Sharing yet another Steve jobs anecdote in 2020 — especially one that involves Jobs himself sharing an anecdote — could be the sign of an unbalanced mind. But I’ll do it anyway because it changed my view on work-life balance. Remember the 2005 Stanford commencement speech?
The Jobs-Life Balance
Jobs shared a quote he read as a teen: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” Jobs explained, “Since [reading that quote], for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
This is what work-life balance means to me: taking time to look in the mirror every day, asking this question, and being willing to recalibrate my commitments if needed.
Passion Versus Proportion
You might say my approach is individualistic. I don’t see any other way. Career goals, skills and work styles differ, and so do definitions of balance — especially in the tech industry. What some call harmony is chaos for others. What I define as “following my passion” could be a one-way ticket to burnout for another.
Finding the right power proportion over one’s personal and working time is hard, but what other choice do we have? The ground may be constantly shifting beneath our feet, but it’s ours to walk on — we can’t exactly fly.
So we wing it. We go from week to week and life stage to life stage pursuing very different notions of balance. Sometimes the boundaries are more fluid, and that’s fine! My experience as both a serial entrepreneur and husband and parent has shown me there is more to private life and work than a constant, even split between the two.
Is Work-Life Balance a Question of Style?
In addition to varying circumstances, varying work styles also affect our approach to work-life balance. The microworkers among us prefer bite-sized portions of work interspersed with private life. Entrepreneurs, meanwhile, pour all their life force into their profession.
Between these two extremes lie countless variations of striking a balance between work and private life.
But which version of balance is right for us? And how do we escape the conundrum of a choice between either separating our professional fulfillment from our personal fulfillment or insisting that work and life are one and the same?
Hanging in the Balance
These questions are important, but they mask a deeper problem: the role of chaotic and inefficient organizations in tipping employees’ scales toward work-life imbalance. Long hours might not be a problem for you, but how do you deal with higher-ups who mismanage your time? Most professionals can meet their deadlines, show up for their kids’ games, cook dinner and spend time with their partner. To be happy, they need the freedom to manage their own schedule, which is essential to striking a personal balance.
Executives are blind to this issue, but talent is not, as the abysmal retention rates of companies in crisis shows. Firms that want to solve this problem in the long term should replace incompetent managers and allow their workers to customize their schedules and responsibilities.
The demand for flexible working will only grow in the coming decade. Constant connectivity and hustle culture have tipped talk of work-life balance toward the life end of the scale. Men are taking a more egalitarian approach to organizing family life, and women are demanding greater flexibility and paid maternity leave. More companies are prioritizing the needs of their workers over shareholder demands.
Work-Life Balance: Great for Balance Sheets
I address work-life balance in my company partly by minimizing the distance between the home environment and the office. Others, such as Slack, keep offices intentionally barren to encourage teams to “Work Hard and Go Home.”
Definitions of balance differ among companies and industries (sound familiar?). But if organizations want to survive and thrive, they will have to put people first — profits will follow. A growing body of evidence indicates that higher quality of life for employees boosts the bottom line.
If that’s the case — that companies are stronger when people are stronger — a version of work-life balance that “works” both for businesses and the individuals who power them is not just attainable, but also ideal.
But how do we get there? Certainly not by chasing a myth.
Shouldering Burdens, Sharing Responsibility
Instead of striving for the perfect balance between life and work, which, by definition, is in constant flux, we should be more like Steve Jobs: We must look in the mirror every day and ask ourselves, “What’s really important to me? Who is really important to me? How do I create a situation in which I excel at my job without failing at my life — and excel at my life without failing at my job?”
If the answers come up hollow, it’s time to change something.
Brutal self-honesty, combined with a carefully calibrated company culture and better recruitment, can free us from the cycle of trying, and failing, to achieve balance.
Without an ideal to strive for, our lives would forever be at the mercy of executive whims, thoughtless leaders and unconscientious coworkers. On the company side, there would be no incentive to empower workers to live healthier lives.
We could continue to ignore reality and pretend that work-life balance doesn’t matter.
But the alternative — doing the work that lets us live our lives to the fullest — is so much better for everyone, even if it’s based on a fantasy.
– Article originally published on Forbes.com