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Why Work/Life Balance is Overrated

We live in a society that works long and hard. On average, we spend about a third of our lives at work, and most of us pedal hard and fast. As technology makes connecting with colleagues as far away as your nearest device, finding a balance between work and life becomes increasingly challenging.

In a recent Huffington Post poll, people were asked how much time they spend disconnected from email. Completely disconnected. No devices, no pinging, no vibrating, no pop-ups. Out of 1200 respondents, 60% reported spending less than two waking hours a day completely disconnected from email. Twenty percent spend less than a half hour disconnected. And it’s not just that email is a time-suck. What used to be email overload has morphed into an addictive, stress-inducing, productivity sinkhole.

Ask 10 people how they feel about professional lives, and only three will tell you that they have fulfilling jobs that are engaging, challenging, personally rewarding and aligned with their talents and skills. According to a 2015 Gallup Poll, more than 70% of Americans are “unhappy, uninspired and disengaged” at work.

How many of them go home to their families feeling happy, inspired, and engaged? Is it even possible to “balance” that kind of negativity in a meaningful way?  And for remote workers, stepping away from the office may seem impossible.

The reality is that work is not separate from life; it is a part of life. It can be a meaningful, rewarding part or it can be a distracting, disruptive part. But trying to compartmentalize work from life and balance them as contrasting forces is an exercise in futility. The human brain just doesn’t work that way. The concept of work/life balance is overrated and incomplete at best.

Forget about finding balance; find your IKIGAI instead.

What is your ikigai? According to the Japanese, we all have one. Pronounced [ikiɡai], it is a Japanese concept meaning "a reason for being." The term ikigai combines two Japanese words, iki(生き) meaning life or being alive and kai(甲斐) loosely translated as one’s reason to get up in the morning. The concept is defined by fundamental elements: passion, mission, vocation, and profession.  That little space where all of these elements converge is where you’ll discover your purpose.

Take a few minutes to find your own ikigai. Grab a clean sheet of paper and your favorite pen. Turn off all of the outside noise and quiet your mind. Think about what you love, what you’re great at, what you’re paid to do each day, and what the world needs. Reflect upon those four elements until you find the intersection in the center. When you’ve found that little space, you’ve found your purpose.

Every day provides a new opportunity to live in that space.

Begin each day asking yourself this question:

What can I do today to be in that meaningful space?

Instead of striving to balance life and work, strive to find the purpose in what you do as a contribution to your life story. That means looking inside yourself to discover what drives you, what you’re passionate about, and how the world benefits from it. And if you can find a way to get paid to do it, you’re golden.

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