Balance of Work and Life is a Myth

August 10, 2011  

Many years back, I led classes on Stephen Covey’s “Principle Centered Leadership” for Accenture’s managers. Over 75 percent of the attendees said that achieving balance in their life was their number one reason for taking the course. This is not surprising given the fast pace of life today. But what does balance mean?

Balance implies two opposing forces that reach equilibrium. This is not easy to do. Remember when you were a kid trying to balance with someone else on a seesaw? Either you were up or you were down. But rarely were you balanced. In life, either we are working hard or playing hard at any given moment. But we rarely are in balance. And when most refer to work/life balance being out of alignment, it is typically not because they are enjoying too much play and not enough work.

Maybe balance is not the solution. So what’s the alternative? Integration.

Find ways of integrating your work and personal life together. In doing this, you free up more time, you gain new interests, and your life becomes whole rather than piecemeal. One simple example is that of a professional speaker who loves golf. He now includes golf lessons as one of his client offerings. He gets to do what he loves while making money.

This concept applies to increasing time for relationships. Find ways of doing things together with your partner: Hobbies, interests, chores, or even work. A husband and wife I know never had time for one another. But when they learned about integration, they began to get actively involved in each other’s interests. He now takes cooking lessons with her, and she goes golfing with him. They created time by integrating their activities, enabling them to have more time for their individual pursuits.

How can you begin to integrate the pieces of your life?

First, look at what things interest you most. Next, ask how you can shift your daily schedule to embed these activities into what you do regularly. This will require some creative thinking. Finally, have the courage to ask for what you want.

Many years ago, I decided I wanted to be a professional speaker and an author. Instead of leaving the security of my consulting job, I decided to shift my responsibilities to include writing and speaking as part of my job. Unfortunately, this role did not exist. I needed to create a position that was of value to the organization—and then have the courage to ask for it and make it happen. I did and my idea grew into a 20,000-person organization. As part of my job, I wrote a book that was sold to 40,000 consultants and clients. I was giving as many as 100 speeches a year to tens of thousands of people. This eventually led to a book deal with a major publisher, which I used to launch my professional speaker career.

I know of a young couple that radically integrated their passions with work. Gary is a door-to-door salesman. While enjoyable for him, admittedly his job was not his passion. His passion is travel, and like most Americans, he squeezes this love into one, maybe two weeks over the course of a year.

One night, after a particularly difficult day on the job, Gary and his wife Deb, engaged in a conversation as to how he could create more passion within his career. It was unacceptable for them to wait for retirement or a windfall of money to land in their account. They wanted to live their dreams now, while they could.

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