Upending the Work/Life Balance
A central example of this yearning for control is how you vainly try to balance your time, energy, and focus between the realms of work and life. How do you balance your 11.5 hours spent on average per day getting ready, commuting, working, (and commuting again) with your scant bookends of life and time on either side? How do you meaningfully interact with your (awake) kids, (not-tired) significant other, and/or (tended to) pets more than a couple hours each day? Can you somehow TiVo your daily cycles, removing all mundane catch-up conversation and chores, to optimally maximize your time? Another way to broach this conundrum is by asking yourself, “Can I leave work and really leave it?” You can’t just enter the Dark and Gloomy Cave of Work and then return to the Bright and Blissful Garden of Life as it suits you.
In this context, the implied metaphor of a balancing scale casts work in an inappropriate light. If work wins, life loses? Or if life wins, work loses? HUH? Is work such a BAD thing? Perhaps if you perceive your means of income as merely a job, then yes, BRING IN THE SCALES, and make sure your life-side weights are nice and heavy to really piss you off as you watch the space of time collapse around every ticking second as your daily grind comes to a close. Yes, the term work has certain connotations: a degree of difficulty, of challenge, and even sacrifice. It also implies achievement, advancement, and fundamentally something noble. How could our society and standard of living ever improve without work—impassioned work at that? Have you ever heard people describe what they do as “my life’s job”? No. Portraying your commitment as “my life’s work” carries a decidedly different nuance. The sooner you can approach what your life’s work might be, the sooner you can leave that absurd and undefeatable balance behind.
The fact is that balance is not possible. Maybe it is if you believe in multiple dimensions or other breaks in our quantum time fabric, but from my humble perspective, balancing just doesn’t work. Work is an integral part of life, not a weighty counterbalance to it. You should love your work with the same passion as you love life! Imagine your boss casually sitting you down in the lunchroom one day to discuss your recent spate of late and tortured office nights and then screaming at you, “You idiot—It’s all life!” The secret to upending the balance is upending your perspective on how you deal with its working parts. Being able to apply the same impassioned perspective to both work and life will moot your scale metaphor in a heartbeat.
Let’s banish the term “balance” from your daily vernacular and replace it with priority—work/life priority. Balancing is how circus performers entertain. The success of your acts—work, pastimes, kids, and so on—is driven by prioritizing how you want to spend the time of your life, your LifeTime as I will call it for the remainder of this book. Yes, time is money, but infinitely more important, time is life. Although this distinction between balance and priority is subtle in nature, after you adopt it, its implications on how you look at, structure, and execute your life can be extraordinarily profound.
Ask yourself this baseline question:
Am I having The Time of My Life, in the Time of My Life?
Don’t worry if your answer lacks enthusiasm. This is a tough nut to crack. The concept of being able to autonomously live your life has unfortunately been under sustained attack for quite some time because so much of your tactical day and night have been signed away to others. Following are piddly examples, but combined, they make a point. Have you ever read, word for word, the back of your credit card statement? Your home, car, or life insurance policy? How about your benefits package at work? Rental or mortgage contracts? Investment prospectuses? Any piece of legislation—local, state, or federal? Can you even begin to understand those insurance Description of Benefits statements? No? Well, why not? This is potentially important stuff, no?
How about something more general? Ever thought about understanding the terms and conditions of “Keeping up with the Joneses”? You must have wondered at some point why you need to own that newest model import car, need to possess the latest whiz-bang piece of technology, need to eat at the trendiest restaurants whose names you cannot hope to pronounce, and need to send your kids to preschools costing upward of 50 times what the average global citizen earned last year? Call it curiosity, competitive spirit, whatever. Are you happy with these terms? Fundamentally, do you think you can win a game whose rules are seemingly beyond your control?
Living in our society implicitly requires the need to negotiate with other people’s terms, terms that can readily engulf you, rendering you a passive participant in the sport of life. You have been explicitly (or worse, implicitly) contractualized to the point where you don’t even care to know the provisions of whatever transaction you need to make. “The last four digits of my social security number are 3491. Just give me the pen. Where do I need to initial and sign?”
You need to live life on your terms.