WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS DEAD!
The Myth, the Truth and the Remedy
Dr. Serena Reep, Ph.D., PMP.
This material is copyrighted (2014-2016)
Work-Life Balance: Right Concept, Wrong Century
As you read the title, you must be thinking “What? Work-Life balance is not meaningful today? How dare she declare it as WRONG CENTURY what I am so desperately seeking right now? I am trying to balance my work life with my personal life and working hard to get to the mountain top. Half-way through my uphill journey, I am being told there is no such destination? Have I wasted half my life trying to reach that magical place that doesn’t even exist?”
Believe me, I understand your frustration and maybe even disappointment. But don’t throw raw eggs or rotten tomatoes at me, quite yet. I readily admit that it is much easier to criticize and disassemble an idea; it is much more difficult to encourage and build a new one. But, ask yourself this question: How many of the people who tout the balancing of work and life as the eleventh commandment have actually achieved it? OK, now let’s move a little closer to home. How many people in your family, friends, colleagues or relatives have achieved this illusive work-life balance?
This topic has become so popular in the last couple of decades that everyone is involved in the dialogue and debate of how to reach the work-life balance Nirvana. It has established itself as a significant topic of discussion, from the water cooler conversations to corporate boardroom debates about HR policy, from the increasingly overworked stay-at-home moms and dads to the increasingly influential blog-o-sphere.
But think about this for a moment. If there is still an ongoing dialogue about the issues and the potential solutions, after so many books and blogs, policies and practices, why has the balancing of work and life been such an illusive goal? Does it not suggest that the answers have not quite hit the mark or there is a real issue that is not being addressed? The relevant advice is usually at variance with popular knowledge. Popular thinking is dangerous because it can truncate critical thinking.
Popular thinking suggests that acquiring the right tools and tactics will help us to successfully balance work life with family life. I will show you that this is a prescription for disaster. It is bound to fail.
A majority of the answers have looked at the calendar and the appointment book as a significant part of the solution. You are told that all you have to do is figure out the top 4-5 important things in life, prioritize them, and schedule each of them on the calendar and stick to them. Well, this perspective misses something very important – you are not the sum total of all the roles you play. There is the human element that forms the glue to integrate all the pieces of your life and brings you closer to your sense of identity and enables you to move toward the goal of self-actualization. What is self-actualization, you ask? Psychologist Abraham Maslow coined this term to refer to realizing or actualizing one’s highest potential. I will talk about this in greater detail later on. But for the moment, think of this as the “heart-centered” strategic alignment of all that you do with all that you are and all that you dream to become. I will show you through the pages that follow that the calendar and the appointment book are inadequate tools for living an authentic life, and, for self-actualization.
Individuals are not the only ones struggling with the need for balancing their work life with their family life. Just as individuals are struggling with this issue, many corporations have also come to the realization that their employees’ happiness inside and outside the workplace impacts their ability to be productive at work. A majority of the solutions implemented by the corporations have been to provide quality of life perks as their answer to the problem of work-life balance. For example, work from home one day a week or casual-dress Friday, gym membership, onsite baby-sitting facilities, flex-time etc have been offered by many organizations. But, these have not been really “effective” as work-life balance strategies. They have not been the motivators or loyalty generators for the corporation, leave alone affect the performance or profitability in any significant way.
What is really needed is a “heart-centered” alignment between the corporate strategic vision and the individual’s struggle for self-actualization. They both need to meet at the cross-roads of work-life balance initiatives. Both have a vested interest in redefining the issues in a more relevant and meaningful way for mutual benefit.
The glue that binds the corporation and the individual together is the human element. When the two meet on that level, work ceases to be work; it becomes an extension of self for the employee. And, the corporation ceases to be an inanimate instrument of profit-making and becomes one that achieves a higher goal of serving humanity through its goods and services as well as through its human resources.
Do you really believe your purpose on this earth is to head the marketing department at the corporate headquarters or manage an IT staff of 40 people? Not very likely! So, what are you really trying to balance? And, what is the purpose of this balancing act anyway? Ask yourself the question: Who am I? Where am I going? What do I want out of my life? What would make me feel at the end of my life that I have lived a purposeful, meaningful and satisfying life?”
The corporation needs to do a similar self examination to become a more conscious corporate citizen and to create a purposeful and meaningful life for its employees, as well as profitable existence for the corporate entity.
This is the journey I will take you on, through my work with you. In this journey of self discovery, you will find rich vistas far beyond your expectations for mechanically balancing your priorities of work life and personal life.
So, where do we begin? What is the starting point of this journey?
To locate your authentic life requires that you get back to basics. This means revisiting a time when doubt was a stranger and belief was your constant companion. As a child you believed all things are possible. But somewhere along the way, you learned to talk yourself off the ledge of possibility and into the comfort of conformity. And there is no better example of the status quo living than seeking to materialize that theoretical concept work-life balance with the help of an appointment book. Working on balancing your work with your life in this fashion gives you false satisfaction. Why? By balancing what you are doing right now, you can easily stop seeking that which you are better designed to do – living an authentic life.
