The Myth of Work-Life Balance

Tino MantellaBy Tino Mantella

TLG President & CEO

Many of you may have never heard of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet or The Donna Reed Show. These TV hits from the early 50s and 60s personified what many of us understood as having a work-life balance. Those who grew up in this era saw work-life balance as having breakfast and dinner together with their families every night. Come hell or high water, that was the norm. Like separation of church and state, there was separation of one’s job from all else. This wasn’t a far-fetched dream I personally observed families of the 60s, 70s, and beyond practicing the rituals of working from 9am to 5pm and being home by dinner time.

There isn’t anything wrong with having a regimen. People can and often should establish boundaries. Even if one loves their job, however, burning the midnight oil can eventually lead to burnout.

I once had a motivated employee working for me at the New Haven YMCA. This purpose-driven, Yale-educated young man saw it as his mission to save every person living in the Y. So much so that he would work day and night, up to 18 hours a day, for two weeks or more straight. We would try to send him home but then he would find his way back. Then, about once a month, he would fall ill for a week or more. Of course, that’s the antithesis of a work-life balance.


Striking Equilibrium

On the other hand, if someone today tells me they have a work-life balance, I often question their meaning. If one truly loves their work, isn’t that simply part of  life? And, when we only talk about life aside from work, are we saying everything outside our jobs is our life? There are many things I do outside of my job that feel more like work than work itself. Does the theme of work-life suggest that our jobs are only work, and therefore not fun? And outside of work is life, which is fun? That’s a sad thought, in my humble opinion.

When I was the CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, I took several trips to support our marathon runners who were running for us in our “Joints in Motion” program. On a flight to Dublin, Ireland I sat next to an Irish gentleman that shared that “Americans live to work, and the rest of the world works to live”. We argued about it for a bit, but it was his perception.

To me, work and life are one in the same. Why separate them? We should do the things that give us joy. If you have children, don’t miss out on watching them grow. Contribute to their growth. Stay connected with your family and friends that mean a great deal to you, and you to them. Take on big projects that demonstrate your capabilities. Give back!

Technology and today’s accepted norms give many of us a chance to achieve more and miss less small and big opportunities. Work-life balance is a myth but living every minute as best you can be is a worthy goal.



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