You Don’t Have Time For Balance

You don’t have time for balance.

That’s right. You heard me. All that stuff about how you gotta balance your work life and home life is garbage.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of the two of you reading this, one of you is saying, “Y‍‍‍eah! That’s right, man. I’m never gonna get anywhere if I take my foot off the throttle. Work while the other guy is sleeping. That’s how I get ahead.” And the other one of you is saying, “Hold on there, buddy. I have a family. Balance is important. I refuse to be a workaholic, gain-the-whole-world-lose-my-soul kind of guy.”

You’re both missing the point.

Reader number 1, I like your drive, and you’re right to an extent. You’ll probably get ahead…for a bit. And then you’ll burn out. People don’t come back from burn-out.

But more importantly, I don’t think you know where you’re even heading. Sure, you’ve got a goal. But since you don’t even have time for sleep, you most assuredly don’t have time for reflection. Because if you did, you would realize that you’re just trying to prove to that voice in your head that you’re not a loser after all. Good luck with that.

Reader number 2, you’re a little more self-aware. You understand that life is more than just amassing accomplishments. You have good intentions. Kudos. But it’s your fault that we’re having this whole balance discussion in the first place.

Now, I understand why balance is such a popular concept. When we think of a balanced person we think of someone steady, even-keeled; someone who won’t embarrass everyone at family gatherings. We don’t want to be “extremists”, after all. I can get behind that. But the problem comes when we try to actually apply balance to our lives.

Think about it. How do you become more balanced? Well, you start by thinking of some area in which you feel like you’re a little too [whatever]. Then you try and be less [whatever]. But you have to be careful, lest you become too [whatever-is-the-opposite-of-what-you-started-trying-to-avoid-in-the-first-place]. So balance isn’t really a thing. It’s just not being two opposite things. It’s avoidance.

Let’s look at the example that started this whole thing – work:life balance.

You don’t want to be a workaholic (you’ve got a family you want to spend time with), but you don’t want to be ineffective, or seen as (gasp!) lazy. So in order to find balance, you teeter back and forth as you try varying proportions of work:non-work time allowances. But regardless of the proportion, you find yourself sometimes feeling guilty about still being at work late at night, and sometimes feeling guilty for not answering your work phone while your kid tells you about her day at school.

Just gotta find the right balance.

That’s no recipe for success. That’s a recipe for guilt, no matter what you do.

And you know what else? It’s not inspiring. No one says, “You know what I’m passionate about? Balance.” Because it’s not a thing! We want to be something, to do something meaningful. We don’t want to just avoid bad attributes.

“Ok, ok. I see your point,” says Reader 2. (Reader 1 already stopped reading long ago; he had a meeting.) “But what do I do, then? If not balance, then what?”

Exactly.

You haven’t answered that question. You haven’t decided what it is that you want; you only have some absolutes about what you don’t want. You’ve got to take some time and describe for yourself the life you do want. Then, do Toyota’s famous “Ask why 5 times,” to get to the root motivation. Once you know where you’re going and why, then you can make decisions about how much time or effort you devote to this or that, with greater clarity and resolve.

Continuing with the work example, you can think about how your work fits into the broader vision of your life. Rather than asking yourself questions like, “Is it lazy to stay home this Saturday?” or, “Is it overworking to go in?” you can ask, “Will working this Saturday do more to contribute to, or detract from the life I want?” That’s a very different approach, much less binary and way more 3D.

So forget balance. Live in 3D.