Chasing the Myth of Work-Life Balance
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The typical picture of entrepreneurs -- 20-hour work days, always-on email, working nights, weekends and holidays -- screams for work-life balance. The unbridled ambition that turns startup leaders into workaholics either can burn them out or send them to an early grave.
I’ll be honest with you: I hate the term work-life balance. The very fact that the term exists implies that things are inherently out of balance, that there’s something broken that needs to be fixed. Or that “work” is always bad and “life” is always good and never the twain shall meet, when really they’re inseparably interwoven parts of the same whole.
People can sit and debate what the term should be until they're blue in the face. I’ve seen “work-life integration” and “work-life fusion.” But what's needed is not so much new labels but reframing of the perspective on how entrepreneurs' lives actually work.
You’re not any less “you” when you’re answering work emails and you’re not any more “you” when enjoying a family dinner. You’re always you.
And entrepreneurs should embrace the fact that work and life aren’t going to be separated by something as simple as a hyphen. A business leader's day isn’t a scale that needs equilibrium.
On the one hand, work fulfills my need to push boundaries, create new things and succeed. On the other, my job provides me with the things that make having a family life possible in the first place. And as unimaginably precious as my time with my wife and children is, I don’t magically become another person when I’m with them.
I did lose sight of what was important once. The stress, the pressure and the time away from my family all became too much. I literally walked away from my office in Atlanta, put everything into a Winnebago and drove my family to Colorado -- where we stayed for a year. I woke up one day and wondered, “What is the point of all of this?” I just wanted to have a normal 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job so I could go to the pool with the kids on the weekend.
From the “work-life balance” point of view, the work side was “winning.” The scale had tipped too far in one direction and was threatening to topple everything. I was convinced that I needed to reclaim equilibrium.
In viewing things from a balance perspective, I overcompensated. I was trying to throw the scales back in the opposite direction to make up for lost time.
But it doesn’t work that way. Life is not something to make time for. There’s no ledger to be balanced. And while that time away was valuable for my perspective and creativity, it didn’t solve anything. The entrepreneurial spirit in me that drove me to prove myself my whole life was never going away.
I knew I had to embrace that spirit. I just needed to be smarter about it.
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Keeping an even keel.
What I realized is that for entrepreneurs, there’s very little delineation between the two parts of life. The passion and ambition that drive them to start their own business and take on the world doesn’t magically switch off at 5 p.m. and it certainly doesn’t go away after a year in seclusion. Entrepreneurs live, eat, breathe and sleep this stuff.
For this set, there is no work-life balance; there’s simply life, in which the work you love and the people you love are inexorable parts.
And guess what? That’s OK.
The things that entrepreneurs typically compartmentalize into the “life” bucket (time with family, exercise, vacation and outings with friends) are essential to their work selves as a means to recharge and reset their mental and physical health and productivity.
So stop chasing the myth of work-life balance. Stop treating your personal life as something you have to make time for and your work life as something you have to apologize for.
Start understanding that the real you transcends both.