There is no such thing as a work-life balance

4th August 2015

Alain de Botton, the Swiss philosopher, once said: “There is no such thing as a work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life”. It’s a great quotation.

Much has been written about the importance of a work-life balance in today’s busy environment. Of course it’s true that to be a well-functioning human being, you need to be able to have time to see your friends, family, have some holidays and do the things you enjoy outside of work, as well as spending time at work.

But what about rethinking the question? Why not also focus on enjoying your work as much as you do your time out of work? Why not find something you really love to do, which really fires you up, so that work isn’t seen as the thing you need to “balance out”? Why not make a work-lifestyle choice rather than seeking to balance it out?

Here’s an example. Close to where I live, there are two places I could go to eat. The food is probably better in the first one, if I’m honest. But I choose to eat at the other place. When I go to the first, it’s absolutely clear that the guy running it can’t stand his job. He’s doesn’t want to be there; has run out of steam with the business; is fed up with the grind. This lack of enthusiasm transmits to his staff and customers and, despite the food being good, it feels like a negative place to go to eat.

In contrast, the second place is run by a guy who clearly loves what he does. He sees it as a huge privilege to feed and entertain people; in fact it feels like you’re in his home. He knows his regular customers and makes a huge effort to acknowledge them. He’s hospitable and welcoming whether you’re a regular or not. Running his restaurant is not work to him – he simply loves what he does and it shows.

Don’t get me wrong – everyone needs a break, a holiday, family time, time for hobbies. But you spend such a massive proportion of your time at work that if you don’t really enjoy what you do, you simply shouldn’t be doing it. You can’t compensate for spending eight hours a day being miserable by “balancing it out” with something you love to do for the remainder of the time. What a waste of your life that would be.

There will always be bad days at work, as there are in your personal life too, but looking at it in the round, you should be coming into work with enthusiasm for what lies ahead; because it fires you up and you get a kick out it.

I spent time when I was younger in various jobs which I hated and so I got out of them. They weren’t for me. Not every job is for everyone. I’ve found something I absolutely love doing now and I wouldn’t stop coming to work every day even when I’m well beyond the age where I need to.

What I said about the two restaurants applies to any business, any industry. I wonder if you know places like that, managers like that, employees like that? When someone doesn’t enjoy what they do, it sucks the life and the ambition out of a business and will ultimately only lead to a downward spiral.

And by the way – guess which restaurant is the more successful of the two?