The Balance of Life-Work

There is always the 'work' of life as part of a flourishing planet

Work-life balance.

Like the weight or the clothing size you wish you had, like the perfectly healthy diet, it has become one of those magical ideas that promise so much.

How could it not hold great promise, when it’s obvious that you will need and want to have work but should also be able to have and spend time with your family (the “all” women – and men – still can’t have…), have time to do what you yourself want and time to take care of yourself?

As a consequence, flexible working times and similar alternatives to 9-to-5 plus overtime plus, perhaps, 24/7 availability by e-mail and mobile phone, are being sought. We are in a conversation that “will undoubtedly affect the choices that all of us — both men and women, at all levels of society — are making every day, by increasing the range of available possibilities for our companies, our families, our communities, and our selves.”

When it comes to the “life” part of the equation, though, because “work” is so demanding (or exhausting in other ways), there is an attempt at having it easy, relaxing, convenient, without all these demands and pressures from others, but perhaps all the more exciting and adventurous.

Whether for the easier life or for more flexibility in work, for family or money making, this may all appear – and indeed, be – alright, but it also hides something.

Looking deeper, the issue provides insight into the negative connotations of contemporarily “modern” living, and in its very phrasing, it betrays the potential it purports to hold:

Work? Or life?

Talking of work-life balance, life is divorced from work; work functions as an exchange of lifetime and energy for money – and it all points to the simple lesson we seem to have increasingly forgotten: Work should be a natural part of a life, but living should mean more than just working for money, and certainly more than what is left besides work.

There are, after all, many things that it would be good to do, and do better, in and as part of our daily lives, simply because they are natural parts of them:
Taking good care of your household as a part of managing your life well (and yes, you do also have a household if you are single, even if you are a highfalutin CEO), knowing your possessions and having a handle on income and expenses, cooking and eating together as a part of healthy and pleasurable living, and so much more.

Even work (as in, making a living) should not be something just done for scraping by (or, for that matter, for raking in the money), but done as a natural and integral part of a life, as an occupation and a vocation – something you spend your time with and feel a calling for.

Yes, it may be necessary to learn to be content with what you do in order to get by, it may be nice to feel rewarded handsomely, entrepreneurial activities may eat up even more family and other “life” time when they are self-directed… but that should not keep you from doing better work.

Better, not just in terms of money, doing, not just in the form of labor, but done better in finding – and probably more likely, nowadays, creating – work that can fit into your life as something you want to do, because it pays the bills but also helps you get up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror with satisfaction, know that you are doing something alright with the world.

Of course, only too many people think they are doing good as long as they just make enough money to keep in bread and butter, keep the roof over their heads – and there’s something to be said for that.

Even more think they are doing great when and because they are making more than most they know, and because their work “feeds the world,” “gives people what they want” or is simply highly paid – but there, it takes an even deeper, more honest, look at whether this is really quite the case.

There will always be necessary compromises, but there will also always be many possibilities, even if we are quite strict in considering what is truly good work – people will want to be entertained, need to eat well, be clothed, have support in what they want to do – and perhaps support in finding the wisdom of what may be done better and what may be better for us, not giving a quick fix of happy pleasure at the cost, ultimately, of the world.

Typically, we are getting the priorities wrong.

In celebrating the freedom from all the chores that made up such a dominant part of pre-modern lifestyles’ daily drudgery – especially for women: taking care of things, cooking, looking after health and hygiene, balancing the budget – we are trying to avoid them all.
Instead, lifetimes have been filled with the need to work for money, and what was left – and it’s worth remembering that most of that  free time (weekends, vacation time,…) had to be fought for – is considered life and filled with the most “inertial” of convenient activities: consumption, be that of microwave dinners, inane programs on TV, or the various goods and services promising to do for us what we don’t feel we have the time and energy to do for ourselves anymore.

Time to get real again.

The balance will always be somewhat difficult – but defining and making work something other than life from the outset cannot but lead to the worse of decisions.
It brings into opposition, as if there were no other possibility at all, what should be the work of life – activities that are in support of living and a natural part of a person’s life, contributing to it, not taking away from it, not destructive in their effect on the world and destructive in “giving the people what they want,” at the lowest possible level of our humanness, but creative and growing in positive development of humanity and the satisfaction of actual needs.

Not all work is for money, and not all entrepreneurship is for work. How about we get creative about our ways of (making a) living, become entrepreneurs of our own lives*, towards a world that works better?


* h/t Anastasia Ashman of Global Niche


  1. Where to start to get a grip at this………..?

    I think the industrial revolution might be a good point. While at the time some idealists sought to reduce repetitive and boring human work the brains behind it, and the money, quickly realised its potential to make money for a few on the back of the workforce. While most Europeans rejected slavery very few realised this new, covert type of slavery. And very little has changed ever since. The methods of feeding and entertaining the masses may have been refined, and while some social elements were introduced and reluctantly implemented the basic principle remained from day one: Exploitation of everything and anything.

    We can now look back and clearly see the damage this exploitation, in its various disguises, has done. To us, to our environment, to the planet as a whole. Some of the damage seems to be irreparable. We humans are in no way better off, not even in material terms, leaving all other aspects of “well being” aside. A very large number of people are going everyday to a job they hate, working long hours to afford what they think is “life” not recognising that “that” life is only a cleverly constructed illusion, nothing else, resulting in ever increasing dissatisfaction, deterioration of mental and physical health.

    While this scenario describes what happen to individuals it can be applied to society as a whole.

    Looking for ways out of these various dilemma is not easy. Globally speaking it may be impossible, but individually we can change things. Most important, the will to change must come from us, because any changes from above will only create resistance.

    It’s up to us, I’m afraid, to you, to you and yes, to me, too.

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