When I think of balance I picture grace, ease, skill, and health. In my mind balance is akin to perfection; a measure of one’s ability to carry all of life’s components without letting anything, droop, slide, or come crashing to the ground. Achieving balance is one of those ideas that we’re constantly programmed to strive for. The issue with pursuing balance is that life is motion. If you do capture the ever-elusive state of balance, how long will it last? A day, an hour, a week?
Growing up we were urged to be “well-rounded” students – excel academically and showcase your congeniality and athleticism through sports or some other extra-curricular. As we progress through life’s stages, and the plates we are spinning become heavier and more delicate, the pressure to be balanced and make it look effortless intensifies. Be productive, efficient, and competent, but certainly not at the expense of being interesting, likable and attractive. In essence, we are told to do it all and do it all well.
The way we view balance feeds a culture in which perfectionism is worn as a badge of honor; self-worth is measured in how much you produce; and one’s value is determined by how many meals you eat at the office. When we continue to incentivize people to want to be great at everything we do so at the cost of nurturing our innate talents and individuality.
On a recent episode of The Good Life Podcast entitled “What We Get Wrong About Work”, author Marcus Buckingham asserts that organizations aspire to conformity for their employees because it is more efficient to manage a group of people who share the same motivations, goals and interests. This rings true to me in so many contexts. Getting everyone to covet and go after the same goal, the organization’s objective, is convenient for companies and furthers their mission and bottom line.
This model appears to be a no brainer for large companies; however, according to a survey by Buckingham for his latest book, approximately 85% of employees aren’t fully engaged at work. So, how can this be if we are all working toward recognition, status and compensation as we’ve been taught? Buckingham might assert that although we have been conditioned to conform at work we are not content. Our yearning to use our strengths and be acknowledged for them is a primary driver of satisfaction and fulfillment.
“Whether you’re in the United Arab Emirates or Edinburgh you want to feel as though you are seen for what is special and valuable about you. That is a human condition and desire and longing wherever you were born.” ~Marcus Buckingham
Instead of making the balance of work and life the objective, Buckingham would urge us to think of our experience in terms of what you love and what you loathe. I sat up a little straighter in my chair when I heard this. The issue with the term work / life balance is that it assumes that work and life are on opposite ends of the continuum. The idea is that work is arduous and draining while life replenishes and is to be enjoyed. Since we spend 30%-40% of our week either at or preparing for work, why do we fully accept and perpetuate the notion that it’s meant to be inherently depleting and unsatisfying?
Shifting the paradigm to a love vs. loathe imbalance is so much more appealing because it doesn’t characterize work as a “necessary evil”. Nor does it force your home life to shoulder the burden of cancelling out the negativity of work. The simplicity of the love vs. loathe concept is what makes it such a useful framework for how to think of life design.
Now, as I create my life, I ask myself:
1. What do I love about my current experience and what do I loathe?
2. How can I maximize the things I love?
3. How can I minimize what I loathe?
4. What will a life that maximizes what I love and minimizes what I loathe allow me to contribute (to the world, my community, humanity)?
“You are a beautifully unique human and you have a set of beautifully unique set of contributions to make and we hope that in life you discover what those are.” ~ Marcus Buckingham