Why Work-Life Balance is Overrated

Why The Work-Life Balance Everyone Likes Talking About is Overrated

We live in a society that works long and hard. On average, we spend about a third of our lives at work, and most of us pedal hard and fast.  As technology makes connecting with colleagues as far away as your nearest device, finding a balance between work and life becomes increasingly challenging. Everyone seems to be in search of the secret sauce for work-life balance.  A Google search on the phrase will produce over 72 million hits and over 500,000 books.

Most of us spend between 40-60 hours each week at work.  Ask 10 people how they feel about their lives at work, and only three will tell you that they have fulfilling jobs that are engaging, challenging, personally rewarding and aligned with their talents and skills.  According to a 2015 Gallup poll, more than 70% of Americans are “unhappy, uninspired and disengaged” at work.

How many of them go home to their families with a happy, inspired, and engaged mindset?  Is it even possible to “balance” that kind of negativity in a meaningful way?  And for remote workers, stepping away from the office may seem impossible.

The reality is that work is not separate from life; it is a part of life.  It can be a meaningful, rewarding part or it can be a distracting, disruptive part.  But trying to compartmentalize work from life and balance them as contrasting forces is an exercise in futility.  The human brain just doesn’t work that way.  The concept of work-life balance is overrated and incomplete at best.

Forget about finding your work-life balance; find your Ikigai instead.

What is your ikigai? According to the Japanese, we all have one.  Pronounced 生き甲斐 [ikiɡai], it is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.”  The term ikigai combines two Japanese words, iki (生き) meaning “life or being alive” and kai (甲斐) loosely translated as “one’s reason to get up in the morning.”  The concept is defined by fundamental elements: passion, mission, vocation, and profession.  That little space where all of these elements converge is where you’ll discover your purpose.

Take a few minutes to find your own ikigai. Grab a clean sheet of paper and your favorite pen.  Turn off all of the outside noise and quiet your mind.  Think about what you love, what you’re great at, what you’re paid to do each day, and what the world needs.  Reflect upon those four elements until you find the intersection in the center.  When you’ve found that little space, you’ve found your purpose.

Every day provides a new opportunity to live in that space.

What if you started each day by looking inside yourself and asking the question, “What can I do today to be in that meaningful space?”

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

Instead of striving to balance life and work, strive to find the purpose in what you do as a contribution to your life story.  That means looking inside yourself to discover what drives you, what you’re passionate about, and how the world benefits from it.  And if you can find a way to get paid to do it, you’re golden.

Dr. Melissa Hughes is the President and Founder of The Andrick Group and the author of Happy Hour with Einstein.  Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, Melissa delivers high-energy, dynamic keynote presentations and professional development workshops on brain-based research to improve the way we think, learn, and collaborate for greater success and happiness.

work life balance

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