We’ve all heard the term “work-life balance.” Personally, I don’t like it. The phrase suggests a way of looking at things that, in my opinion, isn’t helpful. It creates the image of a scale where “work” sits on one side, and “life” on the other. Your “work” is your job, your career, your profession. Your “life” is all the fun stuff you can’t do while working. Your “work” is where you put in your hours to get paid, leaving you, hopefully, with enough time and some money to play with. “Life” is where the important stuff happens.
As a result, work falls under the category of – almost – a necessary evil. We have to do it, but don’t necessarily want to. And striking this work-life balance is really about trying to do the least amount of work to get the most amount of life.
I prefer to just think about “life balance” instead. A balanced life is a life that harmonizes all the various parts of who I am, including whatever job or career I’ve been called to do. Setting “work” over against “life” seems to me to misunderstand the structure and nature of life itself. We don’t balance “work” and “life”. Rather, we balance “life” when all the various components of life are working in harmony with one another (one of which is “work”). It is a different paradigm. A different way to view things. So let’s talk for a moment about some (but not all) of the “things” that go into a balanced life.
A balanced life almost always includes some form of “work” or “career.” I prefer to think of it as a “calling” myself. What we do is an intimate, inseparable, part of who we are. This is because you have skills, talents, training, and experiences that are uniquely your own. These flow into the work you do. They put a unique “stamp” or “voice” on your career. A balanced life, then, will include doing the “right” work (the work we have been called to do) and doing it the very best that we can. I think Van Gogh was not far off when he said, “Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck, your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”
But my calling or career must harmonize with my other needs as well. I believe, for example, we all have a “soul”, which means there is a spiritual nature to a balanced life. It is not my purpose in this blog post to point you in any particular direction on that front. I’m simply recognizing what thousands and even millions of people have come to appreciate, which is that a balanced life takes our spiritual needs into account. As Jesus put it, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul.”
A balanced life needs relationships as well. Some of those relationships take a higher priority than others. But any life that neglects to sufficiently nurture the important relationships around us will inevitably feel out of balance. Some of those important relationships may develop within our career or calling. Often they are within our family. Other times two strangers become the best of friends. I love that C.S. Lewis quote “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” But wherever these relationships begin, their development and continuance help to foster a balanced life.
None of the above is meant to suggest that work-stress or being “overworked” does not happen. Quite the contrary. I’m only suggesting that our work is just one of many areas which, wrongly managed, can throw our whole life out of balance. We can do so with our family, friendships, our hobbies, and even with things that are good in themselves. Yes, you can be, in a sense, “too righteous.” The Preacher in Ecclesiastes says “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise (Eccl 7:16).” Good things, overused or abused, throw a life out of balance.
I could say more about a “balanced life” but I think this post is long enough. Suffice it to say that I think a lot of the problems we attribute to poor work-life balance are really due to a simple failure to recognize the complexity of our human nature and to balance these things appropriately. We don’t need less “work” and more “life.” What we need is a “balanced life” which includes doing the right things in the right way.