Work-Life Balance is a Lie

I swear I see a new viral article about work-life balance on the internet every day. It’s fine, I guess. Yes, don’t be a workaholic. Yes, enjoy life. The problem with these pieces, though, is that they’re always written by-or-about some hotshot who’s already successful—someone who has found financial security, someone already socially validated, someone no longer driven by the suspense of Becoming.

To me, it all comes off as passive bragging. It makes me gag, really—especially (dear gawd!) when they share their routine. They say things like:

“I wake at 5:00 and enjoy an herbal tea while pondering the meaning of last night’s dreams. At 5:25 I step out on the balcony and meditate, facing the incoming ocean waves, until 6:15. After centering myself, I make a kale smoothie, then run along the beach to the health club for hot yoga. I return home at 7:50. Then I work vigorously until lunch at 11:35. After an avocado burrito (I’m vegan), I vision-cast in my journal about who I want to be. Then I get back to work at 1:45 and work, in hyper-focus, mode until 3:00. Then it’s off to windsurfing until 7, and finally, craft beers with the gang at Ascot Brewery…”

As my friend Lance says, with Oscar-worthy sarcasm, “You got your little life all figured out, don’t you?”

I have a theory on why people boast about work-life balance. Yes, we should guard against workaholism. But I suspect there’s something deeper at play. I wonder if these work-life-balance folks confuse success itself with its cause.

Ever notice how rock stars will get crazy-famous from some debut album about chaos, destruction, and anger, but then their follow-up album will mysteriously focus on some wishy-washy spiritual journey about the oneness of the cosmos and the brotherhood of man? Or a religious leader might write some best selling book, get enough cash to fill an ark, then write a follow-up book about the importance of taking a Sabbath, resting, and family time. It’s not intentional, but it’s all so condescending to those still hindered by the entanglements of their path.

Life is hard. We ALL want to work less. We ALL want to enjoy life. Telling people who are struggling-to-become, who are doing everything they can to accomplish their goals, that they need work-life balance is like telling starving people in a famine about the importance of a well balanced diet.

It’s practically mockery!

Can you imagine visiting the families of New Delhi, who sustain themselves by rummaging through the monstrous garbage heaps, and telling them: “You know, Raja, you really need more work-life balance.”

The whole idea of work-life balance strikes me as silly anyway. I think we’re supposed to picture a teeter-totter with WORK on one end of the beam and LIFE on the other. It’s all a hilarious lie, though. The dark secret: there can be no work-life balance because work is not a category adjacent to life. Work is subsumed in life.

There’s just life, and we each must do what we think we must do. If life blesses you so much that you are not obligated to work, great! We’re happy for you! Play with your Fidget-Spinner, interpret your dreams, do hot yoga, whatever. But don’t tell us that the secret to your success is your work-life balance. No, that’s the reward for your success. You might as well tell people: THE SECRET TO SUCCESS IS TO SUCCEED.

Dan Kent