Don’t talk to me about balance

As long as people have a say about the amount of time they spend on work versus other activities, it’s likely they’ll feel they’ve achieved the right work-life balance for them. It really should be a personal choice, and it’s not up to others to judge.

Don't talk to me about balance by Nancy Knowlton

I know that over the years, people have been well intentioned and concerned about me when they have commented on how I was living my life. I presume that they had to build up their courage to express their concerns, because often they began quite timidly and then seemed to gain strength as I acquiesced to their desire to speak their minds. And speak it they did – to them I seemed obsessed with studying, I overdid it on working out and I worked way too much.

Seeking harmony

As time has moved along, language has evolved so that this area has an all-encompassing expression. The phrase work-life balance sounds definitive and irrefutable and has moved into popular usage. Now society overall has an official-sounding phrase to use when assessing lifestyle balance.

Everyone is unique

While others are concerned about my lack of balance, it doesn’t concern me. I feel that my life is in balance, just exactly as I want it. I work as much or as little as I want. If I get up and start work at 4:00 a.m., it’s because I want to. If I work a 12-hour day or even a 15-hour day, it’s because I want to. For me a workday that is skewed to more than 8 hours has been normal and something that I have generally enjoyed.

Old habits

I was like this as a kid, staying on task for prolonged periods of time. When other kids were goofing off, I was working at something – school, sports or a job. In university I worked out and practiced basketball, in the view of at least some, excessively. I will confess to not admitting to having worked Christmas Day in the early days of building a business – and that was what I wanted to do that day.

What appears to be out of balance was actually in balance for me.

Personal choices

Each individual has to determine how to invest time – on work, family, sleep, exercise, etc. Being in control of that decision matters a lot to me, and I presume that it would matter to others as well. I do see a potential work-life balance issue arising in two situations:

  • When others comment on the choices that another makes about the investment of time. Only the individual involved should determine his choices and thus his work-life balance.
  • When an individual has little or no choice about how time is to be invested in certain activities

Building my skills

I don’t believe that I could accomplish anything of significance by putting in a lesser effort. I always need to invest more than a standard 8-hour day at work, including the reading and research that I do to learn more and build on my skills. Malcolm Gladwell commented in his book Outliers: The Story of Success that 10,000 hours is the magic number for true expertise. The sooner that amount of effort is invested, the sooner mastery is attained.

I would venture to say that many people who accomplish something significant would appear to have lives that were heavily oriented to their passions, showing a poor work-life balance. I would also say that they would likely not prioritize what others think and would say that their lives are playing out just fine. I wouldn’t consider mentioning work-life balance to them, and I always appreciate the same courtesy being extended to me.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.