas, creativity and entrepreneurship. I will happily commit to evenings and weekends towards something I consider ‘fun’, even if many might call the same ‘work’.

This phenomena seems to be increasingly ubiquitous. When does ‘work’ shift from being fun to being arduous, from being useful to superfluous? How can we maintain the fun and manage the arduous whilst (and this is a whilst that many forget) ensuring that we are deeply fulfilled and create meaning.

A latest fad in the blogosphere seems to be to avoid hard work and focus on the fun and travel – from the highly successful Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week (and now the 4-Hour Body), to Vagabonding, taking time off from your normal life, or personal quests to visit every country.

Ferriss states, in his wildly successful book:

I will take it as given that, for most people, somewhere between six and seven billion of them, the perfect job is the one that takes the least time (Page 9).

I disagree. Ferriss ‘takes it as given’ and this results in a good book, yet one that encourages people to be highly self-centered and peripatetic and avoid responsibility wherever possible. Ferriss uses the word job loosely – meaning things he doesn’t want to do. In fact, he is a workaholic, but he claims that the things he enjoys don’t count.

Yet my dislike of this is hypocritical. I see that I am guilty of the same, and I don’t like it.

I want to change my attitude. I’d like to enjoy my work, both the best bits and the worst – understanding that the less enjoyable pieces shouldn’t be avoided. Sometimes what is least fun is most important, such as a Vipassana course.

For me, the perfect job is one that provides meaning, is involving, is desirable, helps others and is challenging, as well as providing a suitable income.

I can’t help think that much of this new fad the bloggers tout is escapism. That much of it ties into the lack of lasting rewards of get-rich-quickism.  Certainly, I love the idea that we don’t tie ourselves to deeply unsatisfying routine and lack of meaning. Yet there’s something skin-deep in these attempts.

The flip side is that we dedicate ourselves to work. Although his article hints on ignoring the get-rich quick schemes, I disagree with Thomas Friedman’s conclusion that what is eroding our values is not working harder. The problem is not doing the right work, rather than working harder. I think we already work too hard. Many of the above commentators/bloggers put in 80-hour weeks, despite the façade that might suggest otherwise.

We need balance.

Work shouldn’t take the ‘least time’ if it’s enjoyable, rewarding and beneficial to you and others. Yet we shouldn’t pursue the benefits of work – money and superficial meaning, to the detriment of our enjoyment, or our planet’s.

In Outliers, Malcom Gladwell claims to have uncovered the ‘Story of Success’. One of his findings is that the most successful are those people who’ve commited 10,000 hours to a specific skill. This might explain why some people have become successful. But I believe that this doesn’t apply to most of us, even if we wanted it to. Gladwell is a master of anecdote using stories to tie together his theories. Every chapter in Outliers starts with an anecdote. I think he draws tight conclusions with loose evidence. If anything his conclusions are Outliers themselves. Perhaps I’m guilty of similar methodology too, but you have to trust your gut and trust what feels more soulful.

I’d recommend ignoring Gladwell, Ferriss and the rest. Read their books, extract the wisdom that can help you provide meaning, but don’t be seduced by their claims that they can provide you with lasting change. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for these people, they’re good at what they do. Ferriss is perhaps one of the greatest self-promoters out there and an idea-smith of first order. But if everyone worked a 4-Hour week, the world would be a difficult place.

If you had to collar me for my own rules, they would be similar to the values we tried to create with my most recent business:

  • Be passionate. Be professional.
  • Follow your internal compass with regards to what you believe is right, rather than follow the crowd.
  • Be courageous.
  • Continually grow.

And a couple more which are relevant to this post:

  • Do what makes you happy, even if it means earning much less – the ‘rewards’ will be greater.
  • Don’t ignore or avoid the hard work.
  • Be patient.
  • Don’t push yourself to hard.

Here’s a lovely post by Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, which offers a rather different perspective on success. Namely that he doesn’t want it.

As the Dalai Lama (who, rather pertinently, is about to retire) said, “Do the best you can with what you have, and leave the rest.”

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4 thoughts on “The Work Life Balancing Act

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