The idea of “work-life balance” is largely a misnomer.
Look no further than the construction of the concept: inherent is the idea that work is something other than life.
Life is its own separate category, presumably to include everything you do after you leave work, before you arrive, and on the precious, fleeting weekends.
So modern day workers are expected to achieve a magical balance where their pasta-making, yoga-attending blissful life outside of the office provides just enough relaxation and fulfillment to allow them to deal with the increasing stress, deadlines, economic insecurity, belt-tightening, and ever-looming quotas and deadlines.
In fact, at a certain point in the corporate world, all the good stuff you do for yourself out of the office — regular exercise, meditation, eating a really good diet, getting enough sleep — become a means to the end of improved corporate performance.
Then isn’t it true that your whole life is really about work?
In America, per-worker productivity has increased 400% over the last couple of decades, at the same time wages AND free time have shrunk. Most Westerners work a lot, but Americans also take the least vacation — and probably have the worst “work-life balance” of the lot.
I’ve heard it said: people in other countries work to live. Americans live to work.
Let’s face it: work and life are inseparable, not two separate realms of activity but instead part of one unified whole. There is no “work” and then “life”, there is just life, which includes, as a subset, some things you do for which you receive monetary compensation.
When you enjoy your work, you are freed of that soul-crushing, brain-numbing feeling of needing to balance the toxicity of the workplace with some Elysian, restorative “life.”
Your work IS your life, and if your work sucks, your life sucks.
The goal for every human being is to have work that doesn’t suck.
To the extent that your work sucks, your life will suck, and you owe it to yourself — and all the rest of us — to change that.
BALANCE IN THE PURSUIT OF GREATNESS
There’s another area where balance is an insidious cover for misery: the pursuit of a great goal.
If you’ve ever tried to train for a marathon, or improve your body in the gym, or undertake any other form of self-improvement where movement from your current level to a higher level was the eventual goal, you probably encountered this resistance from other people:
- “Oh, but you’re fine just the way you are!”
- “Now, don’t get too sucked into this training thing….you still want to have a regular life, right?”
- “But I like your little Buddha belly!”
- “You work so hard all the time, I just want you to have some time to relax…come watch this TV show.”
People are comfortable with the status quo, and it’s human nature to resist changes to the status quo, even in the people around us.
Personal growth is one of the most threatening things you can do to the people around you, if they are not on a similar path — because your new choices throw their status-quo choices into a new light, and cause them anxiety. If he’s getting his life together, shouldn’t I take a deeper look at my choices? Maybe I should stop smoking weed every weekend. But I like smoking weed every weekend. Resistance! I’ll project my resistance onto him.
Here’s the reality: nobody ever achieved greatness with a weekend-warrior approach. (Tweet this.)
When you decide to do something great — whether it’s to become a best-selling author, or start a business empire, or help a million people get out of poverty — it’s going to take your whole focus for a while.
That’s not to say you should burn yourself out. The Fierce Gentleman understands the critical importance of periods of rest and ease, of complete disengagement with work so he can re-stoke the fires of energy and ambition that will allow him to cut through any obstacle. Workaholism in pursuit of greatness doesn’t help, because it leads to dullness and burnout.
But to truly achieve something great, you’re going to let go of balance. You’re probably going to have to give up partying and drinking with friends on the weekends. You may have to forgo watching your soap operas. Instead of mindless Facebook browsing, you will have to buckle down and work, instead. You’ll have to make your time and energy much more purposeful. Others in your life will resist this. You will resist this, initially.
Greatness is a grind. (Click to tweet this) The reason why Elon Musk works 80+ hour work-weeks even though he has 5 kids is that he’s obsessed with achieving his dreams. The reason why Seinfeld is Seinfeld is that he’s willing to spend 2+ years perfecting a single joke. The reason that Kobe Bryant is a superstar is that he gets up to workout at 4:15am and then rolls straight into practice with the rest of his team at 11am…..and doesn’t leave the court until he’s drained 800 perfect shots. Every day.
The Fierce Gentleman Movement exists because we believe that every man has greatness in him….but we won’t lie and say it’s fun & easy. And we won’t say you can do it in a “balanced” way.
To achieve greatness, you will have to be completely out of balance for some period of time. Like the time I wrote 10,000 words per day to draft my first book. Like the master violinist who dedicated 4-5 hours per day to practicing from the age of 7 to 18.
Even in small ways, when you take a new job and spend so much time learning it that all you can do is shove some food in your mouth and collapse into bed at the end of the day.
Greatness costs, and the coin you pay is living an “unbalanced” life for a season. (Tweet this.) But if you’re motivated to achieve, if you’re inspired by that dream, then it’s worth it to you, and you won’t let anyone make some mythical “balance” the God to which you must sacrifice your dreams of greatness.
We’ll send you the latest article every Sunday. Click here to get Fierce Gentleman in your inbox.
Also published on Medium.