Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 29, 2011 8:09 AM

A True Story About Work/Life Balance

Do you believe there is such a thing as work/life balance?

I think that work/life balance is a myth (for me). I've Blogged about it before (you can read it right here: The Myth Of Work Life Balance). This past week, the fine folks from Google invited me to a private event for their Chief Financial Officer, Patrick Pichette. During the cocktails, someone asked Patrick what his life is like at Google and whether or not he has good work/life balance? I thought the question was interesting considering all of the amenities that Google provides (free gourmet food, exercise facilities, laundry service, medical and more). On top of the amazingly generous employee benefits, Google also has an initiative where twenty percent of the employees time can be committed to their own pet projects. As hard as Google employees work, it seems like the company is doing everything it can to ensure that there is a healthy sense of work/life balance. What was Patrick's answer to this question?

"You don't take a job like this if you want balance."

His answer stopped me dead in my tracks. We like to think that we can have it all, but it turns out that the real superstars in our world are working themselves to the bone. The difference here that they're doing it knowingly and willingly. They take these hard assignments with a timeframe and plan pre-set in their mind. You could tell by Patrick's direct answer that he not only knew what he was getting into, but he accepted it as a part of what his life would become. He also seems very happy and proud of this choice.

You don't start your own business for balance either.

Patrick's comment summed it all up for me, personally. I didn't start my own business to have work/life balance. I don't Blog or Podcast or speak or write articles or business books to achieve work/life balance. I do all of this (and more) because it's what I was meant to do. While you may see this as unhealthy, I took my opportunity to dig deeper into Patrick's comment over dinner. He went on to say that while he can't have any semblance of work/life balance with this type of work, he has what he calls a "healthy blend."

A healthy blend.

What does a healthy blend look like? While Patrick is running around the world managing the finances for one of the biggest and most valuable companies, he often finds himself starting early, working through lunch and meeting clients in the evening. On a recent trip, he was working in Europe and invited his wife to meet him at the end of the week in London. He spent a long weekend there. This is blend... finding the opportunities to blend your life so it's not all focused on either work or play. They all blend together. I've done similar things. I was once invited to speak in Singapore and took my spouse along with me and we extended the trip with a visit to Bangkok and Phuket. Or, when I'm on a family vacation, I'll often take an hour (here and there) to quickly check emails or to catch up on some reading. Blend.

This is probably a bad thing. 

I'm sure there are a handful of health practitioners who will shake their finger and say that finding the blend is not enough and that people like Patrick and myself are headed towards burn out because we don't have work/life balance. I'm not sure that I would agree. The reason? I truly love what I do and I don't consider it work. Whether it's answering emails, helping a client out with a business challenge or writing this Blog, it's not a chore. It's not something that I ever feel that I need a break from and - between us - work doesn't stress me out. You know what does stress me out? Trying to forget, shut down, put aside or stop doing what I love to do.

How's that whole work/life balance thing working out for you?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by trish bertuzzi
    Mitch Joel

    Love the post and can totally relate as I am a recovering workaholic... and recovery is hard!

    Having said that, I would like to offer a view from the other side of the coin. Although we may love what we do and feel that having a blend works for us... how do our spouses and children feel about it? How do they feel about being retrofit into our lives? And.. how would we feel if they retrofit us into theirs?

    Somewhere along the way work/life balance should become not just a one person journey but a family journey.

    Thanks for listening.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bill Laidlaw
    Mitch Joel

    The balance is only getting easier Mitch.
    There is nothing, important to my business, that I can't do from anywhere with a Macbook Air (just purchased) and an iPad. And I agree I never find it boring, a chore.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Bradley
    Mitch Joel

    I like your ending point that if it's what you enjoy then work is life, and then you don't need the balance.
    Regardless of how much I love it, it helps me to actually schedule the quality time in as well as taking the opportunities when they come.

    Reply
  • Posted by Kate Armstrong
    Mitch Joel

    I think I'm on the other side of the fence on this one Mitch. After some brutal times at a Big 5 consulting firm, I decided to dial back my expectations and work locally. It's been very satisfying and social media has enabled me to have those big interesting global conversations without having to be a road warrior. I'm comfortable with knowing I may never be a superstar.

