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Nobody actually wants a "Work-Life Balance"

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

You read that right.

What we really want -- and need, as humans -- is a work-play life which, as far as I know, no one else is talking about.

Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Play Life

The conventional idea of "work-life balance" implies a clear distinction between our professional and personal lives: there's "work" and then there's our real "life" that's separate from work.

In other words, we are conditioned to believe that work is separate from our true selves or the lives we'd prefer to live. And this is the first issue. This perspective fosters a mindset where work is seen as a necessary burden (maybe we enjoy it and maybe we don't) rather than a source of fulfillment. Work, then, evolves into something we have to endure to afford the time and resources to enjoy life outside of it.

This relationship with "work" contradicts human nature and human design. This relationship with work leads, I believe, to some of our depression, anxiety, resentment, dissatisfaction, lack of a sense of purpose. Further, we have found ourselves in a cultural trap in which the time we spend at "work" is not our time. (I'll go into more detail, and the research behind the relationship between work and time, in the next blog post.)

On the other hand, the "work-play life" blurs the boundaries between work and play, infusing elements of joy, curiosity, and purpose into everything we do. It's about shifting our mindset to acknowledge that our work can be an extension of our play, and our play can be a wellspring of creativity and inspiration for our work. No matter what you do for a living or as a primary source of income, I believe re-imagining your relationship with "play" can fundamentally and positively shift your relationship with "work" and improve your life.

I promise to keep this series practical.

So What Do I Mean By "Play"?

Look, I know that you're thinking it's easy for an artist to advocate for "play"-infused work. Please know these insights come from my experiences as a former teacher of high school students (who are becoming more and more disengaged); a parent of teenagers (who are wondering when adults will figure out that the jig is up and they're not going to play along with our ridiculous "work-life" approach much longer); and a six-fig administrator in high-stress, high-stakes professional/corporate settings.

Humans are Wired to Play

Humans are wired to be curious, to create, to wonder, to go down rabbit holes looking for answers, to discover solutions. This is "play". We're born with insatiable curiosity and that curiosity requires play in order to arrive at answers. "What if?" "What then?" "Why?" You know what I'm talking about if you've spent any time around children.

And you know, also, how quickly we are conditioned to stop asking questions, stop being so inconveniently curious, stop taking things apart, stop making messes, stop veering from the plan, stop, Stop, STOP.

This conditioning follows us into adulthood, into conference rooms, into strategic planning sessions, board rooms, you name it. By the time we're "adulting" and in careers, so many of us are afraid to wonder, be curious, ask questions, try a different approach, dismantle things, exercise creative muscles, play. In other words, solution-find.

Think about this for just a moment: No matter what you do for a living, there is an element of problem-solving involved. And I would guess that you are most satisfied "at work" when you're able to problem-solve or solution-find on a micro or macro level on any given day. And that means that you're most satisfied when you're engaged in an act of creativity, of play.

Some of what I'll say might ruffle your feathers a bit. Notice when that happens. Or if something I offer feels impractical. I imagine it'll boil down to mindset. So, here we go. Consider this the first invitation to reconsider your mindset about work (not just in the professional environment but in your personal world). When we approach our work as an act of creativity (solution-finding), rather than a mere task, I think we open ourselves up to a more nuanced relationship with purpose.

  1. Rediscovering Curiosity: Embracing a work-play life means approaching each task with a sense of wonder and curiosity, as if we were exploring uncharted territories. It's about asking ourselves, "How can I make this process enjoyable? What can I discover along the way?"

  2. Fostering Innovation: When we incorporate playfulness into our work, we create a nurturing environment for innovation. Play encourages us to take risks, experiment, and think outside the box, leading to groundbreaking ideas and breakthroughs.

  3. Nurturing Passion: By infusing passion into our work, we develop a deep emotional connection to what we do. Passion fuels our perseverance and determination, making challenges easier to overcome. (I'll talk a bit more about this in the next blog post, too.)

  4. Cultivating Mindfulness: Engaging in a work-play life demands that we be present in the moment, fully immersed in the joy of the process. This mindfulness helps reduce stress and anxiety, allowing us to produce higher quality work.

The Impact on Mental and Emotional Health

I believe choosing a work-play life over a traditional work-life balance has significant implications for our mental and emotional health. When work is no longer seen as an isolated burden but an integrated part of our personal growth and happiness, the benefits are numerous:

  1. Reduced Burnout: Integrating play into our work routine alleviates the risk of burnout. It becomes easier to maintain a sustainable pace when we find joy in what we do.

  2. Enhanced Creativity: Playfulness stimulates our imagination and creativity. When we're open to exploring and experimenting, we unlock new dimensions of innovation and solution-finding.

  3. Heightened Productivity: Contrary to what one might expect, a work-play life often leads to increased productivity. When we're excited about our work, we naturally become more focused and efficient.

  4. Improved Relationships: Embracing play in our lives spills over into our interactions with others. We become more approachable, compassionate, and collaborative, nurturing healthier relationships.

A work-play life is not about abandoning responsibilities or neglecting the importance of practical matters. It's about integrating joy, curiosity, and purpose into more aspects of our lives. As humans, embracing this philosophy can unlock new paths toward innovation and lead to a more fulfilling and balanced existence.

I've made this "work-play life" phrase up and this concept is inspired by my own professional experiences and personal observations.

This is a three-part series that'll dig into all of that:

  • Part 1 is an introduction to the concept.

  • Part 2 will dig into the research-based evolution of our relationship with time and work.

  • Part 3 offers tangible and practical tips to shift towards a work-play life, regardless of what you do as a primary source of income.

I hope you'll find this series inspiring in a way that's right for you.

Let me know what you think. What questions does this raise for you? What resonates?

I'm looking forward to navigating through these waters with you.


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