This is more important than work-life balance
5 GIFs and 1 Youtube video to show you a better way to think about work + life.
If life was a playground, then figuring out work-life balance would be like being on a perpetual see-saw. In areas where work goes up, life goes down. Where life goes up, work goes down. We have limited time, attention, energy, and resources. Saying yes to one thing creates an automated response of no to the other.
We all know the people that begin to take this game to the extreme. They begin performing acrobatic stunts in work, which then spin into supportive and outwardly impressive things in life.
Okay, that GIF looks so fun. Why can’t life be a persistent cirque du soleil show? Well, it doesn’t quite make sense. While these two are captured in a GIF stuck in repeat — I could watch for hours — how do they stop? When do they rest? And how much energy does it take to build that back up again? What happens if one skips a day of practice?
Another consideration, the bigger the jump, the larger the… fall on the face if things don’t work out.
And when everything hits the ground, there’s the impact to deal with. What was leverage force to lift up now becomes a force of impact that pulls down. All of a sudden the floor and inertia are more comfortable than any acrobatic see-saw stunts in work or life.
Why does work-life balance not work? What’s missing?
If everything is a task to manage then everything is a task to balance. If everything is seen as something that is taking from another, then what is giving to the system? There must be a better way to play in the playground of life.
The good news is there are other playthings.
- Should work-life be more like a slide? No that’s only fun one way with temporary excitement spent too quickly.
- Should work-life be more like a spinny circle thingy? No, if a see-saw can get out of control, this thing looks downright dangerous.
- Should work-life be more of a sandbox? Possibly. Maybe, I’ll make another post about this later. For right now, it’s a bit too open ended.
Rather than work-life balance as a see-saw, a constant give and take, think about work-life harmony, as a swing set with an integrated back and forth. A movement in which small investments in one direction feed into a swing back to the other. Forget how cool swings are? My friend Jeremy can demonstrate benefits.
Let’s get some instant replays to fully understand why this shift in metaphor is better because in one minute he gets into full motion with what appears to be little effort.
The difference between the battle of work-life balance v. the integration of work-life harmony is in looking at the conservation of energy. Jeremy has one effort that he uses to push himself forward into more momentum. He wants to do that because it helps him build height. It’s exciting to kick legs forward. Then, he sits back and enjoys the ride to prep for the forward swing again. He wants to kick up. He wants to invest energy in swinging forward so that he can go higher. The end goal is to maximize the arc of his swing set.
For work life harmony, this means understanding what are personal attractors and detractors for energy.
- Attractors are the things you want to do. They bring enjoyment, excitement, and delight. It’s an effortless pull forward because there’s a swinging force to lean into. They give energy as they are the kinds of things you want to kick towards.
- Detractors are things you don’t want to do, but need to do. They can either be investments for your future self or things that are responsibilities best left tended. Ultimately, it feels like a push to get them done.
In knowing what attracts and helps build energy, you can use that to offset the things you don’t want to do but need to do.
It also doesn’t matter what pulls you forward at any moment because there is a feedback loop you can lean into the other. Work and life or life and work become more integrated in the swing forward into growth.
Quick Greek philosophy lesson for more understanding
One problem is the limit in the English language. We do not have a word that combines fulfillment and happiness into a full swing of being. Fulfillment is some distance planet reserved for those who have the fuel of passion, and happiness is seen as a temporary emotional bubble that could pop at any moment.
If we went back and checked in with Aristotle, he would have a bit to say about εὐδαιμονία (eudaimonia). Dang Aristotle, that is Greek to me. We do not have that word in English.
While contemporary happiness is associated with a fleeting feeling of [insert your subjective word — contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, excitement — tor emoji — 😀🥧😆🌞 — of choice here] , eudaimonia is a state of wellbeing.
To understand how eudaimonia is a state, let’s break it down into its two core parts
- eu = good
- daimonia = spirit (no, not the woo woo Spirit, just inner well being)
Usually, when in good spirits, someone either moving towards what they want and it feels good or they are giving a shoutout to someone else because they are excited for that person. Yes, this article is a shout-out to you, Jeremy. Congratulations on the 16ft swing set 🎊.
One key difference between the sense of happiness and the state of eudaimonia is in its active pursuit. Aristotle mentions it needs to be in doing things. Seek activity. It is neither passive nor an abstract emoji but in the doing. Don’t know what you want to do? Two questions to start:
- What do you want? Make a list of the 10 things that you want your life to have in it.
- What would you congratulate someone on? Make a list of the top 10 things you give a shoutout or celebrate someone else for. Life milestones, achievements, personal updates, or something on the daily.
And with those two lists, figure out where you can start acting. What can you stop doing that does not help bring more of those things into your life, and where can you start doing more in areas that will be helpful?
This creates alignment between inner desire and a potential future state that is truly yours: not the cirque du soleil GIF performers, not Mr. 🥔head, nor not Jeremy’s. It is yours.
Aligning what is wanted and what is worth congratulating for is the first step for seeking eudaimonia. Actively pursue this alignment enough and one starts thriving. Ultimately, the reason to design for harmony is to thrive and flourish.
When balancing work and life as a see-saw, it is a management problem, tiring, and a constant tradeoff. Most outcomes of reaching new heights are at the sacrifice of one for the other.
Work-life harmony is about thriving and flourishing through enjoying the process. It integrates what attracts energy and enjoyment with a back swing of doing what needs to be done.
👋 Hey, I’m Michael, an Olympic level 🌎 innovation coach training future CEOs @ TKS, ie. human potential 🤓. Previously, startup founder, design engineering instructor @ Harvard, and program director @ Cornell. Always 👨🍳cooking up something new.