“Work-life balance” is such a cliche that it’s inspired it’s own anti-cliche, namely, that “you can have it all, just not at one time.”
I don’t particularly like either phrase. The problem with “work-life balance” is that it’s usually a code word for working less (often part-time), which is not only not a big win for most employers, it also requires a very strange perception of numbers. With 168 hours in a week, if you sleep 8 per night (56 per week) and work 40, that leaves 72 for other things. That certainly seems closer to “balance” than working 20 and leaving 92 hours for other things.
This also hints at the problem with the other phrase, too. Maybe you can’t have it “all” at one time if you define “all” very broadly to include not only a fulfilling career and personal life, but also 8 course dinners you cook every night, a spotless home you personally cleaned, sewing all your own clothes, etc. But if you only want a career and a personal life, why not? 168 hours is a lot of time.
Anyway, I was thinking about these things while reading a rather bracing attack on day-to-day “balance” on a website called Fashion Low Down. The blogger (Jen Dziura) had read 168 Hours, and writes that, for the young and sprightly, it’s best to think about balance over your entire life. That is, if you ever plan to retire, then you’d better bust your butt now. If you want to take any time to dial down to care for children, maybe working 15 hours a week, then you’d better work 60 now. After all, “Sites like Guru and Elance are full of moms looking for a way to make money part-time from home; many of them are offering to be your virtual assistant, competing with people in India charging $5 an hour. The prospects are not great. If you want to work part-time from home, best to set that up before you get pregnant. You need to be so in-demand that reducing the supply of your labor actually drives up prices; you want your skills to be so valuable to others that people will take whatever small slice of you they can get, even if it means you work online in the middle of the night when your kid’s asleep.”
You don’t get to be so in demand by screwing around, the blogger writes (actually, she uses stronger language). But as she points out, there is plenty of time to work hard and have a life. I’d say you can work hard and have a life at any stage, but still… Food for thought!