I recently wrote about the point between contentment and ambition, and touched–briefly–on the idea of work-life balance. Basically, I said balance is important. You stray too far to one side, and you lose yourself.
My colleague and friend, Bradley, read this and pointed me to another concept: that of work-life harmony. This is an idea espoused by Jeff Bezos, who dislikes the term. I think it’s worth quoting in whole from the Business Insider article:
“This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in,” he said. “I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.”
Instead of viewing work and life as a balancing act, Bezos said that it’s more productive to view them as two integrated parts. “It actually is a circle. It’s not a balance,” Bezos said.
Bezos said that the relationship between his work life and personal life is reciprocal, and that he doesn’t compartmentalize them into two competing time constraints.
“If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy,” said Bezos. “And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who, as soon as they come into a meeting, they drain all the energy out of the room … You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.”
I like this. A lot. Part of the reason I like this is because “harmony” invokes the idea of music. Life is a song, with various parts and instruments coming together to form some greater whole: a piece of masterful music. There may be different movements within that larger song, moments where one instrument or melody comes to the fore, but it can all string together effortlessly. This image of life is lovely, with work and life in lock-step with each other, each lending to the other a great deal of movement and progression.
Balance, by contrast, evokes more severe images: the scales of justice, or just a waiter at Olive Garden trying to juggle far too many drinks on that tray of theirs.
The one caveat, perhaps, is understanding this: some jobs are enjoyable, engaging, and energizing. Some jobs allow for flow. Some jobs lend themselves to a harmonious combination of work and life. But not all do. Balance can be a more apt metaphor when one’s job is draining or drugery. Ideally, someone could just leave their job in that case for a better one, but that’s not always possible–something Jared Spool, a UX Designer I admire, points out in a recent article.
Still, I think harmony is the ideal. It’s a lovely image, a life akin to music, “the shorthand of emotion” (as Tolstoy put it).