The term “work-life balance” has been in popular use in the United States since the mid 1980s, and generally refers to the proper prioritizing of one’s time and energy between work and leisure. The central idea is that there is, or at least there ought to be, a clear division of the two. Where Thomas Jefferson called for a “wall of separation” between Church and State, the term “work-life balance” would seem to call for a similar dissociation. But is this really a good idea? Is the idea of attempting to isolate the two into their own silos really the best way to go?
I have spent some time grappling with the idea of work-life balance, and have come to the conclusion that this language communicates a false dichotomy. It implies that one has a “life” (whatever that means) and then there is “work,” which is not life. When one is not at work, one is supposedly living one’s life. To be at work, therefore, would mean that one is not living one’s life.
That seems absurd to me, as work, leisure, eating, sleeping, taking out the trash, etc. are all parts of life. Life is one indivisible whole, and to fragment it into discrete categories introduces a kind of needless schizophrenia. That is not to say there should not be time set aside for work and time set aside for leisure, nor even that one should allow work to encroach on leisure or vice versa. The former will sap your energy over time, and the latter could get you fired.
That said, one does not suddenly become a different person simply by crossing the threshold of the office door, and it is naive to think that what happens at home does not have an effect on what happens at work and vice versa. The reality is that the two are intermingled because they are both a part of what makes you who you are. That does not mean one should behave the same way at work as one does at home (probably not a good idea), but it does mean that finding balance in life will never happen if one tries to silo its myriad aspects.
The term “balance” by itself is better because it encompasses all of life, and allows one to think more holistically about things. I love author Michael Hyatt’s ideas about the symphonic life where the parts are not isolated from each other, but rather each is playing with the others to form a coherent whole. I believe that is how we should be thinking about our lives. Instead of seeing work as this thing that is somehow at odds with everything else, we need to see what role it could/should play in enhancing all the other areas of life, so as to foster greater levels of happiness and fulfilment.