It was a dramatic week for my work-life balance google alerts. Truth be told, I don’t love the phrase work-life balance. I don’t think it captures what we are trying to achieve when we think about feeling good, leading fulfilling lives, and succeeding in the workplace. However, since most of the world uses the phrase to talk about all matter of issues around work and wellness, I’ve got a google alert for it.
This week had a few particularly juicy nuggets. Last week, The New York Times featured a profile of Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill in its Men’s Style section. The article, titled “How One Silicon Valley CEO Masters Work-Life Balance,” was…problematic. You see, Chris is a super-healthy, super-productive CEO. He meditates and works out every day before work, AND he spends time with his family (almost) every Saturday. I don’t know if you can call that “mastering work-life balance.”
Thankfully, CEO (and mom) Amy Nelson wrote a very articulate response to the Times article flagging the rather unbalanced reality of O’Neill’s schedule, and the blatant omission of his partner, who (we can only imagine) assumes the majority of parenting and household responsibilities.
I certainly don’t fault O’Neill for failing to have a true balance of work and life. (Who does?) But either O’Neill or the Times neglected to mention the support system around him, be it a partner, nanny, or housekeeper, who makes it possible for him to 1) spend so much time at work and 2) make time every day for those workouts. I admire O’Neill’s commitment to his own health, but he doesn’t seem too concerned with the health of his relationships. That, to me, is not true wellness.
When I talk about work + wellness, I’m talking about something much more comprehensive than balancing eating well and exercising regularly with the demands of a career. Wellness requires care for the body and mind, attention to our relationships, an exploration of what helps us and what harms us, and an understanding of how we move through and impact the world. Wellness is about being curious and open to growth. It’s a continuing journey towards better caring for ourselves and the world around us. I know it sounds like a lot (and a lot woo woo), but don’t let it overwhelm you. It’s a process, not a destination.
Most of us have to work, but most of us would work even if it wasn’t an economic imperative. Many of us are wildly passionate about our work. That’s a wonderful thing! When you’re passionate about your work, it’s even MORE important to know when you need to pull back because it’s that much easier to get caught up in it. Wellness at work asks you to learn what environments and conditions help you perform at your best and leave you feeling exhilarated instead of exhausted. It challenges you to advocate for yourself and make choices at work and about work that support that end. It might not be balanced, but it should be life-giving.
So, to recap:
Work + wellness = long-term, big-picture, satisfaction and health in all aspects of life and at work
Work-life balance = a short-hand, generally understood phrase that refers to one’s need for a life outside of work, that hasn’t ever really figured out what it is
Which do you really want from your life and career?