I’ve always disliked the phrase ‘work-life balance’. Whenever I hear anyone use I immediately look for the nearest exit. It has always been an instinctive reaction, borne, I assumed, from a hatred of trite phrases and pointlessly evasive corporate-speak. Staring out of a window one day, I started to think more about these words and why I was troubled by them.
The words sum up the problem. That work and life, or living, are considered two separate and insoluble states of being. Simply to utter these words, to suggest that you need a “better work-life balance” is a clue to the horrible truth. If to ‘live’ is to be yourself, to enjoy being alive, then those who want to have more of this and less of ‘work’ are clearly dissatisfied with their working life in a way that an adjustment to the amount of time spent in it will not resolve. “I want a better work-life balance” can usually be translated as “I don’t like my job”. For most, the phrase is a depressingly simple euphemism for an unhappy career. Failing to acknowledge this stalls progress. If something hurts, reducing the number of hours spent doing it is managing the problem, not curing it. I remember an old Tommy Cooper joke about a man who tells his doctor “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor tells him “Well don’t do that then.” It’s that daft.
There are plenty of people in the world, the majority in fact, who are grateful to have job. They just need one. They understand the position they are in. You don’t hear complaints about ‘work-life balance’ from them. Some would punch you in the face for saying it. Not because they enjoy their job, they can just see through the pretence. If they don’t like their job they say so, honestly. A career, that is to say a job you choose and develop, is less common. But it’s the careerists who use the euphemisms. Perhaps because they feel embarrassed to say they hate their job when they know they should be grateful to have one. It’s not the done thing. But it’s impossible to resolve the problem without this honesty.
As for the solution, I can only speak from personal experience. I’ve been trapped in miserable jobs in the distant past, and compensated through various exaggerated attempts at ‘living’, most took their toll eventually. My personal goal is to integrate the two halves, work and life. I am my happiest when there is no distinction between the emotions I have in my private and working life. Writing this blog is a good example, I have no idea whether it’s work or personal, and that’s how it should be. The same goes for other social media. I just do what comes naturally. I don’t stop and check. I don’t worry about much. And I’m a lot happier for it. I might work longer hours, but at the same time get less criticism from my family for it. I believe that’s because they can see that there is no clear distinction between (bad) work and (good) life anymore, and that makes me a better person to be around. It’s also because I don’t use phrases like ‘work-life balance.’ They might punch me if I did.