The Myth of Work-Life Balance

- Mindfulness

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by Jurgen Appelo

Repeat after me: “I love my work.”

Go ahead! Do it right now: “I love my work.”


Does that make you feel uncomfortable?

When you do your work not for the money but because you love it, will your boss stop paying you?

The famous hierarchy of needs, created by psychologist Abraham Maslow, suggests that, after covering your basic human needs, such as food, health, friends, and coffee that doesn’t come out of a single-button machine, you will ultimately seek self-actualization. OK, the elegant pyramid-form of the model has received some criticism from other experts. Human needs, in reality, are a bit more complex than that.

work-life balance

More like an M.C. Escher building, in fact. Besides, Maslow’s pyramid model is outdated, because nowadays, before they get out of bed in the morning, people first need a smartphone, Wi-Fi, and Facebook.

But, I’m sure that no expert would deny that making a business out of drones flying cappuccinos up to Machu Picchu is a main concern for someone who is starving.

Fortunately, most people are not starving. And sadly, most people do not love their work. Although they might love cappuccinos. And Machu Picchu …I’m veering off-topic. But who cares? I love my job!

Another model suggested by psychology professor Jonathan Haidt, says that people have one of three possible attitudes toward their work: they see it either as a job, as a career, or as a calling.

In a flash of inspiration, probably after I had an Irish coffee, the idea occurred to me that these two models seem to be nicely aligned. When you merely try to survive, paying for your food and health, you just need a job. And you’re probably not watching this video. When you have time to pursue social concerns, seeking friends and respect, you probably see your work as a career.

Hint: you will be more successful when you share this video with your colleagues. But, when you’ve achieved all of that, and you desire more meaning in your work, you are looking for self-actualization, and quality coffee bars that do not have a logo of a green human/fish mashup. In that case, you will connect with like-minded people, such as yours truly , We love our work, because our work is our calling.

I’m not saying that this is easy. On the contrary! Loving what you do requires some mindfulness, and spending some time to understand both yourself and your environment.

Watch this full interview with John Baldoni to learn about mindfulness

work-life fusion

Of course, I could be wrong (unlikely!) But I believe that anyone who still too busy to be mindful, and desperately seeks a work-life balance, is probably on one of the lower levels of the pyramid or Escher building.

After all, for those who don’t find self-actualization in their work, work is just a job or a career, and thus the need to work must be “balanced”  with a meaningful life.

Those on the top floor of the pyramid, or Escher building, don’t see work and life as being in conflict with each other. For them, work and play are both part of life because work and play helps them to self-actualize. It’s not work-life balance but work-life fusion.  The work they love doing is their calling.

John Baldoni combines his work and play as part of his calling. And my work is to listen to these leadership gurus. I’m loving it. And I get paid for it!

Here is today’s homework for you. Think: What kind of work do you love?And why? Once you find the answer, I’m sure you can figure out a way toward self-actualization. And you will rise up from work-life balance to work-life fusion.

Oh, and drones flying cappuccinos up to the hikers on Machu Picchu? My idea. Remember that.

Photo: Willian Justen de Vasconcellos (Unsplash)

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