Work/Life Balance is a Myth

Updated: Aug 20, 2019

You cannot “balance” aspects of life that are inherently unequal.

To attempt to do so produces nothing but pain and fruitless sacrifice in pursuit of an ever-elusive and never-achieved “balance”.

Work and life cannot be balanced, nor should you try to do so. Life and work activity exist within a hierarchy goods and not some kind of yin/yang equality.

Here’s an example. On vacation over the last few weeks, my wife noticed something interesting in my conversations with other dads I met, usually during long hours shepherding our young children at the pool. Nearly every conversation of decent length followed the same order of topics:

1. Where you from?

2. What do you do?

3. Questions about family (number and ages of children, etc.).

4. Then, if the above discussion goes well and there’s sufficient time, the questions and discussion inevitably bend toward deeper and more risky topics such as current events, politics, values, religion, etc.

The same general order of topics holds true when meeting people in other settings. When strangers meet, they naturally tend to discuss the less important and less risky things first. As trust and familiarity progress, you get into the things that really matter.

Look at the first two topics. What you do is only slightly more important than where you’re from and other safe questions like, “How was your flight?”, or “How about that sunset yesterday?”. Unless you’re a committed introvert or on a silent retreat at a Trappist monastery, you are going to have that conversation nearly every time you meet a stranger.

Those first two areas of conversation are really just a way to decide (and in some respects test), whether you want to move on toward discussing the last two areas.

The things that matter in life do not exist in a balance. They exist in a hierarchy. Understanding, respecting, and reinforcing that hierarchy is essential for the health of leaders and an organization’s culture as a whole.

My greatest mentors, role models, and my own decades of experience seeking wholeness and happiness, have convinced that this simple “hierarchy of goods” looks like this:

1. God. If that doesn’t butter your bread, call this what you will: spirituality, values, philosophy, etc. (But really… it's God.)

2. Family

3. Work

In order, this hierarchy answers why you do what you do, who you are doing it for, and what exactly you are expected to do about it today. Leaders who know those three things and are disciplined in allowing the answers to guide all of their choices, will inevitably be “successful” in any endeavor.