Editor’s Note: For reasons unbeknownst to me, I never hit publish on this post when I first wrote it on 11/30/11. I have a slightly different perspective on this topic now, having worked at a start-up and become a parent, but I still find value in the thoughts of a prior me. That’s the entire point of this blog. I’ve edited about five words, added about 30, and retroactively published it to the blog at the point it was written. – PM, 6/14/2016
If you are striving for work-life balance as if it is some complex and delicate equation where both sides can be equal at all times you are doing it wrong. I don’t think I would be as happy or as successful if I had terrific and constant balance between the two.
Over the summer I went out to lunch with an intern from outside of our department who I only knew from hallways and elevator rides. While we ate she quizzed me on what I do for a living, and what I do at home. Her jaw dropped as I unfurled my litany of activities and relationships – and this was a super-active student at an Ivy League school!
She asked me what I skipped to keep myself going, and I answered truthfully. “Meals, laundry, current events, going out at night.”
And I love it. Not just my life, but my friends who are marathoners and magazine editors, fundraisers and foodies.
Work-Life balance says we should learn how to keep the peanut butter and jelly of our home and work separated. Stop working after work. Stop bringing devices to the table. Build downtime into your schedule. Do some chores every day. The theory is, if we make more time to live as people at home, we’ll have less distractions to work with focus at the office.
On this, I call bullshit. If I strove for that kind of balance I wouldn’t average a promotion every 22 months, or be on an unbroken streak of playing a show every month for over a year. All that would be different is that I’d have perfectly folded laundry and I’d watch a lot of inane television shows.
That said, I don’t think the things work-life balance experts suggest are entirely wrong. Instead, I think we need to focus on a “passion/passive” balance.
What’s the difference? I think of it in two parts.
1. Work and Life should be interchangeably exciting
Why should we treat the work brain and the home brain as two separate entities, like hoopy frood Zaphod Beeblebrox? Our goal in life should be engaging 100% in what we’re doing at all times – even when we’re sleeping!
If what makes me feel engaged is writing a project plan at midnight, so be it. Similarly, if I didn’t have the passion of my blog or my music tugging at my brain, my creative work would have no urgency.
Does that mean I should skip dinner for a project plan, or interrupt a meeting to post a blog? God, no. That would make me a moron. Do I need work-life balance to not be a moron?
If you let your passion drive your life, both work-you and home-you can be engaged and productive. Instead of listless email checks at night just to be the first-responder, you might whip open your laptop late at night when a bolt of inspiration about a big project hits you.
That’s totally healthy, and totally passionate.
2. Idleness is the holiday of fools.
That’s what the Chinese food fortune presiding over my desk reminds me every day. I disagree with the idea of scheduling daily chores and regular downtime. Do you want to remember your year by the amount of daily chores you did or the amount of time you made to sit on your couch?
Instead, recognize that even when you love life you can’t be passionate all the time. When your passion ebbs it’s time for some high quality maintenance and planning.
A few weeks ago I worked five days, took two classes, played two shows, held a rehearsal, and loaded in and out of a conference. It was awesome – one of my best weeks ever – and I would have never accomplished it if I had scheduled in downtime. But at the end of it I had a Saturday of reading in my PJs, which meant I also had the chance to catch up on maintaining my life.
Everyone is a different blend of introvert and extrovert and we all need a different mix of passive downtime relative to our passionate uptime. Prescribing that we need thirty minutes a day of meditative dish washing might not be for everyone. You can’t prescribe idleness the same way you can recommend how many ounces of water to drink each day.
In the words of my thought-partner Britt and I, this is “FAME.”
FAME isn’t being famous. FAME is the act and feeling of constantly achieving your wildest dreams (they start small at first, then grow; FAME is never over), and having friends, family, and eventually strangers support you in your endeavors.