Why Aren't My Attempts at Finding Work-Life Balance Successful

How to zero in on what you like doing most at your job so you can do more of it.

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Work is hard. Perhaps you know the feeling of too many requests from too many people and not enough hours in the day. To push back against the never-ending tide of work and preserve a place for our own interests and obligations, we’re told to strive for work-life balance. And although well-intentioned, this ideal doesn’t translate to the real world. Here’s why:

• Work is not the opposite of life. It’s a part of it.

• There’s an oversimplified idea out there that life contains all the good stuff and work contains all the bad stuff. But our experience isn’t anything like that. At work and in life, there are wonderful, uplifting moments and moments that drag us down.

• The quest for work-life balance mutes our curiosity about what work is like when we are in flow or making an impact. If the prescription is to take over the presumed toxicity of work and balance it with life, we’ll never get to ask those questions, and that is a shame.

• The idea of a pure work-life balance isn’t realistic. It asks us to aim for momentary stasis in a world that is ever changing.

We need a new way of thinking about work. And about life.

Strive for Love-Loathe Imbalance Instead

It seems more useful to treat work the same way we do life: by maximizing what we love. The most helpful categories are not “work” and “life” but are instead “love” and “loathe.” Our goal should be to intentionally imbalance all aspects of our work toward the former and away from the latter—not simply to make us feel better but to allow our colleagues, friends, and family to benefit from us at our best.

Think of the activities you love at work— your strengths—as red threads. People who thrive at work change the content of their jobs over time to be more of an expression of who they are. They weave in their red threads. Research conducted in 19 countries reveals that 73 percent of us claim we have the freedom to modify our job to fit our strengths better but that only 18 percent of us do so. When you look at people who are thriving in their jobs, you notice they didn’t find them, they made them. Jobs are more malleable than we think.

To mold your job, use your red threads to change its content over time so that it contains more things you love doing and fewer that you’re aching to escape. We shouldn’t ask ourselves, “How can I find greater work-life balance?” We should instead ask, “How can I create greater love-loathe imbalance?”

How Do I Find Love-Loathe Imbalance?  

The simplest way is to spend a week in love with your job. Select a week at work and take a notepad around with you. Draw a vertical line down the middle of the page to make two columns, one for “loved it” and one for “loathed it.” During the week, any time you find yourself in love with something, jot down exactly what you were doing in the loved-it column. And any time you find yourself feeling the opposite, jot it in the loathed-it column.

Then each following week, ask yourself how you can spend more time doing the activities you love and minimize the activities you loathe. And instead of attempting to eliminate the things you loathe, an unrealistic undertaking, focus on designing your life so that you’re spending at least 20 percent of your time—one full day a week in total— on the things you love the most, whether at work or outside it. This is what your organization wants. It’s what you want for yourself and what you want for the people in your life. You want love.

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