Work-life balance is dead. Here’s a better way.

Work-life balance is a corporate myth that is holding us back.

This myth says we can’t simultanously build a fulfilling career and a thriving family life — and I call bullshit on that.

The ‘balance’ myth is perpetuated by salesy platitudes like this:

“Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls — family, health, friends, and integrity — are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”

— Gary Keller

On the one hand, I get the sentiment. This might be a useful analogy for stressed-out type-A professionals who can’t possibly tear themselves way from compulsively responding to administrative email chains.

But on the other hand, the analogy is just flat-out wrong.

From juggling to integrating

Success is not a constant juggle or an endless balancing act.

Success happens when your effort, passion, love and interests collide, where lessons from all areas of your life come together to enable your best self.

The various spheres of our life are not balls in the air, but inextricably linked parts of one whole. They are constantly interacting and overlapping, swelling and subsiding.

From work self to best self

Kim Scott, author of Radial Candour and former Google and Apple executive, puts it like this:

“Be relentlessly insistent about bringing your best self to work — and taking it home again.

Don’t think of it as some kind of zero-sum game where anything you put into your work robs your life and anything you put into your life robs your work…

The time you spend at work can be an expression of who you are as a human being, an enourmous enrichment to your life, and a boon to your friends and family.”

Building momentum

If you are willing to give up the balance, you might instead think about how your life and work can feed each other, how they can compound to create something great.

Scott calls this her ‘recipie to stay centered.’ Here’s another way of thinking about it:

Which activities, from various areas of your life, light up your core self and empower you to show up for the people around you?

Scott says that to stay centered she needs to:

“Sleep eight hours, exercise for forty-five minutes and have both breakfast and dinner with my fmaily….If I can manage to do those things, I can usually stay centered no matter what storms are raging around me.”

For me, I can’t be a great husband, Dad or friend if I don’t feel like I’m building a career that is meaningful and pursuing my interests. I need time to read and learn every day, to create something that I might share with the people I love, and to do hard things (like exercise) that help me feel resilient in challenging times.

Each of these things bleed into each other, the wins stacking on top, until you enter a virtuous cycle where work feeds life and life feeds work and inevitably, they are inextricable.

That’s a much better place to be than balancing on a thin rope.

Work life balance is dead. Embrace the virtuous cycle and bring your whole self with you, wherever you go.

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