The Aim Should be the Best Life – Not Work v. Life Balance
Posted on May 13, 2015 Comments (10)
My father had the most job satisfaction of anyone I have known. He had no separation between work and life. We toured factories on vacation. I visited Davidson College in North Carolina because he was consulting with a client in Charlotte before we went up to Duke and North Carolina for visits and asked the CEO what school I should visit. His grad students would call the house frequently.
Many of his best friends were colleagues. That is how I grew to know people like George Box, Brian Joiner, Soren Bisgaard and Peter Scholtes as I grew up. Various permutations of our family lived overseas based on his jobs in London (before kids), Singapore, Nigeria and China. Those experiences dramatically impacted all our lives and they were not about separating work from life.
The desire for a life embedded in other cultures and for travel drove decisions about work. He lived in Japan (because of his Dad’s job) for 2 years as a kid and that sparked his desire to do more of that as an adult.
The sensible aim is to optimize your life. Work is a big part of life. As with any system the results depend on the overall system not the performance of individual parts taken separately. Dad also died young. He was happy to have lived such a good life, even if he wished he could have lived longer he wasn’t bitter about missing anything.
When he learned he would die (of cancer) he mainly continued what he had always been doing living life and working on what he thought was worthwhile. One project he did take on, along with George Box, was creating the Center of Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. George’s speech about Dad’s work provides a nice look at how work and life – William G. Hunter: An Innovator and Catalyst for Quality Improvement.
He honestly looked back on his life and felt he had a life that few could have topped, even though it was cut short. He was certainly optimistic and positive. But my sense was this was his honest assessment, it wasn’t just some fake front he put on for others. He had been living his life as well as he could his whole life. And continuing to live it as long as he could was all he wanted to do.
I have certainly followed this vision of optimizing life myself. I don’t see life and one thing and work as something else. It is an integrated whole and if the current job creates too many negatives for the rest of life then changes are needed to optimize life.
We only have one life; the consequences of decisions and actions have long term impacts on that life. It may be you dedicate quite a bit of effort to your career for a few years at the expense of other things you would like to do based on the belief it will pay off in the long run. This is often wise. It also is often the justification used for just avoiding the issue that your actions and decisions today will impact your options and life for years and decades to come.
Most of the other people I know that are most satisfied with their lives are largely most engaged in their careers with little separation between that and their non-work life. But that isn’t always true some of them do have fairly stark separations in many ways though almost all have also a large component of their non-work life that is directly related to their career.
People working in software for example I find are more often happy with their lives. And even if their work and other life are fairly separate they are often pursuing learning about software, design, how people work effectively etc. outside of work.
I do also know some people that are pretty happy and basically don’t have much investment in their career. They see it as a way to fund their life. And they are happy with the job but it isn’t really that integrated with their overall life. That happens and is fine. People are different, lots of different models of optimizing life exist. For them work v. life can work to some extent but I still think it is the wrong vision. Even if work isn’t that meaningful to you, still the proper vision is the integrated whole; some people just have a more minor role for their work-life than others.
The best way to succeed is to view your entire life as a system; work is a fairly large part of that system for most people. So you need to figure out how to make the most of work within the containing system of your life. And, of course, it is a bit more complex because the containing system of your life is interacting with many other people and a few very important people. Those interactions with others (especially those closest to you) dramatically impact what options for the work portion will make the most sense for you.
Related: Work and Life (2010) – Software Process and Measurement Podcast With John Hunter – Dream More, Work Less (2008) – Vacations: Systems Thinking (2006) – Working Less: Better Lives and Less Unemployment (2012) – Curious Cat as a Celebrity in Yogyakarta, Indonesia
I don’t think “live every day as if it is your last” is a good model. Only once will that be true. Rather live everyday so as to enjoy your entire life. We seem to get so caught up in getting through each day and week that we fail to appreciate what is most important. We crowd out the important but not urgent for the urgent but not important.
So the sentiment of living everyday as if it is your last to do what is most important I agree with. Often that means doing what is important to make your life better next year and for years to come; but which if today really was you last day it would not be what you would do.
The work v. life “balance” is mainly a symptom of people that do not feel pride in their professional lives. And sadly that is a very common experience. Many of our organizations make it difficult for people to find deep contentment with their work. A better solution than seeking a “work v. life” balance is to make work more intrinsically rewarding. Trying to isolate and accept that suffering through the huge chunk of your time involved in work is going to be sacrificed for this other part of your life that you can enjoy isn’t a good solution to the problem.