An Observation on Work-Life Balance

The Art of Balancing Work and Life

Work-Life balance is always a hot topic. A week doesn’t go by without some article, blog post or new book appearing discussing the desire for work-life balance. Googling work-life balance produces a slew of references and definitions. Let me share with you an observation on work-life balance I recently came across.

A definition

According to Wikipedia work-life balance means “proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation).” The funny thing this dichotomy between work and life is a relatively modern concept, with the idea first surfacing in the mid-1800’s. The phrase itself did not appear until the late 1970’s. So it is clear that most of human existence was not concerned about this issue.

But as the nature of the workforce changed and the number of women in the workforce increased the issue of balance became much more important. Today it is not just a “woman’s” issue and both men and women are looking for that balance.

Meaningful work

Meaningful work and self-fulfillment have also gotten wrapped up into this conversation. In his book, How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric traces the history of fulfilling work and balance. He starts off by saying

“The desire for fulfilling work — a job that provides a deep sense of purpose, and reflects our values, passions and personality — is a modern invention. … For centuries, most inhabitants of the Western world were too busy struggling to meet their subsistence needs to worry about whether they had an exciting career that used their talents and nurtured their wellbeing. But today, the spread of material prosperity has freed our minds to expect much more from the adventure of life….We have entered a new age of fulfillment, in which the great dream is to trade up from money to meaning.”

Since we are in this new age people often look for personal fulfillment beyond their work. Thus we end up with discussions of work-life balance because people want to get away from their work in order to pursue the things that they see as being more fulfilling, such as avocations, hobbies, children, etc.

Being a master in the art of living

One of the quotes Krznaric uses made me sit back and think, and actually prompted this post. It is a different view of work-life balance. He quotes the French writer François-René de Chateaubriand who said:

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

Unfortunately, as Krznaric points out, the industrial world threw us into a world of specialization and thus into the line of thought that said greatest fulfillment comes from being an expert. Well many of us don’t have that opportunity. But more and more as the nature of work changes we are moving more to a generalist world, a world where more and more of us work for ourselves. In that case we can choose a more fulfilling line of work and with that we can get closer to what Chateaubriand described at being a “master in the art of living.”

Strive for mastery

The lesson in this is that if you strive for a job that you find fulfilling you will have the opportunity to become a “master in the art of living” and that will erase any question of work-life balance. It will just be your life. Are you living?

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Mike Haberman

Michael (Mike) D. Haberman, SPHR is a consultant, speaker, writer of HR Observations, and co-founder of Omega HR Solutions, Inc. After over 30 years in HR he got tired of the past and focuses here on the Future of HR. Connect with Mike.

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  1. […] an individual’s work and personal life, therefore, he or she is more likely to experience an overall balance or blending of the two. However, fulfillment within a profession is a relatively new concept, and business owners in […]


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