@January 21, 2022
There’s a popular notion out there to ridicule work-life balance.
People encourage young people in their 20s to dismiss the idea of work-life balance, because now is the time to progress in your discipline. Now is the time to push hardest for the greatest economic return and economic potential.
Often times, these exhortations are framed in a slightly condescending fashion; rather than illustrating the upside of focusing on one's work, these comments highlight the supposed mediocrity that is a risk of emphasizing work-life balance too early on.
I can't imagine a better example than these tweets here.
These tweets bother me, not merely for their condescension, their lack of evidence, or sophisticated insight. They bother me because they play on a fear that I've long had: of living a mediocre, unremarkable life.
I fear the idea of mediocrity. I've long feared the idea of living an unremarkable life, of living a life that lacks recognition. In fact, I would consider my original character flaw to be unadulterated ambition, which creates this fear.
Recently, my attitude towards this fear has shifted. Correspondingly, my perspective on work-life balance has matured. I want to explain why and how. In doing so, I respond to the hot take artists that ridicule work-life balance by conjuring up a strawman.
First, I’ve come to understand the brevity of life and ephemerality of work. Think hard; do you remember what KPIs you hit last quarter? Watch this Krazam video for a great satire on this topic.
Second, I believe that who I am is more than just what I work on. When I die, it is my family, my kids, my spouse, and my friends that I hope have the fondest memories of me, not my colleagues.
Third, I’ve realized that working more is not the antidote to mediocrity. Relentless focus on defined outcomes of success is. So long as you are clear about what your definition of success is and work devotedly towards it, you will never be mediocre.
As a result of these truths, I see what work-life balance means to me more clearly.
Work-life balance is not merely the idea that work is neglected for the sake of some silly hobbies or for the sake of drinking on Thursday night (as Ale Resnik implies). No.
Work-life balance is the realization that your greatest success is to be the person you seek to be in all facets of your life. Work-life balance is the further realization that this journey comes with real tradeoffs; we cannot be totally ourselves if one facet of our life dominates our time, energy, and space. We cannot be great at work if our relationships cause us stress; we cannot succeed in our relationships if our work monopolizes our time.
By focusing on work-life balance, you do not become mediocre; rather, you accept the reality that you are a total person. From this reality, you allocate action more appropriately. For different people and different seasons of life, this balance and the ensuing action looks different.
I no longer view balance as a sacrifice of my career potential. With balance in mind, I now have a true picture of what career success would make my life meaningful; anything else would involve tradeoffs in other facets of my life I do not want to make. At the same time, knowing how important my work is to me prevents me from making commitments in other facets of my life I cannot keep.
I expect to work towards difficult, meaningful objectives in my work life. Starting a sustainable, impactful, legendary computational biomedicine business is no small feat for me. As a result of work-life balance, how I do that now involves a dose of reality.
I’ll close with a reflection from Shyam Sankar, who wrote the best, most nuanced reflection on work-life balance I’ve been able to find.
Creating the life and the work you want are by no means easy challenges, but they are absolutely attainable...Grit, not virtuosity, will be the biggest determinant of your success