    Reply
  • Posted by Karen
    Mitch Joel

    Long ago I stopped using the term work/life balance because that implies some sort of equality between the two. I found that when I tried for that, I was constantly measuring each day to see if it was 'balanced'. That just didn't work.
    I use the term life harmony. Work is part of life and if your work is enjoyable, then it energizes you which means that it is much easier to have your life moving along in harmony. It also means you have plenty of energy for all of the other things in your life. In contrast, a job that is less demanding but that you don't enjoy can drain your energy, and as a result, you end up with less energy for family, friends, etc.
    And finally, the only person who can judge what works for me is me. What looks like 'working too much' from the outside may be fine with me and the people around me.

    Reply
  • Posted by Shannon
    Mitch Joel

    I find myself working a lot of weekends and I don't like it. Having said that, I have a well paying job at a company with great benefits. In this economy, you do what you have to do. Someone has to pay for all those folks that accured thousands in credit card debit and are now filing for bankruptcy or walking away from their houses.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mark Dyck
    Mitch Joel

    Balance? hahahaha. So long as 50/50 is implied, then heck no. And if we really got into 8/8/8 (8 hours sleep that is), then forget about it.

    Although...maybe the balance we need to seek isn't work/life, it's "The Work" / Family. That's pretty important to me and my business is taking too much of this ratio.

    Reply
  • Posted by Paul Copcutt
    Mitch Joel

    If you are able to find work that supports your values and passions then the balance is there for many, but in most cases its not 50/50, but to that person its balance. Our perception may be different.

    As Larry Page said in a statement in Google's most recent 14-A : "[Monetary] incentives are secondary to career growth, work environment, and engaging work opportunities. We seek to develop a highly motivated and collaborative workforce that pursues achievements for the sake of progress and innovation." - to many at Google that is balance.

    Just my toonies worth.

    Reply
  • Posted by Ted Gonder
    Mitch Joel

    This post helped inspire me to work through Saturday evening! =D

    Also, there's a typo in the third-to-last sentence: "ever" should be "never"

    Reply
  • Posted by Pia
    Mitch Joel

    The brain and the body can only do so much. Balance isn't about what you enjoy to do. It't like only eating steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Family, friends and your life away from work exists for a reason. What will you do when you retire if you never tried to relax? What example are you setting for your kids? What about your soul that needs to be bored sometimes to reflect and grow?

    /Pia

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    For most people, the interpretation of "Work/Life Balance" means separation of activities, hours and people into either work OR friends & family.

    My whole life, well-intentioned people who clearly think a lot less than I do, have always said: "Debbie, you think too much!". As though I could possibly stop thinking about this fascinating, exhilarating, creativity & passion triggering work that EARNS my income, reputation and builds my business! Work is where my brain plays with numbers, statistics and relationships and empowers everything I want in my personal life.

    I like knowing that choosing to work more hours to add to my expert skills, contact list and current capabilities, usually results in me hitting milestones earlier than my peers. Completing right work hours earlier = milestone achievement earlier.

    Same thing as social media, most of the time.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    I think that if you think of your work as your passion, or your art, there really is no separation.

    Reply
  • Posted by Daria Steigman
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    I agree with you; it's always about tradeoffs and understanding (and owning) the choices you make. I like the concept of work/life blend, because I think it mirrors the way we live our increasingly connected lives.

    Plus it only has to work for you (and family/friends). Everyone else can own their own version of work, life, balance, blend.

    Reply
  • Posted by bob thompson
    Mitch Joel

    Work/Life balance is only an issue for people who dont like either part of that equation.

    Reply
  • Posted by Peter Nicholls
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch's article is getting close to the mark. I invite you to read my article "Why Work Life Harmony is Better than Work Life Balance" http://www.workleisure.com/personal/my-views/84-why-work-life-harmony-is-better-than-work-life-balance.html.

    It's about getting a harmonious blend of energy-burning and energy-generating interests. You can deficit budget energy but you cannot deficit budget time. It's great to be engaged in your work (as I am), just don't get married to the job!

    Reply
  • Posted by Lance Binley
    Mitch Joel

    The one constant in all of our lives is time (the measurement of distance) which can not be changed. You life is a summary of all the choices that you have made. When it ends (not if), that is what it will be. Rather than balance, I like the view of choices. Make decisions and be happy with them, because that is your legacy.

    Reply
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