If you’re like me, finding the proper balance between life and work is a challenge. (The term “life/work balance” is odd when you think about it. For many of us, work is a huge part of our lives, so the term is a bit of a false dichotomy. Despite this, I’ll refer to the non-work part of life as simply life.) Anyway, in our modern, achievement-driven world, it’s difficult to find the proper mix of work and the rest of your life. Even though this topic has been addressed by many wiser souls, I’ll give you my take.
Why is life/work balance such a problem for so many of us? To me, this balance (or lack thereof) is a result of a disconnect between what is and what we think should be. The stress comes from a belief that life and work are out of balance. This brings about a range of negative emotions, from regret to anxiety to depression. Generally, the problem is focusing too much on work and not enough on the rest of your life. While many might argue for moving the bar from work to (non-work) life, it’s important to understand that many people find great meaning from their labor. So, it’s not that life is good and work is bad, it’s a true balancing act, not a neglect of one for the other.
The first step toward achieving a proper balance between life and work is to think deeply about your purpose in life. As I’ve said before, understanding your purpose is possibly the most critical factor in living a happy, fulfilled life. Understanding your purpose is equally important to gaining a proper life/work balance. To understand the proper means to pursue your purpose, you must first understand the end you seek. Only by understanding your purpose can you grasp how you should balance your work and non-work lives.
This balance is different for different people. Your purpose tells you where along the life-work continuum your ideal balance lies. Aristotle’s concept of the virtuous mean is helpful here. He viewed virtue, or excellence, as being somewhere between the vice of excess and the vice of deficiency. Working too little is just as bad as working too much. Aristotle noted that the virtuous mean differed across individuals. So, my virtuous life-work mean is different from yours. Understanding your purpose, and the path you want to take towards that purpose, helps you find your particular virtuous mean.
Once you understand your path, you’re equipped to make more deliberate choices about the time and attention you give to life and work. To quote Shakespeare, “’Tis within ourselves that we are thus or thus.” Engaging in deliberative reasoning moves you toward life/work balance. The formula is straightforward: Consider each of the many choices that are within your power to make, then consider the degree to which each alternative would contribute to the achievement of our purpose. Choose the alternative that will best serve your purpose. Do this repeatedly and you’ll find a better balance.
Control is important to consider. You have some, but probably not total control over the amount of time you devote to work. For some, work necessarily occupies a big chunk of our hours (although most of you reading this have at least some control over the amount of time you devote to work). If allocating more time to your non-work life isn’t feasible, consider increasing the quality of the time you spend on life. As many have said in different ways, it’s not the number of pages in your book of life, it’s what written on those pages that counts. Thus it is with your non-work life; it’s not the number of hours, it’s how you spend them.
Of course, all of this takes practice. You won’t achieve balance overnight. As Will Durrant noted, summarizing Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Character and excellence comes from habituation; so does life/work balance. Consistently make decisions that lead to balance, and you will, over time, gain that balance as a natural part of your being. You’ll move from seeking balance to being in balance. FBN
The W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University is home to over 3,000 undergraduate and Master’s students. The College’s faculty and staff are dedicated to the success of its students and the economic development of the region. For more information on The W.A. Franke College of Business, please see: http://www.franke.nau.edu/. I welcome comments and feedback on these columns. Email your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter @cvanslyke.