A Balancing Act

Posted on August 22, 2022

A scale with a man in a suit on one side and that man with a woman on the other side

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Shane Stone, sr. management to Scottsdale’s City Manager
Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn

What I’m Listening to: John Summit stole the end of summer for me

What I’m Reading: “The WEIRDest People in the World” by Joseph Henrich

What I’m Watching: 4 Blocks on Prime Video

Although some may think it is the motto of my generation, the phrase “work-life balance” has always struck me wrong. First of all, why do I always hear it in the order of work then life? Much worse, it’s too often framed around a negative outlook on work and results in only reducing the burden of work. Work-life balance, in its current form, promises fulfillment and joy but can easily deliver neither if we only do a simple accounting of the hours we spend connected or disconnected to our professional life.

Why should we find balance in the first place? Because most of us want a meaningful multi-faceted existence, and that means balancing multiple identities. I want to be a good husband and a well-cultured fun guy, but I also want to be a difference maker that improves communities through the magical thing that is local government! If I have imbalance, I may start to overstate one of those two identities within my own head and lose touch with the other identity that I need for well-rounded personal fulfillment.

Important Note: The ideas in this Morning Buzz are contingent upon you valuing the work that you do. Otherwise, your work is not going to be fulfilling and I hope that you will take some steps to find something more meaningful to you. I will continue assuming you value your professional contribution to the world, because as local government professionals I really hope that is the case!

A scale with a man in a suit on one side and that man with a woman on the other side

When we talk about balance, naturally weightiness enters the discussion. Our time spent and our experiences, inside and outside of work, have different intensities and for this discussion that is the weight that we should be trying to balance. Please note that work-life balance is about the significance of the experience – not the positivity – more on that to come. Significant experiences can be positive or negative, but neither our work nor our life outside of that work should be so intense that we lose touch with the other part of our existence.

We can classify the things we do by their positivity and intensity, like this…

A graphic categorizing actions by significance and positivity

The shape of the chart is intentional, significant experiences can be very positive or negative, but the less significant things we do (the gray area above) cannot alone fully deliver joy or despair. This graphic depicts two pivotal characteristics of our actions: joy which can be found in the green area, and meaning found in the vibrant colors of the right side. Ultimately both of these things can and should be achieved in both life and work, as evidenced by the very limited examples provided, and that should alter our approach to life-work balance.

The experiences on the right of the graphic are meaningful, they make a difference to me or the people and community around me. The negative ones in the red area may not make me happy, but there is an easy to identify purpose in me doing these things. When I constructively do these things, they will build a better world around me giving my actions purpose.

We all want to be happy and to have good days. If I am in the top of the graphic, then I am going to be joyful. We should recognize the importance and value of that, being joyful is absolutely a personal positive, but it also helps you be in a good state of mind for the more intense and meaningful experiences.

Some hours of work “weigh” more than some hours of life, and others weigh less. The point being, playing Candy Crush for twelve hours a day is not going to balance out even a twenty-hour work week if your job is always intense. With this sort of imbalance of significance, you don’t have an identity outside of work, even if that is where you spend most of your time you will merely be the work that you do. If you want to be more than one thing in life, you have to balance those identities and have some equality in the significance of each. Time is part of the equation, but so is significance.

This reframe is needed because the traditional “work-life balance” assumes an inherent negative of work. Being in local government, we do purposeful work and much of it can be enjoyable, giving us the luxury of personal fulfillment while we make a living. To take full advantage of this there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Do Something Significant Outside of Work – If you are reading this you are invested in your work, and almost certainly doing significant things there. When you aren’t at work, live a full life of personal meaning to balance that out.
  2. Positively Intense Experiences are Great – Anytime you have an opportunity to be in the top-right quadrant (the green pasture) be there. Conversely, avoid the negative and insignificant experiences to the best of your ability, they are a waste of your precious time.
  3. Not Everything is Joyful or Meaningful – While the green pasture is where you want to live sometimes you need a rest, and sometimes you have to get through rough times. Joyful but insignificant moments will bring the recovery that you need, and powering through challenging times is an inevitable truth of life, just take care of yourself.
  4. Remember the Value of Your Work – Do work that you see meaning in and reject the idea that time spent at work is not valuable to you. This is not my way of saying that you should stay at the office past dark every night, remember its about balance, but walk into work every day knowing that you are about to make a difference and let the prophecy self-fulfill!
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