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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance Is A Stupid Ideal

I teach Leadership Communications to MBAs and corporate leaders. I have had over 20,000 people participate in my courses over the last 12 years.  At the beginning of my course, I often ask people to make a short list of their current challenges. “Work-life balance” comes up for more than half of the people.

Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are running, we aren’t in balance.  We fall to the left, we fall to the right.  When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.

All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.

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3 Reasons Why Work-Life Balance is a Stupid Idea

  1. It doesn’t exist – Humans have 2 legs, not 3.  Triangles are naturally in balance, humans are not.
  2. You wouldn’t want it if you actually got it – It is the journey that is meaningful, not the seat at the end.  We are journey creatures, not “sitting-on-a-sofa-at-the-end” creatures.
  3. It causes endless frustration.  The search for balance is asking for frustration. It is strong foundations that allow for tall buildings to stay up, not balance.

Instead of seeking balance, work on your foundations and work on your wings.

Build Strong Foundations and Trust your Wings

There is an old story that tells of 3 men.  The first, he built his house on the sand.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The second, he build his house on the dirt.  When the storms came, he lost his house.  The third, he built his house on the rock.  When the storms came, his house stood firm.

Success is built on strong foundations.  Are you building your house on the rock?  Jim Rohn often said “work harder on yourself than you do on your job.”  You should be learning and training for the job you wish to have, not the job that you have now.  If you don’t know anything deeply, learn something deeply.  If you know one thing deeply, learn another skill.

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Trust Your Wings

I remember my father taking me to the park to learn to ride a bicycle.  I was 8 years old.  I sat on the bike and he held the seat from behind.  He said “I’m holding you up, you can pedal”.  I started to pedal.  He was walking and then running to stay with me.  I said “don’t let go!”.  He said “I am not holding you”.  He had let me go.  I was on my own.  I made it another 10 meters and then fell off (on the soft grass).  I was angry that he had let me go, he was so excited that I had cycled by myself.  His joy won.

I’d have liked my father to keep his hand on the bike seat for longer.  I would not have asked him to let go.  He trusted me.  Now, I need to learn to trust me.  I am a preparation freak.  I like to over-plan.  It is a big challenge for me to put myself into a situation where I don’t feel that I am fully ready yet.  However, life has taught me that it is only there, outside my comfort zone, that the magic happens.

This is not a call to throw yourself recklessly into dangerous situations.  My granny would say “look before you leap”.  She was right.  Only a fool would jump between 2 cliffs that were 20 meters apart with a 200 meter drop.  If there is a 1 meter gap, and the other side looks interesting – make the leap.  My granny’s saying says “look before” but it implies that you should be taking the leap.  Trust your wings, make the leaps.

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Let’s Stop the Search for Balance

If we were supposed to be balanced, humans would have 3 legs.  We don’t.  We have 2.  We are constantly falling, but constantly finding our wings to regain our balance, only to lose it again.

Now, if you don’t know where you are going, or are walking round in circles then maybe you do have a bigger problem…  but that is not the aim of this post.

Keep on falling, keep on recovering.

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Featured photo credit: Eric.Parker via flickr.com

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Conor Neill

Professor of Leadership, President Vistage Spain

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