Busting the Myth of Work-Life Balance

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 11: Balance

Do you feel like Work Life balance is one of those mythical places that you’ve heard a lot about but never experienced yourself? Are you one of those who have tried to achieve it numerous times, but always ended up clinging to old habits? Don’t worry; it’s not your fault. It is because work life balance is a myth.

Much like the apocryphal frog in boiling water, life changes over time and it’s to find yourself in a position where excessive work is sucking the joy out of your life, trying to compensate by upgrading your life with a new car, a new house, or by buying your way into a better life, all the while pushing yourself into unsustainable growth.

By reading this you’ll learn to notice the things that throw you out of balance and how to counter them. You will start to notice things that remind you that life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to and observe aspects that you can’t necessarily control. I’ll be sharing tips based on both science and personal experience that can get you into a powerful position where it’s possible to take absolute control over your life.

So What is Work-Life Balance All About?

I would like you to distance yourself from the term work life balance and analyze the term itself: there are two words here that need to be balanced out: one is work, and another one is life. If these two terms need to balance out, it means that they are on the opposite side of the spectrum. As long as you are trying to balance these things out, you are playing a losing game, because your work and your life are at the opposite side of the spectrum. You could take the approach proposed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, which he coins “Work Life Harmony”. This term comes from the perspective that work and life need to be harmonized. (which, in his case, means making your work your life, which Alphas and aspiring Alphas alike should not allow.)

The Alpha angle to life and work is quite different; We try to recognize that work is simply a component of life, and as such it doesn’t need to become “harmonized” (made the same) or “balanced out” (reduced). Stop using this term completely; Trash it as yet another modern myth, another false goal distracting you from your pursuit of fulfillment and happiness.

Instead of trying to balance work and life, try accomplishing a balanced life. The difference in the wording is thin; However the effects of a different line of thinking are staggering.

I won’t tell you that you need to simply pursue your passion, as it can become quite an expensive endeavour, which might lead you to struggling with your life. But do what I’ve done instead: Pursue something that will bring you a lot of money with a minimum investment of your energy and time. Achieve this by developing a skill set that you know will benefit the expansion of your passion and help you transform it into a business. That way you are aligning the future of your business, with a tangible skill set that you can sell TODAY, either through gainful employment, or through freelancing.

This will create a conduit – a platform – that will allow you to transition from employment to your passion-driven business with minimum risk, and allow you to secure the life you desire. This way you will pursue your passion AND you can live a quality lifestyle.

This way your business will start with a tangible skill set that will grant you a quality living, all while preparing yourself to get on the next level. This way you can slowly build a business in which you will get paid to be you.

The Story of How I Kicked Work Out of the Equation

As long as you don’t like what you do, and it doesn’t benefit your ulterior motives, you will not be able to connect it to your “WHY”, nor will you be able to balance out your life and work, as these forces are diametrically opposed. Doing things you hate, so you can buy things that you don’t need, is one of the most unproductive lives that you can live; Your life will quickly transform into an unproductive grind that makes no sense or purpose.

Doing things you hate, so you can buy things that you don’t need, is one of the most unproductive lives that you can live.

A lot of people think that I get paid for doing fun things, things they don’t consider to be actual “work” and that I’ve got it “easy”. They’re right! I am living in a reality where I am doing the things I am good at and that I love, and I don’t really feel like I am working. Whenever I feel like I have a “job”, I know that something is wrong, and that it is time to change the things that I am doing.

For a long time I had this sense of guilt, as though it was somehow wrong for me to be thriving, working from home, doing things that are fairly easy and fun for me, yet still creating big value. A lot of people found it hard to understand, and were dismissive, as my life’s work was so effortless for me, and it didn’t require the same level of daily forced dedication.

For a long while I paid a great deal of respect to the “hard working people”, who were able to put in the long hours in order to get the paycheck at the end of the month, just so they can “get ahead in life”. As I started to question this concept, I reconnected with my personal story, where I’ve witnessed first hand how traditional jobs, and doing the things that everybody else does. This isn’t worthy of admiration, it’s worthy of critique and judgement.

When you go to work and you have fun, you know you are not only transforming your work into play, you are also getting dearly compensated for it. You are getting paid to be you. Being paid to be you means that you as a person – your habits and mindsets – are worthy of financial gratification by the market as a whole. This requires an internal shift, a change in some aspects of who you are, so that you become valuable simply by being you. This will differentiate you from an employee, or someone who is expandable. A part of being paid to be you means that your current, financially unworthy self, needs to commercialize your life activity into something that others will have need or want to pay for. Being paid to be you is a personal transformation process.

Don’t allow the majority that surrounds you to dictate who you are, or who you can be: Realize that there are unconventional jobs out there that will pay you more, to do the things that YOU find pleasurable, and all of those activities will take you less time, stress and energy to help you transition towards your purpose.

How did my definition of “work” come to be different to the rest of the world?

Let me tell you my story of work life balance. I grew up to as a child of well-behaved, hard-working parents who praised hard work and long hours, defining their success in terms of time spent and effort exerted. Even though they were creating wealth, they truly didn’t do much in terms of living their lives. Life was “tough” and that’s how it was supposed to be. Their philosophy was simple: If you want to have a lot of things, and live comfortably, then you’ve got to put in the long hours.

To me, this seemed like a prison sentence. Though I didn’t know much about what they were doing at their jobs (even though I knew a bit about it), I saw what a traditional “job” brings into your life. My father would come back home very late and I would barely see him. Usually when he came back, he was too tired to do anything. He was very nervous, agitated and didn’t have a lot of time or energy to devote to me as his kid. This created a big void in our relationship that had repercussions during my teenage years.

