When Work and Life Mix

Something about this blog entry from the Harvard Review really bothered me. It’s this paragraph that really seemed over the edge and made me wonder if this was irony:

Technology has not ruined your work-life balance, it has simply exposed how boring your work and your life used to be. Did you ever try to figure out why it is so hard to stop checking your smartphone, even when you are having dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, celebrating your anniversary, watching a movie, or out on a first date? It’s really quite simple: None of those things are as interesting as the constant hum of your e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter account. Reality is over-rated, especially compared to cyberspace. Technology has not only eliminated the boundaries between work and life, but also improved both areas.

I worry that the “constant hum” of the Internet does interfere with our personal lives, and I try to take at least one “sabbath” day when I disconnect from media in general. A day that goes unreported on Facebook or Flickr, a day when I connect with reality, no matter how over-rated it might be. I bake and sew and read an analog book off the shelf.

I do that because I do worry about the work/life balance. I need to take a break from my work because I have other passions and communities that require attention. And taking a break is sometimes the best way to a great, new idea, or the solution to a nagging problem. But, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic goes on to describe an idea that I’ve been considering lately. He calls it the difference between a job and a career, I called it the difference between a job and work:

People who have jobs, rather than careers, worry about work-life balance because they are unable to have fun at work. If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. If you are always counting the number of hours you work (e.g., in a day, week, or month) you probably have a job rather than a career. Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both. A true career isn’t a 9-5 endeavor. If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work-life balance when you can have work-lifefusion?

I was attracted to the idea of work-life fusion. But as long as having a career means also having a job, this fusion will be difficult to achieve. You have to be somewhere for 40 hours and then put in another 40 hours in your “free time.” If you are active for about 15 hours a day, that leaves you 25 hours per week or 3.5 hours a day. And what do you do? Spend it commuting.

I think a work-life fusion can only happen truly successfully when your work and your life take place in the same location where you control both when and how you work.

I agree with the writer that work and career isn’t about the number of hours you work or are supposed to work, but it’s about being able to distribute those hours in ways that make sense for you. Develop the “fluid” approach described by Melanie Pinola, feature in Lifehacker’s How We Work series. Somehow it doesn’t seem like you’re working 80 hours when you can divide them up between family or other passions. And many people will save 2 hours each day just getting to work.

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