The issue of work-life balance is something relatively new to humanity. Brought to light by British anthropologists in the late 1970’s, we now have libraries full of self-help books and courses in how best to solve this affliction of modern life. I struggled with finding the best way to thread the needle myself as the responsibilities of my professional and personal lives increased. New positions at work brought more commitments and growing a family brought an equal amount of commitments. Add to this a wife who has had led an equally taxing professional/personal life and solution set for work-life balance seemed out of reach. Then it dawned on me.
The answer to work-life balance: don’t try.
Be engaged with full intensity in something you know has a heart. That is, something in which you can be all-in and throw 100% of yourself into. If you can’t do this with what you’re involved in presently, then you will feel torn between investing your life into work that doesn’t have a heart and life. When you’re all-in with your work, you mysteriously find the time to fulfill all of life because you’re completely immersed in it.
Don’t make up work to fill a gap in your life. I’ve seen too many people make up for a shortfall in their self-worth by being at the office for 12-plus hours per day repeatedly for no reason at all. Other than to feel like they were contributing, like they were important. What they don’t realize is that by doing this everyone suffers. They suffer, their family suffers, colleagues suffer, and the quality of their work suffers. If you are working 12-plus hours per day you sure have a balance problem and have obviously already elected to not try. Evaluate why you’re burning the candle at both ends. It’s probably a self-worth problem, not a work problem.
Aim instead at achieving equanimity, not balance. Equanimity comes from the Latin aequs (even) and animus (mind, spirit): even mind/spirit. Equanimity as applied to work balance comes from the understanding that there will be times when you’re focus must go towards work and times when focus must go towards life. Once I adopted this approach towards my work-life, the stress left and I no longer was afflicted with guilt about shortchanging my work or my life. Instead of forcing more from the time I had, I let the natural cycles of work and life run the show. I did this by paying attention to my gut and by paying attention to the most important matters.
Balance comes from stasis. It’s a state of no motion. If you are seeking balance between work and life you will be seeking it forever and you will never find it. Choosing a path with a heart and then naturally putting your focus where your time will achieve the greatest good is a lot better way to operate.
“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.” Carlos Castaneda
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute