Notes on the Work – Life Balance

Sometimes it feels like life really is a selection of onions, where you’re learning the same lessons over and over again for each lesson-onion while you gain that little smudge of wisdom from peeling back each failure-layer.

Recently I failed at the work-life balance onion. I worked and worked and worked, becoming more and more sick and unfulfilled, until something had to change. So I peeled back a layer and started afresh with that little bit of extra wisdom, which I’m sure will last me for another short time before I go out of balance again and need to learn another lesson.

It’s complicated, life is.

Anyway, this post was inspired by an article on Philip Bloom’s blog. In it, Philip talks about the ‘elusive work/life balance’, and how several things including the death of a close friend prompted him to reevaluate how much time he currently spends working:

I let my work get in the way of the important things in life…I am guilty as hell now he has gone

Philip Bloom is a great man, a true authority in the camera world and someone who has found their calling and pursues it with passion and depth. And I’m someone who places a great amount of importance on your calling in life. So it moved me to hear how he wants to do less work. It validated my intuition to stop working so much, and allowed me to follow that instinct instead of keeping my head to the grindstone because I might not ‘fulfill my purpose’ or ‘miss out on the satisfaction that comes from following one’s passion’.

Since this realisation I’ve spent more time with family and friends and reading fiction and doing all the things that’d normally make me feel guilty for ‘not doing something useful/important with my time’. And it’s been simply marvellous.

What Should You Do With Your Life?

Cal Newport he talks of a student who ‘loves’ two different subjects and can’t choose between them, so is choosing to do both. The student asks whether it’d be better to focus on one subject. This is Cal’s response:

From an objective perspective, what does it mean for a second semester freshman to “love” electrical engineer or mathematics? At best, it means he enjoyed a handful of courses on the topic and/or thinks it sounds interesting.

To feel real passion for an academic subject…requires years of honing your craft. Until then, you’re pursuing an idealized simulacrum.

The reason why I love this response is that instead of treating young people and students as if they should have everything figured out, it takes the pressure off by saying:

“Hey, you’re young and pretty stupid and aren’t going to just know what you’re meant to be doing in this world, so relax and enjoy yourself and just pursue something that interests you. If you work hard and are nice to people then it’ll all fall into place.”

Or, less frankly – and perhaps inaccurately – put:

The obvious advice to this student, then, is to choose one of these topics that interest him and then invest the time necessary to learn the craft and develop a true connection to the material.

Source: The Student Passion Problem – Cal Newport