We’ve all heard we should eat a balanced diet. Of course, what that means is up for some debate. For some people, a balanced diet means starving yourself on rice cakes for five days and binging on fried food and beer all weekend. And while that may average out to a normal caloric intake, nobody really thinks that’s a healthy and balanced way to approach food.
Many people approach their work/life balance similarly. “Work hard, play hard,” brings to mind people overexerting throughout the workday, and then partying all night to compensate. There’s also the approach that says “I do as little work as I can without getting fired. The company works me as hard as they can for as little money as possible without me quitting.” Sure, that’s a kind of balance. But surely there’s a better way?
Have you ever eaten an incredible meal made with fresh ingredients by a skilled chef? By carefully balancing the flavors and the nutritional components in a meal, the chef created something you didn’t even think was healthy. You weren’t even thinking about the balance, it just came naturally.
This brings to mind a book I read years ago, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I’ve carried some of the ideas from that book into my life (and some I’ve probably forgotten and left in the mid-90s). But one thing I do remember was his sixth habit — Synergy. It’s an overused corporate buzzword but don’t let that fool you. It’s a powerful concept.
Putting the idea in the context of this conversation, it means that you shouldn’t settle for a compromise where both sides of a mutual need suffer. You should try and creatively achieve both sides of the need in a way that is richer than if either was satisfied alone. Hating your job all day and trying to forget about it over beers is a compromise. Investing into your job and your life in ways that both are improved by the presence of the other is synergy.
It’s not easy, but it’s easier now than it used to be. For example, a company providing a way for employees to connect and talk about their outside hobbies simultaneously enriches their employees’ personal lives and increases engagement on the job. Similarly, spending my personal time writing this blog helps both me and my company. In terms of strict effort I might be working harder than I was five years ago, but I’m more engaged and getting something out of it I wasn’t back then.
I’m not saying it’s all roses. There are still days where we put up with the equivalent of rice cakes for a few days. Work is still work, and it’s not always going to be richly satisfying. But keeping that ideal in mind, never settling for “good enough,” and aiming yourself in the direction of a more integrated, balanced, beneficial lifestyle … that’s the real definition of balance. Forget about the corporate ladder. Climb the satisfaction and engagement ladder instead. I think you’ll end up in a better place.