Work-Life Balance is a False Expectation

We’ve heard “work-life balance” so many times over the years. Especially after the working hours have increased significantly. We all thought this “balance” is something we need to strive for. How nice would it be to get there? Equal time between work and life. Spending time with family and other things we care about at least as much as spending time at work. For a very long time, staying late at work or leaving the office parking lot last started to become something to be proud of. You would hear many people talking about how busy they are, how they work 10–12 hours every day like it is something that makes them special. The more you work, the more you talk about it, the more respect people should feel for you. Then we started hearing about all the research about health issues at work (Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer is a great book to read if you want to learn more about what work stress and long hours are doing to us) because of long hours. So going back to some kind of “balance” got our attention. However, it is false hope.

What we actually need is to be “off-balance” intentionally at many different stages of our lives.

It would be perfect to spend time with our newborn baby and give all the attention to them and be off-balance.

We love to spend a lot of time working day and night and during the weekends when we start our new business. Many of us who decide to be entrepreneurs choose to be off-balance for a very long time (mostly much longer than we ever expected — this will be another article!) until our business takes off. We are OK with that imbalance.

When we have a health issue, our life is immediately off balance. We drop off everything and spend our time and energy healing.

When we retire we may choose to be off-balance altogether, not even do volunteer work for some time, and just travel or read books.

As Adam Grant says it so succinctly:

Work-life balance sets an unrealistic expectation of keeping different roles in steady equilibrium. Instead, strive for work-life rhythm. Each week has a repeating pattern of beats — job, family, friends, health, hobbies — that vary in accent and duration.

So let’s strive to find time to do things we really care about. Work needs to fit into this equation too. When we have a lot to do at work, we can be off-balance and work more. When we have someone who needs our attention, we need to be able to leave work without guilt or others judging us and be off-balance again.

It is the freedom to choose what we need to do, what matters the most on any given day! Let’s strive for that.


Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol
Brooke O. Erol started her career at IBM following the traditional path she was given to be "successful". She quit her "great job" on paper after 11 years, feeling she is not aligned with it. She started her journey to find her purpose in life. She started her first business in 2003; Your Best Life to help professionals who don’t like their jobs and want to find more meaning at work. After being around so many unhappy people at work as her clients, she decided to help the organizations and leaders who employed them. She started her second business; Purposeful Business to help leaders catch up with our times and grow their businesses without sacrificing the well-being of their people; where profit becomes a by-product rather than the main goal. She believes life is too precious to live only for weekends and retirement. She is the author of Create a Life You Love. She is also the co-author of "From Hierarchy to High Performance: Unleashing the Hidden Superpowers of Ordinary People to Realize Extraordinary Results" that became an International Best Seller in 2018. She speaks and writes about Leadership, Purpose-Driven Life and Organizations, Future of Work in the US, and abroad.

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