I read and interesting article about work life balance, “The Downside of Work Life Balance” by James Clear.
The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).
The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.
James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.
Life has seasons
The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.
Where I disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?
Seek a balanced life but set focus points
My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!
You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:
- Family – Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
- Health – Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to live to your retirement.
- Career – Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
- Friends – The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.
Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.
Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.
Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.
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