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We work an average of 90,000 hours over the course of our lives — and that’s if we’re only working 40 hours a week. This is years and years of working nonstop. Given that we also spend many years of our lives sleeping, doing countless chores and the fact that not all of us are lucky to live long, we’re left with so little time to do the things we actually find meaningful and enjoyable.
This is exactly why the “work-life balance” paradigm often leaves us wondering if we have truly achieved the balance and asking ourselves why we continue to feel exhausted and overwhelmed despite the balance.
The Problem With Work-Life Balance
Life is made up of hours and minutes, so the time you spend at work (and the time you spend checking emails while at home) is your life happening second per second. In other words, we really cannot separate the two. Life is happening while you’re working; you’re working while life is happening.
“Work-life balance” is elusive and faulty. It aims to attract the overworked people who are unhappy with what they do. It’s tempting because it validates our decision to stay in a job we’re not happy in. It tells us that instead of finding job satisfaction, we should just get “life” outside of it. For some, work-life balance starts to sound like “work hard, and party harder” so they clock in and clock out at a job they hate and then compensate for that dissatisfaction with things like retail therapy and expensive vacations.
What if “balance” wasn’t our goal when it comes to work (life) satisfaction? Shouldn’t happiness be holistic? A Reuters survey found that nearly half of all employees are only “somewhat or not at all satisfied with their current job.” If everyone could find lasting satisfaction in their life’s work — and I mean, the satisfaction that’s beyond salary/title/company/benefits — the world would look very different. One can do so by finding meaningful work or finding meaning in the work they do.
Find (or Create) Meaningful Work
The best approach I’ve encountered in finding our raison d’etre vis-à-vis work is Ikigai. Ikigai combines what you love doing with what the world needs, what you’re good at and what can be monetized. Instead of jumping from job to job because they pay well or they’re offering you a great title, salary and benefits, you have to look within to find what it is that you’re called to do. See how you can match it with what is possible or if you can create it.
Truly reflect on what you find meaningful — what you’re put here on Earth for — and think of the possible ways you can be paid for it.
The good news is that we have plenty of options to choose from. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U.S. National Employment Matrix, in 2020, there were thousands of occupations to choose from. In 2030, that number will only rise as our society continues to evolve. If you can’t find one that fits, create one that does. That is the definition of entrepreneurship: the process of discovering new ways of combining resources.
Find Meaning in the Current Work That You Do
Another equally effective way to find satisfaction is to find meaning in what you’re already doing. You should be able to give yourself a convincing answer to the question “Why do you do what you do?” If your answer is that you like the salary, then it won’t give you satisfaction in the long run, especially not when you’ve already saved up enough that more money doesn’t affect your level of happiness.
It doesn’t have to be grand, but it should be meaningful enough for you. What is most important is that career values and efforts match your own values and calling. If you’re an advocate for climate change and you can’t pursue your dream to become an environmental scientist, then maybe it’s great that you’re working for an organization that donates a portion of their earnings to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
If you’re in a deadbeat job that is sucking the life out of you, you should indeed do whatever you need to find something new. But if you do see value in the work you do and how it benefits others, it is good to remind yourself of what your current work offers you, your loved ones and all those on the receiving end of the work you do.
All to say, your time is too valuable to be wasted on work you don’t find meaningful. It certainly shouldn’t be “balanced” by your life in order to make it tolerable. Please do yourself a favor and throw the concept of work-life balance in the trash. Instead, find work that sets your soul on fire, or give your work the soul and value it needs.