In college, aspiring to become a “successful” investment banker, I observed what was being prepared for us in the pipeline. A few internships later, I noticed how my mentors in the banking industry didn’t seem very happy. Often they shared the same sentiments of low salaries and long hours. When I saw that, I became fully convinced that I wasn’t going to work in the industry.

Even before I graduated, I was determined that I was not going to work a single day in my industry I’d trained for. I never sent out a single resume in order to fulfill any position of such nature. Observing a big bureaucracy, I knew that this wasn’t a path that was paved for me. I was happy to avoid long hours and a false sense of security.

In numerous instances of my life I’ve been in a sort of whole body spasm, trying to maintain control over every aspect of my life. This was putting my cortisol levels up and my life was just flashing past me. Now I’ve learned to lay back and relax, stop worrying completely and just enjoy the ride. I’ve learned that work life balance is a matter of choice.

Actionable Steps Towards Achieving A Balanced Life

Balance is about maintaining the other side of your productivity puzzle. The fun side that makes life meaningful, and gives you a reason to keep on going on, empowering your “why” and making your growth stable and sustainable. In order to get balanced, before realizing the big personal truth around it, you will have to push through a few natural barriers in order to start moving forwards. Here are a few things that helped me; I am sure that some of them will help you too.

– Identifying Where You Are Located In The levels of Work Life Balance
– Stop Doing Things That Make You Miserable
– Eradicate Materialism That Forces You To Do More Of The Things You Don’t Like

The Different Levels Of Work Life Balance

People have dramatically different lives, and making more money more often than not fails to translate into happiness. In order to feel where you want to be, try to assess what type of work life balance you currently have:

The Workaholic: Clearly overworked and don’t have a life
The Overtimer: you work 10-12 hour days, the time you have, you want to use to fully rest and recover.
The 9 to 5er: You work regular office hours, and when you’re through with your commute, you want to spend your evenings by watching the television and generally be laid back. You have balanced weekends, but not so balanced weeks.
Part timer with a commute: You work the job to pay the bills pretty much, and you don’t get far ahead financially.
Worker from home: The Internet has lead us to believe that working from home is the holy grail, while in fact, I can confess that it is far from it
Being paid to be you

When you realize where you belong, try to conceive a plan how to move yourself up the ladder, towards a life that will make you feel happy and connected to your source code.

Are You Doing Things That Make You Miserable?

The main reason why most people wake up to go to work is for money and identity – the self-definition that you derive from your profession. If you are one of the people who are honest with themselves, answering this question will help you determine how much balance you have in your life:

“If money wasn’t the issue, what would you be doing right now?”

If your line of work is not what you would be doing if money wasn’t the issue, no amount of tips or tricks will help you move towards a more balanced life.

In order to illustrate this question better, I would love you to imagine the certainty that comes from your current paycheck (or current level of your freelancing income), without needing to go to your job. Imagine having the same or better level of income, with no effort. And now tell yourself, would you be doing the same thing that you are doing right now?

If you answered no to the previous question, it’s time to put things in perspective and get serious about the things that you truly want to do. I won’t be one of those people that tells you to go out and immediately quit your job, but I will tell you to increase your determination to succeed in the field that is making you fulfilled and encouraged to keep on moving forward, even if you don’t manage to get paid for it.

Eradicate Materialism That Forces You To Do More Of The Things You Don’t Like

One of the main reasons people strive to increase income is because you are often paying off the debt for things you wanted in the past, but didn’t really need. Western culture is materialistic in its nature, an environment where shopping is one of the favorite pastimes, substituted with artificial Hollywood realities that drive consumption in a virtual reality sitcom lifestyle that requires you to consistently upgrade to the latest and greatest, just so you can keep up.

This excessive consumerism drives your identity and simultaneously destroys your health, keeping you in a constant race to maintain the things you can’t afford, depriving you of free time and increasing the demand on your energy at the expense of your sanity and health. Despite this constant pursuit of bigger and better things, the experience is most often punctuated by an irrational feeling of inadequacy.

Every time you buy something you don’t really need, you exert more pressure on yourself, constraining your spiritual and emotional freedom. Consuming less – needing less – can steer you in the right direction to find time for commercializing your own existence.

The True Reason Why Fewer Working Hours Won’t Make That Big Of A Difference

For a long while I believed that I needed a job that would allow me to have “work life balance.” What I learned along the way is that we need to have a life that will get us paid, so we can live merely by existing and being who we are. I imagine it as a sort of “next level” of existence, one where you get paid to be you.

Take a look at history and all those people who worked 16 hour shifts only to come back home to sleep; Compare it to your 8-hour shifts and the quality of life you get from it. Your forebears worked themselves to death for a better future, but should you be grateful for your privilege, or should you push for even more? Ultimately only you know if you’re leading the type of life that leaves you happy and fulfilled.

When you are not passionate about your work, it becomes something you try to avoid in order to do more pleasurable things. Work is something you “have to” do in order to do the things you “want to”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of striving to create more compromises, if you curb your spending, you will never feel compelled to work the things you don’t enjoy in order to survive.

Bringing your work life balance means converting your work from something you “have to” into something you “want to” do. This applies not only to the things that make you money, but to all things.

As Alan Watts surmises in this inspiring video: What do you desire? What makes you itch?

If you’re unhappy in what you do, challenge yourself to discover what needs to change in order for things to get better. Start planning those changes: Work less, have more fun; Make a living from the things that you love doing, because you will be doing those anyway.