"Work - Life Balance", we've heard the phrase many times and each time my stomach turns. Either the intended message is completely miscommunicated or the primary assumption that one's work and life have to be at conflict is flawed. According to wikipedia, the phrase describes the prioritizing between "work" (career and ambition) on the one hand and "life" (Health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) on the other. Just using the term "balance" to describe the relationship between work and life demonstrates that the individual using the phrase believes that work and life are opposing forces. Consequently, their lot in life is to play the role of fulcrum, keeping the lever from touching the ground in either direction, which in essence prevents the other end of the lever from reaching the heights it could and likely should.
I have been known to publicly declare that I "work to live" as opposed to those hard chargers who give the appearance that they "live to work". That logic, is equally flawed. I have grown to acknowledge that work is part of life and my objective is to optimize "Work - Play Alignment". If life is full of "Have Tos" and "Want Tos", I'd like my "Have Tos" to look a lot like my "Want Tos". In essence, I strive to be "at play" when I am "at work" and there are times when my wife believes I am "at work" when I am home "at play". When I am not at work, I choose to surround myself with people I enjoy, doing things that make me smile, and creating both meaningful and shared memories. At this point in time, I feel pretty good about stating that to be my reality. As I think about how I spend the bulk of my days (at work), I realize that I am surrounded by people whom I enjoy, while I do things that make me smile and add many good times to my memory bank. Weird? Evidently, my work and play overlap quite a bit.
Each week I send out a book abstract to my Shipmates at NIOC Pensacola. Last week, I sent one out on the book Life Matters. One of the results was a nice exchange with a valued colleague on the term "balance" used in this context. He offered the "Yin Yang" model where life is the entire circle, "Yin" represents work life, and "Yang" depicts personal life, acknowledging the two forces were both complementary at times and opposing at others. That visual works much better than a fulcrum and reenforces that life is the sum of work and play, not the counterbalance to work.
Those who seek "Work - Life Balance" either don't enjoy what they do for a living, are not satisfied with their personal life, or are ambivalent all of the way around. Please don't be content playing the roll of fulcrum in an unbalanced life. Instead, make your work a reflection of your passions, surround yourself with people you enjoy, and give yourself and those around you reason to smile (note: It is possible to do all three without changing your current employer). I learned long ago that "Who Begets What", so when given the choice, I choose to start with WHO. Fortunately, my work and play have never been better aligned than they are right now. I know that when I move to the next duty station, I will need to proactively approach both aspects of life to reach the level of alignment (not balance) my family and I have grown to appreciate. If I am unable to do so, it won't be the play that is sacrificed, the work (or at least my approach to it) will need to be modified.