Is “Work-Life Balance” Really The Answer?

It’s one of the age-old pieces of advice for people just beginning their professional careers: be sure to maintain a good work-life balance. On the surface, this statement makes sense. It’s important to be dedicated to your career, while also making time for the other necessary parts of life. It’s a natural extension of our traditional ideas of work stemming from the Industrial Revolution. People would go to an office or factory, work a set amount of hours doing mostly predictable work (with a lunch break in between), and then go home at the end of the day. For the time that it was created, and for much of recent history, it was a system that really made sense.

Except, how should we approach this concept in the 21st century? The saying of “work-life balance” has persisted, but the circumstances have totally changed. As a society, we have become obsessed with productivity and accomplishing something (anything!) to keep us going. Entire industries are run out of people’s apartments on nothing more than a laptop and cell phone. We answer emails on the walk to work, at work, on our lunch break, and after work. And in this particular political moment, with so many lives at stake, it feels that the work can never stop.

One of the first things I do in the morning is check my work email. Not because I’m super worried I missed something and need to respond immediately; it’s because my emails are in my notifications next to Twitter favorites and CNN alerts. Partially, and gratefully, because I’m passionate about my work and career, it’s become a huge part of my life. Every day, I blur the ever-fading line between “life” and “work”.

Although this line may be fading, becoming harder and harder to segment our lives into separate chunks, I strive to just find balance in my life. I’ve squashed these traditional ideas and just want to fulfill my own priorities, which include doing things (like keeping up with this blog) that make me happy and give me meaning. I may answer emails at 11 PM one night, but I’ll get plenty of sleep to workout the next morning, see a friend for lunch, and feel productive at work. I may exclusively use my cell phone for work calls, but I don’t drop everything I’m doing to take a call when I leave the office. And I may be running all over the country traveling for work, but I make sure in every visit, that I do something touristy to really feel connected to something more.

We live in a society that praises being busy, a lack of sleep, and not taking vacation time. This is our reality. And in this reality, the traditional ideas of “work-life balance” will not give us what we really need. So let’s embrace this new reality with honesty and boldness. Let’s seek out meaning, happiness, connection, and progress in all parts of our lives – no matter how you choose to balance it all.

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