Jul 19, 2020

The ideal work life balance

The term work life balance is one I hear often. Companies use it to convince employees that theirs is a good workplace. Friends use it to tell each other how important life outside work can be, even though it doesn't show up in tangible forms in the short term such as a monthly paycheck.

For me, I first understood this concept when I was working on my startup while interning at a different startup in Israel. Much of my weekdays were spent interning at a startup and my weekends on working on my startup. I quite enjoyed both, but it did certainly take a toll a few months in. I came across the term when my roommate at the time, a few years older and wiser than me, suggested I consider not spending as much time on work as I do now. 

The concept of spending less time on work and more on travel, leisure, relaxation, netflix or whatever else this life outside work included came off as strange to me at best. I wasn't clear on what I could achieve from this other than lower stress levels and perhaps increased productivity that would in turn help me work better. It didn't take me more than a year or so to learn how there is so much more to this. 

It was when I found myself devoting a 100 percent of my time to my startup that I started to miss the other aspects of my life that I saw my friends experience - travel, late night hangouts at college, hobbies that aren't going to push your work life forward, and the list goes on. More so, in times when my startup wasn't doing so well, my whole life wasn't great, because my work was 100% of my life. 

At that point I started to see work life balance almost as a diversification strategy - one where my "life" can be diversified into a few different components. When one component isn't going very well, there are a few others to balance each other out. If work is only 50% of life, and the other 50% constitutes life outside work, a bad day at work doesn't feel as bad as it would be work was 100% of life. 

A lot of the times, the personal life side of things includes one's friends, family and "me time". For me, I realised that the life outside work has to be much more than that. Traditionally, one's life purpose is derived from work. No matter how little time you spend on work, that itself can make work a more important part of life even if it constitutes a small percentage in hours. So even if you spend half of your waking hours on work, and the other half on friends, family and me time, the purpose that work gives you can give it more than a 50% weightage when it comes to how a good or bad day at work influences your mood and emotions. 

So to truly have a balance, I think life outside work has to constitute some purpose and/or meaning for it to truly balance out work. That could come from a lot of things. For those who are parents, life purpose or meaning could come from parenting. For those who have a solid network of friends and family, it could come from that. For me, I felt that the balance only really happens when I have a bit more going on in my personal life. These could be hobbies or side projects - ideally a mix of both. Having some sort of interest to pursue outside of my main job that could eventually turn into a part time or full time profession of it's own really helps me lower the influence my work has on my life. In the past, yoga teacher training and volunteering with a non profit have been very helpful to me in balancing my life out. Hobbies such as learning a language or being part of a book club help too, but not nearly as much as a more serious side project. 

This is not to say that one has to balance out their lives such that work has lesser influence. I mean, high risk high reward right? The more eggs you put in one basket, the bigger the reward might be at the end of the day. So for those are more of go big or go home, work life balance isn't a great idea. It takes away the time and resources they would need to go big. It is always a good idea to have a support network, but the purpose of a support network may no longer be the balance their life, but rather to propel their career in times they need more emotional support. 

For me, I have found that putting too much time into my work doesn't work for me in the long run. It increases my stress level and frequency of burnt out, putting me in a situation where I am not prepared to run the marathon. I have noticed that this is not always true for everyone - some are able to work 12+ hour a day all their lives without too much else going on in their lives. I think these types of people do really well in professions that demand more time - like medicine, law, banking, entrepreneurship.

But for those who are seeking a work life balance, it is key to think about what life outside work would hold meaning and purpose the same way work can bring purpose to our lives. For it's not so much the number of hours, but rather the meaning behind the hours that strike the balance.

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