2 min read

The empty promise of work-life balance

Do we need to accept that sometimes we can't have it all?

Is something broken?

As adults, we become pros at accepting life the way it is. What else is there to do? Complaining is of no use, and change is often not under our control. But perhaps we also need to recognise when something is broken, so we may understand how to deal with it.

I’ll tell you why I’m having these thoughts: I left my job recently, and I’ve been enjoying the quiet pleasures of a life without employment. It is not a life without work: I am still working, but admittedly doing so at my own pace. That means I get to stay up with a friend at 4 am, or take a day off in the middle of the week to deal with personal stuff.

These privileges feel like they’re unfair: that in real life, this will not be possible. I know how to live a good life, and I know how to work. To do those things together seems to be the challenge. The real battleground of adult life seems to be: how do I live my best life while holding down a job?

If you grew up watching the TV show Friends like I did, you were all too aware of the drastic loophole in the show: it painted a beautiful picture of adult life filled with community and love and humour, except that none of the friends worked much. Joey might not feel like playing fireball with Chandler if he was really working 5 days a week.

The real battleground of adult life seems to be: how do I live my best life while holding down a job?

As we fail at our ideals in adulthood, there is a lingering feeling within each of us that we’re not doing it quite right. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time for everything: work, friends, relationships, self-reflection. It’s easy to believe that’s your fault, that if you had just woken up earlier or gone for that run that you would have the time and energy to do it all.

While we must accept life the way it is, it can also be comforting to recognise that we live in a system that's broken, that it's often not our fault that we can't do everything well. This article by The School of Life helped me feel calmer about all the things I fail to do. If you feel like you’re always falling behind, it might have the same effect on you.

Here’s a quote that’s particularly powerful:

Capitalism does not place the longings and aspirations of the labour force at the heart of its operations (the clue as to its essential concerns lie in its name). It wasn’t made to ensure that we had secure, good lives, plenty of time off and pleasant relationships with our families; it was made to maximise shareholder return.

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