Work-life balance: It’s the Sasquatch of the modern work force. You’ve caught a blurry glimpse of it, and you’re intrigued by the idea it might exist. But you’ve never actually made its acquaintance and you probably never will.
Just like that hirsute hermit or his chupacabra cousin, the balance between your work life and your private life is nothing more than a myth. Before you devote fruitless years of your life trying to capture this particular elusive beast, consider that it might all be for naught.
Here are few of the legends, and the reasons work-life balance will never live up to them.
For the iPad-owning, new-car-driving, going out to dinner three times a week world, I think it’s time for a little reality check. Work isn’t the thing you do to finance your real life. For most people, for most of history, work is your life.
If we’re healthy enough to get up and go to work every day and still have a couple of hours at the end to eat dinner and watch a little TV, we’re doing a hell of a lot better than almost all of the people who came before us, who were happy just to make it through a winter without freezing to death or dying from the flu.
“I deserve it”
I recently saw an ad for a company that will turn your humdrum basement into a plush and impressive home theater. The ad said, “Because You Deserve It.”
I do? Why? Because I got up and went to work today? When did we become a nation of people who believe that every two hours of work should be rewarded with an hour of fun and relaxation ? This rather modern notion that we all “deserve” to have our home theaters, SUVs and electronic gadgets – whether we can actually afford them or not – is unrealistic and, frankly, childish.
The “Work Hard, Play Hard” mentality may be all right for the Richard Bransons of the world, but for the rest of us, the reward for working – even at your own business – is that we don’t starve to death or live in a makeshift shack on the side of the road.
Save the “deserving” stuff for those poor souls trying to stop a nuclear meltdown in Japan. The rest of us need to suck it up.
“They know how to live in other countries”
Oh, you mean those folks you saw on your vacation in Central America who know how to take it easy, enjoy themselves, live life at a slower pace? That’s not work-life balance, it’s unemployment.
While it’s true that the Europeans get more vacation time, better maternity leave and shorter workweeks, they also pay higher taxes than we do. Who do you think is paying for all that relaxation and family time? I’m sorry, America, you can’t have your apple pie and eat it, too.
Your golden years
You’re working hard now so you can retire later? You may want to rethink that plan. According to recent studies, the “golden years” are actually more of a dull gray. Many older workers say they aren’t happy in retirement because they don’t have anything to do or anywhere to go. They don’t feel needed or valued.
A recent survey of workers found that employees of the U.S. military were happier than employees at many companies, including Disney. I’m guessing it’s because soldiers have purpose. They know what their job is and they know why they’re doing it. Feeling valued is essential for everyone. And work, in addition to putting food on the table, gives people a sense of value.
Many people say work-life balance is about spending more time with family . Great! When you’re done with work for the day, turn off your computer, put down your BlackBerry and pay attention to your kids. If you spend the time you aren’t working actually paying attention to your family instead of looking up your old boyfriends on Facebook while your kids play on their Xbox, you won’t feel like your life is all work and no play.
Here’s a radically 19th-century proposal: Put your kids to work. There’s a reason that farmers’ children became farmers and butchers’ children became butchers. They learned from their parents by working with them, talking to them and learning a vocation over many years. You can do the same with your kids. Rather than shipping them off to someone else to teach them piano, gymnastics and competitive hip-hop dancing ― skills they are very unlikely to use for the long term ― why not teach them what you do? They’ll thank you for it later when they realize that there are very few jobs available as a backup dancer for Lady Gaga.
The Oprah effect
Oprah has promoted a lot of “aha” moments in her day, but the idea that everyone should follow their “passion” may be the most ridiculous of them all. Let’s be glad not everyone has taken her advice, or else there’d be no one working in our sewer plants, picking up our garbage or doing any number of less-than-glamorous but necessary jobs.
It’s time we realized that not everyone can be a video game developer or a sports marketing agent. Some people, as you may already know, need to do the thankless jobs, start the businesses that no one will notice and work in careers that most likely will never be on anyone’s “I want to be” list.
Rather than finding your passion and following it, make doing a good job your passion. No matter what you do, do it well. Make your customers and employees happy and work harder at it than anything else. The rewards it will bring you will be more than enough to compensate for the death of your dream of one day discovering that mystical being: work-life balance .
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