By Naz Beheshti
Photo credit: Getty GETTY
I understand why people talk about work-life balance. However, work-life balance is a weak attempt to help us lead happier and more fulfilling lives. I respect the intentions but disagree with the approach.
Framing a discussion of how to lead a fulfilling life regarding work-life balance misses the mark and sets us up for disappointment. We need to stop wasting our time chasing something that does not exist. At best we are aiming for a moving target.
As an executive wellness coach, I have discovered why the work-life balance conversation comes up short and propose a paradigm shift. I offer a more realistic and meaningful way to approach life and work holistically.
1. Life is not a pie chart.
The term work-life balance calls to mind a neat pie chart. A perfect pie chart sets up a zero-sum game where adding to one slice of the pie means taking away from one another. Life is not like that.
If we are cutting slices of an apple pie for family, doing so in a balanced way means dividing it by even slices. Should our work-life pie be split 50/50, or in even thirds for work, relationships, and self-care? Are such splits realistic, attainable, or even desirable?
2. Life is fluid.
One reason why the pie-chart metaphor falls short is that life is fluid and endlessly changeable. The mix between work and the rest of our lives is extremely variable. It will tilt toward work when we are up against a deadline, or during tax season if we provide financial services. It will shift away from work when we are on maternity or paternity leave, out sick, or on vacation.
Does that mean we are in balance one week and suddenly out of balance the next? No. We are merely responding to life’s changing demands and tempos.
Life happens. Like the seasons—which can also affect the relationship between work and life—work and every other aspect of our lives ebbs and flows. It is fruitless to put work and life on a scale and declare them in or out of balance. We must find the optimal mix for that moment, that situation.
3. Work and life are not separate things.
You cannot balance two things that are inseparable. One of the unfortunate by-products of the work-life discussion is that it encourages us to compartmentalize our lives when, for many people, it is interconnected in many ways.
Work cannot be separated or balanced with life because it is such a large part of our lives. One-third of our life is spent at work. The importance of our work will undeniably vary from person to person. For some, a job is a job. For others, work is an essential part of our identity. If you spend 60 hours or more at a job you love, should you feel guilty because your life is imbalanced or feel gratitude that you love what you do?
Millennials, in particular, do not view life and work as separate. In fact, they intentionally look for ways to blur the lines between the two. This does not make them workaholics. It means they view work and life holistically. They seek meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in the entire package.
Talking about work-life balance will not resonate with today’s younger professionals.
4. Time is about quality, not quantity.
The rule-of-thumb that 20% of our activity accounts for 80% of our results is a clear indication that the value of time is best weighed by the quality of how we spend it. Measuring our days by a time clock is the wrong way to keep score.
My former, late, boss Steve Jobs, would stress quality over quantity. His meetings were laser-focused, time-conscious, and had a minimal number of participants—sans spectators. He was fully engaged and expected the same from everyone else in the meeting. He spent his time focusing on the quality of Apple’s products over financial gain which resulted in Apple becoming the first trillion-dollar company.
When we focus on quality over quantity a four-hour workday can be more productive than a ten-hour day depending on how you choose to approach your day. The less is more philosophy holds in similar situations outside of work. Choose to go deep rather than broad in your relationships. Choose to be present with your family without being distracted by social media or work. Choose to spend your time wisely instead of wasting time complaining about any lack of time. Your input is reflective of your output.
It is inevitable there will be days when work takes up the bulk of our waking hours. However, we can still mindfully attend to the other parts of our lives accordingly.
5. Work-life engagement is what matters.
The work-life conversation comes up short because it frames the discussion as a balance between two things that cannot be separated, and because it uses time as a faulty scorecard. What really matters is the engagement and energy we choose to bring to all areas of our lives.
When we are fully engaged in whatever activity or situation before us—whether that happens to be working on a presentation or attending our kid’s soccer game—we bring our entire being to that moment. Engagement, in turn, generates energy. Being engaged and energized allows us to show up as our best self in all areas of our life.
I understand that, for some, a job is just a paycheck. You may not see your employment as a calling that motivates you. Your sense of self may instead be rooted in family, volunteer work, or another passion or hobby. Yet, you still have the ability to identify what energizes you at work. Find opportunities to be engaged by the challenges and rewards of your job. You can choose to shift your mindset—see the good in the mundane and remind yourself of the impact you are making, whether it is big or small. Alternative solutions are to be miserable or find another job or career you enjoy. It is your choice.
We should seek to feed and nourish multiple dimensions of ourselves and our lives. When we do that, we will find that the different parts of our life, in fact, feed one another instead of competing with one another. We will find that life is not a pie chart or a zero-sum game.
The key to a fulfilling life is work-life engagement—being energized and engaged in all areas of your life.
When we see work and the other things in life that are important to us as part of the same eco-system, as interdependent and complementary, our energy in all areas of life will increase and we will flourish.
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This content was originally published by Forbes Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Forbes Magazine