I hate the construct of work-life balance for the same reason I love engineering: the reality is dynamic and generative, not zero-sum. It’s about transcending the constraints of simplistic calculations. Creating the life and the work you want are by no means easy challenges, but they are absolutely attainable. What’s not realistic is thinking you can own your future and be comfortable at the same time. Grit, not virtuosity, will be the biggest determinant of your success, for reasons I’ll explore in a bit.
There is a raging debate on Twitter among the tech cognoscenti about this currently. I have lived through different levels of intensity as I’ve gone through a sabbatical, an intense start-a-startup period, and varying levels of work hours at a few large companies, and I’ve reached the conclusion (for myself) that work vs life is a false dichotomy. They are not the same or even equivalent by any means, but if “work” and “life” are mutually exclusive tradeoffs to be managed rather than a positive feedback loop into each other, it is time to re-assess more fundamental choices. Obviously, we can only have this debate from a position of extreme privilege.
Another term that often comes up along with “work-life balance” is “burn-out”. Burn-out is real, but I strongly believe that spending a lot of time working hard does not burn you out. Instead, burn out happens from spending a lot of time on some inherently unsatisfying to you, or with people you do not like.
I am certainly NOT advocating for working all the time, all your life. Work patterns are changing and we have more control over our choices than humans at any other time in history, and our work patterns should not be what was established at the dawn of the Industrial Age. This is an apt way to put it:
Forty hour workweeks are a relic of the Industrial Age. Knowledge workers function like athletes - train and sprint, then rest and reassess.— Naval (@naval) June 10, 2017