The point is not that we cannot balance our lives. It is that we are looking to balance the wrong things. The point is not that we can not find our authentic life. It is that we have stopped looking for it.
But all is not lost. Life believes in second chances. The dead ends do allow you another chance at a U turn in life. For some, it is while tears drip into a brown bag holding the contents of the office desk after being laid off. For others, it’s feeling the grip of a dying loved-one loosen as they take their last breath. It is at these very moments that life begs us to listen to the small voice in our heart that says, “Go for it!”
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re drowning under the weight of other people’s opinions. There’s a struggle inside of you that needs a partner in your search to find meaning. Finding your purpose is finding where you fit. Like a piece to a puzzle, your skills, abilities and dreams create a certain curvature in the world. You don’t fit everywhere because you are designed for a specific place – an authentic place.
The world is filled with regret, despite all the people who tell you they have none. They lie! Regret never grows from failure; regret grows from not trying. Regret grows from the lack of confidence to change when change was required. There is a universal force always pushing against you living your most authentic life. A force so strong that millions dare not step outside of the line called “conformity” for fear of critique. But here’s the catch; this universal force respects one thing and one thing only; a resolute decision. It is the most powerful thing you have that can turn the entire force of earth toward your own bidding. You must have the courage to seek it and use it.
In my discussions with executives at countless companies, I’ve concluded the same thing: the culprit largely responsible for keeping you from the beauty of the best you could be is living the dreams of some one else rather than seek your own unique identity. A good example of this is the pursuit of the mythical concept work-life balance.
My working with you on realignment of your personal and professional life is intended to be a living, breathing and thought-provoking experience. Many books on your shelf have wonderful ideas that challenge you and some even inspire you. But I want my work to do more and be more. I want it to be an experience that won’t let you rest until you face whatever it is keeping you from doing what you know you were born to do; an experience that gives you the confidence to pick up a chisel and cut away the rough edges hiding the beauty of the real YOU.
Today, most people are physically and mentally exhausted. They are frustrated and overwhelmed. Technology has enabled them not only to do more with less, but it has decreased the worth of what they do. Work has become far less satisfying as a source of identity, while demanding ever increasing time and loyalty. The popular solution that has emerged as a panacea is to look to balance the work life with home life – to balance the bitterness often found in the corporate world with the sweetness found in family. Not just workaholics but even career professionals as well as disengaged workers who just work of a paycheck quickly learn that such a balance doesn’t exist.
It has been the hallmark of the twenty-first century that the people most important to you, your loved ones, consistently get the least amount of our time. Ironically, we do this even as we reassure yourself that the family is the most important priority in life. Yet, you get up each morning, head to work and continue searching for that illusive balance. The concept is carnivorous; it just eats away at you.
So why do we sit by silently and tolerate the promotion of such a bad idea? The answer is this: it wasn’t always a bad idea. During the Industrial Age, the bifurcation of work life and home life was utilitarian. Manufacturing jobs dominated the workplace. You went to work at an automobile factory or a steel mill every day. You stood on an assembly line for eight or ten hours. After your shift, you came home to the family and left the “work” at work. The line of demarcation was clear and refreshing.
On one side, there was extreme physical labor; but on the other side there was the joy of spending uninterrupted time with those you love. Work and life were separated by time and physical location. No laptops, no dial-in phone conference calls during dinner hours and no Internet to do research for the coming workday.
The Information Age has changed everything. Today, the knowledge worker has replaced the factory worker. Economic globalization has blurred the line between work and home by requiring people to be available 24/7, as we collaborate on common projects across the continents. Dalton Conley’s work titled: “Elsewhere US: How We Got from the Company Man, Family Dinners and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms and Economic Anxiety” is very telling of the transition to our current life-style and work-style. The traditional work-life balance concept got off-track once the knowledge worker became the dominant profile in the work landscape.
The new workplace is every place. The new workplace is relentless in the time it demands of you. While technology has reduced the need for your physical presence, your mental engagement never ends. Today’s business person almost feels guilty to take a break and rest. Rest isn’t fashionable. Only perpetual exhaustion provides a badge of “productivity” based on an ill-conceived notion of what it means to be productive.
Today, in many popular water cooler conversations and in pop-culture internet circles as well as in corporate HR paradigms, the goal of the work-life balance is presented as the eleventh commandment. But all who agree with its tenets are trafficking in bad information. The futility of judging your life by how well you adhere to this archaic construct should be obvious. But it’s just not that simple. Bad ideas are like dictators—very hard to remove from power.
I will provoke you to engage a more productive pathway to lead a more fulfilling life. I will provide you with a better understanding of your true potential and present you with the intellectual tools that give you better control over your life. I will point you to a better measurement system for success. Measuring yourself by certain standards works only if the correct standards are in place. The work-life balance concept is a flawed foundation. Build nothing on it!
