Wednesday
Sep122012

Contemplating on the Fallacy of Work-Life Balance

I often hear people talk about the stress of balancing work and life. So I decided to do some research on how that sense of separating work from rest of our life came about.

Work-life balance appears to have become a term mentioned with increasing frequency in popular media in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, according to a contested entry in the Wikipedia.  This particular quote from a popular book captures the sentiment that appears to inform the work-life balance problem eloquently:

"There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”

Then there are solutions offered to balance work and life. Mayo Clinic tries to help in this regard by providing practical tips to a better work-life balance like time management, learning to say no and nurturing one’s self.  What does “nurturing” yourself mean? According to one generally accepted definition it includes: "Eat a healthy diet, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep. Set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as practicing yoga or reading. Better yet, discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends — such as hiking, dancing or taking cooking classes."

If we are honest, all this only adds “more things to do” on the already overflowing plate of our lives, resulting in juggling more activities and stresses.

There is inherently something not quite right in the whole Work-Life balance movement:  How can one see “Work” separate from “Life,” as is implied in this framework? Do we not spend more time and energy at work, in our whole life time, than in any other activity? Do we put “Life” on hold when we are in the “Work” mode? It just does not make sense, does it?

Let’s look at balancing our life from a different perspective by approaching our work, relationships and money as the three key theaters in our life and that we play different roles on each stage in each of these theaters.   At work, we play roles as colleagues, subordinates or the boss.  In relationships, we are spouses, siblings, partners, parents, children and friends. With money, we are earners, savers, creditors, debtors and investors.  Much of the time, we play these roles without giving enough thought except, perhaps, at work where our performance is measured frequently and rewarded (or not) accordingly. Along the way, we inadvertently may play out parts of scripts of one role appropriate to one theater on to a different stage in another theater of our life.  For instance, what we learn about our roles at work may help us function with excellence on that stage, but if we bring that role into our personal relationships, without being aware of what we are doing repeatedly over long periods, we risk becoming substandard role players on the stage of personal relationships.   So being a great boss at work does not necessarily translate into being a great parent or spouse.  When such slips happen they are mundane instances of actions without awareness.

Only when we start distancing ourselves from the roles we play without identifying with those roles will we begin to excel in playing them over a cycle of days, weeks, months, years. To excel in all our roles in all our theaters of life of work, relationships and money, we need to learn how to act in awareness.

Awareness is a subtle potential that we all have. We can strengthen and deepen our awareness potential through specific contemplative, breathing and meditative practices.  With a deepened awareness potential we develop the ability to observe what we do and how we act out our roles , learn how to gracefully refine what makes sense and to let go of all that does not to achieve what we want for a balanced life.

For each one of us this set of roles, and the deft balancing acts that are required, is different at different times in our life.

Jayant Kalawar is the author of The Advaita Life Practice, available at Amazon.

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