Why Work-Life Balance Is Ridiculous - Especially for Entrepreneurs
by Samantha Bennett
There are at least four problems with the concept of “work-life balance.”
- It implies that there is a difference between work and life, which, for entrepreneurs, is rarely true.
- It only measures output. Which is exhausting.
- It implies that your energy can be divided like a pie.
- It’s wrong-headed, misbegotten and vaguely misogynistic.
Let’s face it: The phrase “work-life balance” loses all meaning once you become an entrepreneur.
First of all, for those of us who work from home, the physical distinction between work and life disappears entirely. Work happens at home and we are at home in our work. Our desk is the dining room table. Our kitchen is the executive lunchroom. Our security system is mostly focused on making sure the cat doesn’t step on the keyboard and accidentally delete the 1,546 words we’ve just written for a blog post on work-life balance.
And the distinction between “work time” and “not-work time” fades, too. We work late at night and we’re up again at dawn because we just had another Great Idea. We’re mentally reviewing our email campaigns while we’re grocery shopping. We do laundry in between client calls. We nap because we can.
And this blurring of work/home time/space is, I think, the best possible news for both the economy and our families, because it means we get to use our whole selves to move forward.
I mean, have you ever had a job where you felt like only 50 percent of you was welcome at that job? That who you were as a creative person, as a spiritual person, as a sexual person, as a goofy person, as a sensitive person, as a friend, a parent, as a semi-vegan downhill skier ... that those elements of you needed to be left at the front entrance? So you go into work feeling like half of a person. And that is both sad and depressing.
Eventually, of course, you feel so miserable that you quit that job and become an entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur, you get to use your whole self. You get to use all of your skills and talents and instincts and intuitions. You get to be your whole self, all the time. Who you are as a parent, a friend, a partner and a semi-vegan downhill skier actually informs your work. Plus, putting those qualities into action in your marketing efforts can be terrifically influential in finding your tribe.
That wonderful benefit – of having our work use every part of us, and having our work weave through all of our days – means that we are seeking not balance, but integration.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you: the Integrated Entrepreneur.
The Integrated Entrepreneur doesn't schedule sales calls between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., because there's no earthly way to keep the house quiet when the kids are running around. Plus he genuinely enjoys the time cooking dinner and being available for homework help instead. The Integrated Entrepreneur finds a new affiliate while at her kids' soccer game and says "no" to the bake sale because, let's be real, bake sales are a ridiculous misallocation of time and skills and a lousy way to raise funds.
The Integrated Entrepreneur knows that the other misguided concept embedded in the phrase “work-life balance” is the idea that work depletes us. Sure, when you’ve got one of those jobs like we discussed above, where only 50 percent of you gets to show up, then yes, that’s depleting.
But when you love what you do, your work actually invigorates you.
I am enlivened when I work with my clients and students, and I love to write and teach and I even like creating my marketing materials—because my work is a direct expression of who am I, and what I was put on this earth to do. So I love to talk about it, to noodle around with it and share it. I love to charge good money for it, I love working with my team and I love the supreme satisfaction I feel when something goes right. Heck, I even love the disappointments—once I stop feeling sorry for myself, I find I learn the most from those.
And perhaps your business isn’t rooted in one of your passions—that’s OK, too. You may not be passionate about the widgets you sell, but you can be passionate about the way in which you do business, and let that love shine through your work.
So this idea that work is something tiring or intense that needs balancing in the way that we balance, say, activity and rest, or eating and fasting, is just not true for most entrepreneurs.
The way I would encourage the Integrated Entrepreneur to think about the allotment of his or her time is much more from a “return on investment” point of view. To ask yourself, “If I say yes to this task or activity, what will I expect to get back? And is that return worth it to me?”
Now the “return” may or may not be financial. And for the Integrated Entrepreneur, the ability to give non-monetary rewards as much weight as more traditional earnings is also one of the great joys of self-employment.
So, to return to our earlier example, if you participate in the bake sale, you will put in both time and energy, and you will get back some good feelings – but probably not enough good feelings to really make it worthwhile.
The Integrated Entrepreneur knows that success is all about leverage.
You must be constantly on the lookout for the activities that require the least amount of effort, but bring the greatest reward. Sometimes that’s staying up late perfecting the sales page, but sometimes it’s a long talk with an old friend.
Sometimes it’s investing the time to make a step-by-step training video for your virtual assistant so that you can stop creating the weekly email yourself. And sometimes it’s taking a walk in the middle of the afternoon to clear your head and raise your spirits.
And when it comes to the parts of the business that we find least rewarding—the parts that actually do annoy and deplete us—we as small business owners have the power to hire someone else to do it better than we ever could. Indeed, we have the honor and the responsibility to hire someone who can do it better than we ever could.
See, “balance” implies that our time should be divided out like a pie, and that's just absurd. Life is just too complicated for that to make any kind of sense. It's not about creating equal shares of time for work, family, friends, exercise and prayer, because that's the kind of schedule that makes people feel overwhelmed, stressed out and like nobody is getting the best version of them.
And I fear that it is women who bear the brunt of this punishing message. Study after study shows that no matter how much women work, they still do the bulk of the housework, as well as most of the household administration: keeping a stash of last-minute birthday gifts on the top shelf of the closet, arranging for doctor’s appointments and noticing who needs new shoes and making sure that there are always enough squeezy yogurts to go around ... the real work of running a family that goes virtually unnoticed by everyone except the exhausted woman doing it.
I know that men also struggle with the demands of work and wanting to spend time with their families. But I have yet to see a man organize a panel discussion about it, and last time I checked, there were no hand-wringing articles in GQ about it.
So this question of “work-life balance” becomes yet another tool to ever so subtly punish women for their ambition. Another in the series of non-stop reminders that it’s OK for a woman to want to succeed in her work, as long as her children never suffer for a moment, she always looks great and is endlessly attentive to the needs of her spouse and her community.
But those are the old rules.
The Integrated Entrepreneur succeeds because she breaks the rules. Moreover, she chooses which rules to break.
So the Integrated Entrepreneur feels just fine about the weekly massage that keeps her grounded and relaxed, and she feels equally fine about hiring someone to attend to the housekeeping and she feels especially fine about making sure that her kids pull their weight doing age-appropriate chores. She knows that in order for her life and family to flower, we’re all going to have start living by some new principles of equality, meaningful participation and deep kindness.
After all, making money is important. And so is how we make money, why we make money and what we do with the freedom of choice that having money affords us.
Being an Integrated Entrepreneur means that we can throw out the old scales that weigh work and life against each other and embrace the big, messy, gorgeous, new world of choosing for ourselves how we spend the minutes that make up the days that make up our big, messy, gorgeous lives.
Originally from Chicago, Samantha Bennett is a writer, speaker, actor, teacher and creativity/productivity specialist and the author of the bestselling, Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative Genius in 15 Minutes a Day (New World Library) which Seth Godin called, “An instant classic, essential reading for anyone who wants to make a ruckus.”
She is the creator of both The Organized Artist Company and The Organized Entrepreneur, organizations dedicated to helping creative people get unstuck, especially by helping them focus and move forward on their goals. She has spent 15 years as a personal branding expert for Sam Christensen Studios and was honored as an Ultimate Marketer Finalist at ICON 2010.
Now based in a tiny beach town outside of Los Angeles, CA, Bennett offers her revolutionary work to overwhelmed procrastinators, frustrated overachievers and recovering perfectionists everywhere.
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