Sometimes, you just have to hear someone you respect say something contrarian to spark that blinding glimpse of the obvious. Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Bert Jacobs, Co-Founder and “Chief Executive Optimist” of Life Is Good, a $100 million dollar lifestyle brand. During his keynote speech he said, “I don’t really believe in the whole work-life balance thing because work is just one facet of your life. Trying to find balance implies conflict. If you are doing what you love your work should just be an extension of your life.” Amen, brother.
And that got me thinking. If you are passionate about what you do, your work should be an extension of your life’s purpose; it should embody who you are and represent your gift to the world. Your work should NOT be all consuming and the only thing that defines you. In fact, at a certain point, working harder and longer has the opposite effect of what you’re looking to achieve. This is where the concept of “balance” first entered into the picture, but, like Bert Jacobs, I believe the concept of work-life balance is misguided. If your life feels as though it is “in conflict” with your work, then of course you will feel out of balance.
Your work, however, is just one aspect of you as a person. At a category level, there are actually at least 5 other aspects, in addition to work, according to Jim Vollett of Vollett Executive Coaching. The column headings below outline these categories:
If you think about this in terms of your life’s story, each cell in this grid would represent a chapter in your book. And the key point is that each of these areas of your life goes through developmental stages–the more they develop together, the less effort it takes to move up. In a coaching situation, this model would be customized to the individual but it does serve to give a good overview.
And what’s fascinating about these categories is that is if one of them is below the level of your work, it actually impacts your ability to grow in the work category. If you are getting a divorce, for example, this will significantly impact your ability to grow in your career as all of your energy is pulled into focusing on the details and logistics of uncoupling from your life partner. Or if your health is impacted, there’s no way you can continue along in your work unaffected. On the other hand, being a leader today has a lot in common with being a good parent. With this context, you could practice being a parent at work, and practice being a leader at home.
Trying to compartmentalize “work” from “life” is not healthy. Nor does the industrial-age Monday to Friday, “9 to 5″ work week really exist anymore. There is a natural blurring of the lines that has been happening for decades and denying this is often the source of conflict between what has been coined the "work-life balance.” More and more work is creativity based. And your creativity can be diminished or enhanced by all these other categories, and will impact your work.
Instead, a whole-life focus should replace the antiquated and unrealistic concept of “work-life balance.” Simply put, your work should be nothing more than an extension of your life. And your life, when in balance, should be driving towards your high purpose–not just in your work, but in every other aspect of your life including how your giving back to your community, volunteering your service time, friends, family, and your health–both financial and physical.
As Deepak Chopra explains in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, each and every one of us has a unique talent that no one else has and a special way of expressing that talent. In order for each of us to have a maximum impact on the world, we must express this unique talent in only the way we can. Which is all the more reason that your life’s work should be a natural extension of your life’s purpose. If you are struggling to nail your life’s purpose, having an executive coach like Jim Vollett can be a big help. Feel free to visit Jim’s website site Vollett Executive Coaching if you want to know more.
In the meantime, let’s shift the conversation from the dividing lines between work-life and focus on aligning our business life with our life’s purpose. Removing this tension will open up all kinds of new possibilities and deeper opportunities for personal and professional growth.