Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, recently said, “To me, balance implies a strict trade-off and I like the word ‘harmony’ much more.” His advice could be counter-intuitive to most.
Isn’t achieving balance a good thing? It’s not. We’ve been fed this idea that our happiness depends on finding a balance between our personal and professional lives, but that’s impossible in reality.
Balance would imply that our work and life must be in some sort of a “correct proportion” and that one should be equal to the other. It furthers an assumption that work and life are independent entities that are competing with each other, not co-existing. Balance, in reality, is an unattainable standard and a cause of copious amounts of stress.
Ask yourself how much of your work or life are you sacrificing to reach this elusive state of balance? Initially agnostic, psychologists are now agreeing that balancing work and life is a zero-sum game where committing resources to one domain is seen as taking away resources from the other.
Work-life balance is a silly idea because a large part of our life is work and work and life depend on each other. At a superficial level it’s about money, but a closer introspection would tell you that each of our work choices impacts our life and our life shapes how we work. Is work then just a way to spend eight hours of your day or is it closely linked to your life, determining not just how stressed you are but also how you find purpose, meaning, and a sense of self-worth?
For these reasons, I believe that we must aspire for a work-life harmony or integration and not balance. What we need is a pleasant, harmonious arrangement of work and life roles that are integrated into a single narrative of life.
In a recent study, psychological scientists He Lu Calvin Ong and Senthu Jeyaraj studied 100 participants on work-life balance and harmony. The difference between the two and their impact was analysed on worker productivity and creativity. They found that participants in the work-life balance condition elicited higher levels of cognitive dissonance than participants in the work-life harmony condition. In fact, the study showed that work-life initiatives based on work-life harmony have greater facilitative impact on participants’ creativity as compared with initiatives adopting a work-life balance approach.
In my own experience of trying to find work-life harmony, I’ve managed to shift my mind set by keeping the following in mind:
1) Drop the balancing act:
It begins by acknowledging that there’s no balance and might never be. Instead of chasing balance, be open to the idea that life and work need to be interconnected. If the end of one means the beginning of the other, you’re setting yourself up for a life of stress and burnout. Start by asking questions around what aspects of your life shape your work and vice versa and if you think the two are disparate, it’s time for an overhaul.
2) Find meaning in your work: It always begins and ends with liking what you do and finding purpose and meaning in it. When asked about balancing work and life, Sadhguru recently said, “If your work is not your life, I don’t see why you should do it… I know people are trying to keep it (work and life) away; I would say that’s a mistake.” Sadhguru, in his own way, is making the case for work-life harmony. As harmony is about congruence, about finding that blend which is unique to you, it’s not possible to live well until you find meaning in what you do. You’re doing yourself grave disservice if you’re working for five days and living for two.
3) Be mindful: Work-life harmony is different from work-life balance because it’s more hard-work. It’s not about putting a forcible stop to work at 6 pm; it’s about finding life’s purpose, core values, beliefs and working doubly hard to effectively utilise your time and talents.
Work-life harmony needs time management skills, undivided focus, and attention, but it especially needs you to be mindful. You have to be aware and present in that moment, which means that you must prioritise, not multi-task, set expectations, and work diligently.
Above all, in this quest for work-life harmony, allow yourself to fail and know that it takes time to align yourself with the theory of work-life harmony. If you’ve spent a lot of time dissociating work from your life, integrating it can be a challenge. But to live and work successfully, it’s crucial that you do.