Here at Engage Me, we’re not big fans of the term “work-life balance”, it implies that work sits on the opposite side of some imaginary giant scale to life. In reality, purpose-filled work can be a rich and rewarding part of life.
It is, however, important not to let work completely dominate your life. Getting that right isn’t always easy, which is why we’ve put together this compilation of TED Talks on how to take a completely different approach to the idea of work-life balance.
Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success
There are a number of myths that underpin society and the world of work. Among the most prevalent are that everyone is equally capable of achieving success and that life’s “winners” have achieved what they have based on merit. Except, that’s not really the case. In this video, philosopher Alain de Botton argues that the first step to a healthy work/life balance is to disabuse ourselves of the notions that we can be successful at everything. Pretending that we can only adds to that stress, especially when you factor in that our ideas of success are often not our own.
Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work
In this talk, given at TedX Sydney in 2010, author and marketer Nigel Marsh offers a scathing critique of the information around work-life balance we’re fed on a daily basis. He describes it as “so much rubbish,” adding that:
“All the discussions about flexi-time or dress-down Fridays or paternity leave only serve to mask the core issue, which is that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family”.
The situation isn’t entirely hopeless though and Marsh believes that we must take control and responsibility for the kind of lives we want to lead. He also says that “we have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which to judge our balance” and that we have to approach “balance in a balanced way”.
The trick, he says, is to remember that it’s the small things that matter.
Scott Dinsmore: How to find work you love
One of the underlying reasons there’s so much content generated around work-life balance is that most people don’t like their jobs. They view work as something they have to do in order to fulfil a certain set of expectations. Importantly, they see it as being distinct from life. Except it doesn’t have to be like that. Work can be an important and rewarding part of your life.
In this talk, Scott Dinsmore uses his own experiences trying to find a job as an example of how other people can do the same.
When work and life aren’t on opposite sides of the scale, then they cease to be things that need to be balanced.
Shonda Rhimes: My year of saying yes to everything
Most advice around work-life balance involves saying “no” a lot. But when Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes found herself “overworked, overused, overdone, [and] burned out”, she took a slightly different approach. For a year she would say “yes” to everything, especially the things that scared her. According to the TV titan, doing so allowed something amazing to happen. “The very act of doing the thing that scared me,” she says, “undid the fear, made it not scary”. But perhaps more importantly, it allowed her to spend more time with her young daughters. Crucial to that was her realisation that their expectations of her were nowhere near as high as her own. The same is most likely true of all of us, and in every sphere of our lives too.
Michelle Ryan: Work-life balance: balancing time or balancing identity?
While most of the talks we’ve highlighted here deal with the general idea of work-life balance, Ryan’s deals with something more complex. For years, she says, we’ve been told that women leave high-powered corporate jobs because work-life balance is more important to them than it is for men, and that they’re unwilling to make the sacrifices men have. While their maybe some truth to that, it turns out the reason is less to do with the fact they’re women than it does to their being systematically exposed to male-dominated environments.
Jason Fried: Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work
Software entrepreneur Jason Fried has a bone to pick with workplaces. Companies, charities and NGOs, he says, all expect their employees to come to a single location and “do great work”. The trouble is, that’s not where people actually go when they really need to get something done.
They go to quiet rooms in their houses or to coffee shops, or they do all their best work on the train while they’re commuting.
“But,” says Fried, “businesses are spending all this money on this place called the office, and they’re making people go to it all the time, yet people don’t do work in the office”.
That’s because offices are full of distractions and interruptions.
Great, but what does that have to do with work-life balance? Well, if people are given more time to do work uninterrupted, then that work is a lot less likely to eat in on other areas of their lives.
Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep
In this video, recorded at TED Women in 2010, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington suggests that we stop idealising sleep deficit and being overly busy. Instead, she argues that in order to be truly productive, we owe it to ourselves to get a good night’s sleep.