Without evidence or reason, we’ve swallowed whole the notion of “work/life balance.” Most people consider it a major life goal, though few can name anyone who’s actually achieved it. Still, we kneel down before the idea like it’s a religion, certain that reaching this magical state of harmony will bring us health and happiness. Companies are pressured to promise a good work/life balance to employees, and employees pressure themselves to turn off their smartphones and shun their jobs on evenings and weekends. We shame our significant others for answering work texts at the dinner or in bed, then we sneak off to check our own.
Enough, already. Work and life are not mutually exclusive, especially for entrepreneurs. Running your own company isn’t a job: it’s a way of life, and life doesn’t cease to exist between 9am and 5pm. That doesn’t make everyone who loves work a workaholic. You can also love your family and friends and be present for them without ignoring your passions, projects and responsibilities. The real goal isn’t balance - it’s what some are calling “flow”, a seamless integration of our professional and personal lives.
Though flow makes particular sense for entrepreneurs, it’s increasingly relevant for everyone. Anxiety about work/life balance is just an awkward growing pain we’re collectively experiencing as we transition to a truly post-industrial world. For employees, unless you’re punching a clock at a Starbucks or at a data-entry firm, you’re probably not selling your time to your employer. You weren’t hired to sit at a cubicle, or to complete some pre-determined checklist of tasks. You were chosen for your abilities, your network and your experience. Above all, you were hired to assume a widely defined responsibility and to put the sum total of your energies towards achieving a shared positive outcome, anyway you can. For managers: either you care or you don’t, and if you care, there’s no such thing as being off the clock.
If all that sounds terribly oppressive, consider this: more and more of us now have the flexibility to telecommute, to work from home, and to make our own hours. Progressive companies like Netflix don’t even designate vacation time: employees come and go as they please, and are individually responsible for ensuring that goals are met and problems solved.
If we are expected to take our work home with us, we’re also welcome to bring home to work. Few of us feel guilty about making personal calls, doing some online shopping, playing a few minutes of Candy Crush or hanging out with our friends through social media as we do our jobs. In fact, clever young startups encourage slacking off, and put significant resources towards making sure the workplace has nap rooms, great food, social events, on-site massage...whatever it takes to create vibrant, social teams who want to burn the midnight oil.
This isn’t the 50’s. Nobody comes home from work, hangs up a fedora and settles down on the recliner with a pipe, cardigan and slippers, the kids playing at their feet.
Nobody really did that then, either.