Since Patrick Pichette announced his retirement from Google to spend time with his family, work/life balance seems to be a popular topic of discussion.
So what is the proper work/life balance? Mr. Pichette decided on 30 years of working like a maniac followed by unknown years of maniacal relaxation. Sounds a little familiar to me.
Is there a correct percentage? 50/50? 60/40? Does it change over time, perhaps allowing for more hours of work when one is young and unencumbered, fewer when one has young children at home?
Money matters, because bills have to be paid, so time must be allotted to obtain it. Variables change if you have a partner to share the load.
Do you devote more time to work if you consider your work to be important, or if you like your work? Is some time apportioned to work necessary to teach responsibility to your children?
How do you solve this puzzle? Is it possible to assign a value to each part of your life, start with the things that have the highest value, and throw in as many as will fit until you run out of day? Are your eyes crossing yet?
The currency that you spend for the things that you do is your life. You pay for time with pieces of your life, and the lives of those important to you. Four hours rearranging papers equals four hours of life gone. The same four hours hiking with the kids? Definitely a better cost/benefit ratio.
Unfortunately, if we spend all of our time on our family and friends, somehow arranging the bits and pieces by degree of importance, we risk failing in our responsibilities. Eating by candle light is less romantic when you can’t turn on the lights.
These choices have to include what those you love value as well. You may not want to make mud pies, but if your 3 year old does, and you value her, those mud pies have value for you too.
When you sign up to have a partner and children, you have by unwritten contract agreed to value them. Being a member of a family, a group of friends, and society also demands it’s share of your time. We live in this world and depend upon each other. We need to contribute.
There are not enough hours in each day.
Solving the puzzle
The solution to this puzzle is impossible because we are asking the wrong question. The question is not “What is the optimal work/life balance?” The question is “What can we do so that we do not consider time spent at work the equivalent of death?”
If we are alive at work, we don’t need to squish all the meaningful time in our lives into a few short hours in the evening. If we find work that we love and take pride in, we will be more productive and we can feel fulfilled. Productive, fulfilled people are happier, have more energy, and are better able to deal with expectations at home. They have more to give back. They also usually have more money, because people who love their work will do it better, and money will follow. The balance improves.
There is no omnicient statue holding a scale above our heads to judge how well we spend our time. I am a small town, solo practice pediatrician: I have been on call for 17 years, every day and night. My daughter is a homemaker, currently chasing a two year old while making my granddaughter. That hypercritical statue would put us on opposite ends of a scale, but both lives have equal value. My children and hers both know that they are gems beyond price, and that we would give our lives for theirs. Adding up and checking off the hours spent at home and work is just silly.
We need to find work that is worth spending our lives on. We need to know ourselves, explore what is valuable to us, and relinquish our lives to that. Happiness is possible when our reality aligns with our dreams. If your dream is dedicating your life to service to the exclusion of family, then live that life. If your vision means devoting yourself to your children, then that has equivalent value, because it has the equal cost of one life, true to itself.
Whether we produce food, teach children, work on cars, or get thrown up on for a living (my choice), we need to live at work, because we spend our lives doing it. The question,”What is the right work/life balance?” is meaningless. We live every minute of our lives and need to give consideration to how we do it, not let circumstance blow us in random directions.
What is valuable is different for each life, and for each day in that life. Know why you do the things you do; take that first step toward where you dream of being. Achieve not so much a work/life balance, as a balanced life.