“When we put balance to work in each area of our lives, we truly experience greater balance, greater reward.” Jeff Kooz
So I googled “work life balance” and the page filled up with different lists. “Top five ways to achieve work life balance”, “6 ways to better work life balance”, “Signs your life is off balance | work life balance”… so on and so forth. It seems we have a crisis here. We do not know how to achieve work life balance.We are stuck in a place of working for the weekends, but it seems the amount of work it takes to get there increases, and now we need to be checking our email on the weekends.
I studied economics in school. If there is one thing that classic economics says, its that you have work and leisure. The two do not coexist. Once can extrapolate this to mean leisure=joy and work=not joy? But in all seriousness, for the most part we have been conditioned to understand that work is the labor to get us to a place where we want to be. It is a means to an end, a way to put food on the table, or a way to get out of the house and pay for daycare. I know people who also will say “why do anything that isn’t fun.” And are they wrong? Life should be full of joy and fun, shouldn’t it? Why should I spend the majority of my life toiling at something that does not bring me joy? Because I am the forever moderate, I do find the truth is somewhere in the middle because life is not black and white, choices are not always obvious, and our decision-making can be complex. An old professor of mine used to always say “It’s messy!” and her point was that not everything is a simple 2+2. I may not simply be able to forsake the life of work and live my desired ski bum life if I want to have a family and eat things that go beyond ramen.
So how do we achieve this magnificent balance… a middle ground between toil and fun? I don’t know (I know, that was kind of a let down). I say this because it is different for everybody. What I can tell you is my perspective on it. I used to work with youth and young professionals and this is the same advice I would share with them.
We need to start with goals. We do not need to know exactly what we want to do, but we need to have an idea of our general direction. Goals allow us to create plans and plans allow us to succeed. My goals and plans can help create the framework for me to figure out the milestones for success. I AM a firm believer that sometimes we need to suck it up and do something that is less enjoyable if it will advance us to our end goals. There is such a thing as paying our dues. There is also such a thing as being stuck, and understanding the difference between paying one’s dues for a better future and being stuck is very important.
As I make a big deal about the need to work and pay your dues, it sounds like I am saying you need to realize that you won’t have fun. That is not what I am saying. I am saying that everything in life is a tradeoff. Do you value the 10-15 years of joyful payoff that the next three years of grinding will bring more than the alternative? We need to understand what is worth it to us. Investment reaps reward… and I am really glad I just thought of the word investment. When we think of the grinding and the hard years as an investment, this reframing can change our outlook. If we are putting the pieces in place to gain an advantage, that sounds like a smart move to me.
Beyond the work, fun is still important. I cannot sit here and lecture people on setting up your future when I basically was a ski bum for the majority of my twenties. Experiences and fun are still worth it. I will say that as loud as I can. I will also say they are extra worth it if you can either make them work for you for a sustainable lifestyle, or you see an eventual transition to your goals. The fun can also give experiences. Working in the ski industry taught me how to talk to people, customer service, and management skills. It also taught me the benefit of living and not trapping yourself. I have very few regrets from that experience.
If you were to ask me what the dream is, I would day the dream is to break the classic rule of economics. Prove them wrong that work is work, joy is joy, and they do not intersect. Work doesn’t have to be a chore, and it doesn’t have to be play, but it can be enjoyable… right? How many of you are in a job that you enjoy? Do any of you like going into work on Monday? Or how many of you dread work? I think you have made it when you work to achieve your goals, you enjoy what you do, and you also have the opportunity to leave it behind for true leisure when you need to. What is the point of having vacation time if you cannot take it?
The last thing I want to mention is to remember what is most important to you. If money is most important to you, you go for it. If family is most important to you, don’t sacrifice that for your job. Your employer will never put your well-being over their own. Your family, friends, loved ones, and dogs will. Build what matters most to you into your goals, your milestones, and your every day. That is the key to work/life balance. If you can invest the correct amount in each, if you can prove the classic economist wrong, if you can live the dream and feel happy about it, you’ve made it.