January 21, 2019

Some people like to draw a line between their personal and professional lives. Some people say work is life—mostly entrepreneurs trying to launch their start-ups. A case in point: Before Elon Musk became Elon Musk, he was a moneyless, madcap maverick who slept in his office and showered at a YMCA while working on his first company. “The website was up during the day and I was coding it at night, seven days a week, all the time,” he said. Today, he still sleeps in his office at Tesla (and sometimes on the factory floor) despite owning multiple mansions with plush, lavish bedrooms.

Here’s the thing about life and the concept of living a well-balanced one. There are too many things to consider. Let’s say your social relationships, your mental and physical wellbeing, and your financial and career goals are the most important aspects of your life. In an ideal week, you should be spending equal time attending to each of these things, which branch out into further categories. Your social relationships, for example, can include romantic, platonic and familial ones.

Imagine this: You just got promoted at work, but it also means more deadlines to meet. You try not to work too late because you don’t want to miss your dinners and nights out with your loved ones. You look forward to the weekend when you finally get to sleep in and enjoy some alone time, but you still have your weekly yoga sessions and a whole slew of household errands to run.

Something’s got to give.

Even if you simplified your needs in life, you’re still assuming the amount of work you do is fixed. If the intensity and demands of your job are fixed, it would theoretically be easier to strike a work-life balance. But for jobs that don’t function like that, you’ll have to adapt as it ebbs and flows. A big client may pop up asking for a rush job, and you’ll have to sacrifice a whole week’s worth of plans. This might be followed by a slow season, where you can fully savour a long holiday in Bali.

If you’ve got big dreams in terms of your career, you might also have to put in more hours. Some people just want to feel comfortable at work, reach a point where they feel they’re doing well enough and stop pushing themselves. While that’s totally fine, there are those who harbour loftier dreams and feel the need to keep challenging and improving themselves. For them, massive sacrifices exist between the silver and the gold medal.

Alain de Botton, the founder of The School of Life, once said, “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” Instead of mulling over whether you’re striking a good balance between work and life, perhaps a better question would be this: What do you value? Everyone’s scales tip differently, according to what we value. If you value your career above all else, you will naturally devote more of your life to it, even shaping the rest of your life around your career. If you treasure your family, your health and such, these things will be at the centre of your life while your work orbits in the periphery.

We don’t always get to choose which path to take though. A culture, in which being overworked is rewarded, is a toxic one that doesn’t allow the employees control over what kind of life they want to lead. Instead, it forces and brainwashes them into embracing the “work is life” mentality. This is the predominant culture in Japan, where they even have a word to describe death by overworking—karoshi. Japanese employees are either dying by heart failure or suicide, both of which are linked to extreme overworking. In 2015, a 24-year-old Dentsu employee jumped off her balcony after clocking more than 100 hours at work in a month.

If there’s no such thing as work-life balance, it should be because work isn’t separate from life. It is a part of it, along with many other things. The term, work-life balance, alludes to the idea of “it’s one or the other”. Life balance, on the other hand, acknowledges the multiple facets of life and the need to balance all of them, without dictating what these different facets are for each of us.