A person feels most at peace with his or herself when the major aspects of life are balanced. We look at workaholics and overachievers and wonder about all the interesting or wonderful parts of life they may be missing.
My first boss was a workaholic and overachiever, and he had trouble understanding that not everyone was like him with the same goals and priorities. On occasion, he would work in the office until three o’clock in the morning, fall asleep at his desk, and wake up at six o’clock to continue. I convinced myself of the importance of sleep for maintaining a healthy and long life at that time, and it may be needless to say he and I had a number of philosophical differences.
He was the executive director of an understaffed non-profit organization that had a tiny operating budget and a grand mission, so his work was never done. When you run the only company in the world that does all that this organization does and you manage a product that is considered one of the best of its kind in the world, you can’t get to that point by trying to achieve balance in your own life.
In the office where I work now, we talk about “work/life balance.” This is the idea that the life someone has outside the office is important, and work should not always prevent emphasizing things that make a person more than just an employee. Most people do not want to be fully defined by their job.
The goal of balance between work and “life” is more achievable when there is little pressure to be the best in the world. At the non-profit organization, which I can’t describe in more detail without identifying myself, work was life. That’s just the way it had to be in order to operate on the level that was expected of us as employees and as an organization. And it works when you have the right team.
Business owners are often in a similar situation, especially when first getting their business off the ground. For them, there may be no such thing as work/life balance. Often, new business owners spend as much effort and time as possible working on their project in order to make it viable. In order to do this, they must make sacrifices in other aspects of life.
Olympic athletes don’t have a balanced life. CEOs of global corporations know that they make sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. The most successful musicians and bands don’t rest until they’ve perfected their instruments of choice. Scientists who make paradigm-shifting discoveries don’t clock out at five o’clock and go home to their families.
Over time, our goals may change; someone who started their adult life looking for balance may feel the need to achieve something great while another individual who came out of the gate with a clear mission to succeed may find other aspects of life more important. It’s always important to pay attention to your inner desires and follow the path that works best for you at that particular time.
The good news is that not everyone has lofty goals and expectations. For most people, striving for balance is a reasonable and admirable approach. Nevertheless, balance is not the path to world-class achievements.
Updated December 21, 2010 and originally published June 10, 2010.