The greatest wisdom any of us has ever received came as a surprise. They were words that shocked us into a new reality. The information I will share with you in the coming weeks, you will find a conversation like that. It is designed to help clarify your life’s journey. I decided on this method because just like your most meaningful conversations, your daily existence is nuanced with competing agendas, unresolved childhood issues, pressures at work and other social complexities. This conversation reflects the interconnectivity of all these elements while providing a fresh perspective for how to process each. You are not an observer to the happenings in your life. You are the Captain. You guide the ship. You have more control than you realize. My goal is to provide you the courage to embrace the things you know are right for your life, discard erroneous concepts, and release that invaluable piece of art called YOU!
To that end, I have divided our conversation as follows:
No matter how hard you try, you cannot perfect a fatally flawed system. Millions of people remain frustrated about never reaching the goal of balancing family life and work life. This is because the premise itself is wrong. Discover why it is wrong and unproductive, and how to rid yourself of its influence over your life. Also explore why you do what you do. The question, “Why do I work?” may sound elementary at first glance, but it holds a lot of wisdom when contemplated more deeply. Learn how to distinguish your authentic life from your artificial one.
A company is a person magnified. The corporation has a heart, a skill-set and character. But it has lost its compass jut like the person. It also needs to make the journey into self discovery, if it is to prosper, by serving its customer base and its employees.
“Overwhelm” is the disease of the twenty-first century. Activity is the new tobacco – an addictive behavior. But since everyone is overwhelmed, this condition has become an acceptable ailment. Being overwhelmed has been normalized into the masses. Realize that the disease of overwhelm is at the root of our current quest for the holy grail of Work-life balance. This has led us astray, instead of providing us a genuine solution. But, this doesn’t have to be. Explore why you are constantly overwhelmed and discover ways to reduce the daily feeling of frustration and the resulting underperformance, not to mention untold diseases that stem from it.
Credibility and rapport both resonate from a distance. I will show you why trying to balance work and life is a distraction and works against revealing who you really are and who you can truly become. I will also show you that there is as much pathology in a corporation’s self concept as there is in an individual’s. But, it can also redefine itself consciously and retool its mission to balance the profit motive with humanity and become a more conscious corporation. Together, the individual and the corporation can become partners in creating a better person, better family and a better community by redefining their mission and vision.
Nothing is more powerful than a different perspective or adjustment. Seeing something differently can change everything we see thereafter.
A large part of discovering your true potential and removing artificial concepts from controlling your life is self-examination and self-awareness. Dig up old seeds and plant new, more productive ones in your life. “The Why” exercise details how we can plant a new crop of ideas in our minds. Come into the counseling room with me as I speak to a successful, yet depressed executive. See how a slight adjustment of perspective can change everything.
When planting new seeds of understanding, you learn that the most fertile are seeds of failure. Failure is powerfully positive. If properly processed, failure allows you to create the foundation of information needed to build a new life.
The new realities of worker disengagement and the consumer disenchantment show us how the corporation can also remedy its faulty perspective and reach its authentic purpose. I will show you the simple elements a company can add to its daily activities that can lead to greater productivity, dedication among its employees and ultimately to higher profits.
As you enter your journey to figure out why attempts at work-life balance have all been bust, as you seek the place that fits you best, know that few will cheer you on. Obstacles are everywhere. The comfort of mediocrity, the ignorance of our true potential and self-sabotage, are just the tip of the iceberg! Living an authentic life takes confidence. It takes hard work. There is no EASY button you can push.
But hope is only a step away. Have you noticed how people line up on the sidelines providing water and encouragement when an athlete runs a marathon? Their extended hands say “you can do it” or “push past the pain because the finish line is within reach.” This emotional thumbs-up has profound positive consequences. It provides hope. Hope is the most deeply seeded of all human emotions. Hope can overcome the facts until the facts change. But hope alone is not a long-term strategy. You must pair it with hard work to free yourself to be who you want to be, and where you want to be.
This journey is your cup of water; the extended hand that says the end is within reach, don’t give up. Here you’ll receive your second wind so you can make it to the finish line. A major component of gaining your second wind is coming in to the knowledge of who you are and what you’re able to achieve when you live in a space designed just for you. This is important because we live in a discouraging society. Doubt is like dirt; every where you step, you will find it. The world is eager to tell you what you can’t do. It seems to make some people happy to throw water on your sunshine. The reason such discouragement affects you is, you really don’t know who you are. You don’t know the greatness within you. Once you do, you will not need the crutch of work-life balance to push you on.
So, the concept of work-life balance is DEAD. Who killed it, you ask? No one killed it. Actually, It has lived long past its utility. It has been on life-support for some time now. The death of the work-life balance concept is the result of its inappropriateness for our time. In fact, forcing it to be relevant today is as dangerous as riding a horse and buggy down the middle of an interstate highway. Right idea, but wrong century!
Let us start this journey together to discover how to implement the new paradigm in our personal and professional lives.
If the ideas presented in this article resonate with you, and if you want to undertake this journey toward greater productivity and rewarding and fulfilling life, join those that have already made this journey.
Click here to find out more on how to work with Dr. Serena Reep, on finding a better life balance and living a more purposeful and passionate life.