I like to think there is no such thing as work / life balance. I tell myself there is only life, and how I choose to spend it. All three of the above authors have made some great points about work / life balance, with my personal opinion landing the closest to Bubs, but I thought I'd add my two cents since this is a topic that I'm interested in.
The choices we make about our time determine the emotional response to the experiences we have. Therefore, it's important to do what we love while enjoying contrasting experiences, and creating good habits as part of a whole and harmonious life.
Do What You Love
In his book, Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert discusses the subjectivity of our human experiences. Each of us experiences the same thing with differing levels of emotional response. Therefore, It's important for each of us to determine what brings us joy, and then do those things, realizing it's subjective to us and our joy is not necessarily other people's joy.
Since we must earn an income to support ourselves, we should choose to earn an income doing something that brings us joy. Doing something you love for any length of time yields great achievement. Here's a quote that sums it up:
"People think I'm disciplined. It is not discipline. It is devotion. There is a great difference."
This man obviously loves to sing, so he sings and he's become wealthy as a result. First and foremost he's doing what he loves.
As designers, coders, and startup people, most of us were drawn to this field because we love it - I like to remind myself that it's a blessing getting to look forward to work every day, even though I might be incredibly focused (read: unbalanced) for months at a time while working toward a launch. It brings me joy.
The Importance of Contrast
Also in Stumbling On Happiness is the notion that feelings of happiness spike during experiences that contrast one another. If you eat your favorite food every meal for 30 days, it will likely no longer be your favorite food, but, if you then eat something different on the 31st day, even a slice of buttered toast, the contrast effect will be blow-your-mind delicious.
The same goes for any life experience as it does for food.
So, if you want continual feelings of happiness, then break your time into highly contrasting chunks. The duration of the chunks is up to each of us, as we experience things subjectively. Coding for months on end and launching a product creates a contrast that is blow-your-mind enjoyable.
Habit = Achievement
Stephen Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People - I recommend it. An idea he presents is that we are the sum total of our habits. What we do determines who we are and what we accomplish.
This is key, because accomplishments create a form of long lasting happiness, more akin to satisfaction. Satisfaction is not the happiness spike that contrasting experiences create, but a deeper lasting happiness. Each of us has a different idea of what valuable accomplishments look like, so it's important to know what you value and habitually do those things.
Mediocrity suggests we spend X amount of time trying to pay our bills and then the rest of the time is our life, aka "we work to live". Sayings like this create the notion that work is separate somehow from our real life. I love Darius' take on this:
"To call it a balance implies two sides of a scale where too much weight on one side, tips the other. To struggle for balance is to struggle for equal attention to things at odds with each other. How I choose to run my life is to strive not for balance, but for harmony."
If you view your work as something different than your real life, then you'll be constantly trying to find balance, but if you view your work as an experience that leads to accomplishment, to be contrasted by other experiences that make up the sum of your life, then you are free to relish each experience, including your work. You will also take greater responsibility over your work, as it's a meaningful part of your harmonious life and not just the time between your "real" life.
Jon Crawford closed his article with this, and it resonates with me as well:
"Building a long-lasting, strong company that makes a difference in people's life is one of the things I want to do while I'm on this earth. So I'm willing to put in a lot of effort to pursue that life goal. I don't have the work-life balance thing perfected, but I think the best founders don't see a clear distinction between the two."
If you want to be a great founder, or human being, then discover what you value, what brings you joy, and then create habits that move you closer to those things. Throw some contrast in there to keep your happiness spiking, and you'll be on the path to greatness.
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