Balance is Bullshit

Work-Life Balance is bullshit.  That is, it’s bullshit if you want to achieve excellence.  If you’re okay with the mediocre, then be balanced all you like.

The idea of work-life balance is the outcome of the feminist movement of the 70s and 80s, when the received wisdom was that you could have it all:  a successful career, raise a family and have time for yourself and your partner, a few hobbies and still workout every day. We learned pretty quickly that this was totally impossible.  So we came to the idea of “balance”, that you had to balance each of the areas of your life to ensure happiness and success.   As a society, we’ve been trying to find balance ever since.

The problem is, to be good at anything, you have to spend a lot of time doing that thing.  Which means that you can’t be spending time doing something else. Hence, the idea of balance — spending equal amounts of time and effort on different things, is incompatible with the idea of excellence, achievement and success. 

We don’t seem to have a problem with that idea when it is applied to athletics. We understand that to be an Olympian, there is a sacrifice that athletes make. They give up other things to train, to be world-class. They make that choice because their sport leverages their talent and combines that with meaning for the athlete.  Although they may be exhausted at the end of the day, they know that it has meaning, at least to them.

Balance is a hoax. It lulls us into believing that we are able to achieve in multiple spheres. So then we don’t have to feel guilty about choosing one thing over another.  We can choose them all.  Except we can’t, not if we aspire to excellence. Balance allows us to avoid recognizing the painful choices we have to make. We don’t have to think about the trade-offs. If we chose family, then it means that we are likely also choosing an average career. If we choose career, we are giving up time with family, that we may regret later. 

The problem with balance is that it doesn’t let us maximize our talent doing something that is meaningful. We end up being “stuck in the middle”, kind of average at everything.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t aspire to average.


Categories: Self-management, Success

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2 replies »

  1. Ah darn Colleen, i thought you were going to address why balance in the terms you depict for women (choosing between work and home) IS really only a female problem. I think raising awareness about how difficult achieving balance is and hopefully having men share more of the home responsibilities is what the feminist movement was striving for. Of course not all women who were trying to reach super mom status were feminists, and as a feminist i can tell you that choosing motherhood over a career for many years was costly, but a conscious and privileged choice. But that being said isn’t it great so many wonderful discussions and achievements have come out of the feminist movement! Bravo for pointing this out!

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