What the Hell is “Work Life Balance”?

There are some things you need to unlearn.

We all got fooled into liking bacon. The father of modern marketing and nephew of psychologist Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, created a campaign for the Beech-Nut Packing Company to help them get rid of the pig parts they were throwing away. Bernays marketed those waste parts as a breakfast luxury, and bacon was born.

This is the same guy who made us all believe that water fluoridation and cigarettes were healthy, by the way.

Don’t worry, my beef is not with bacon, today (that made sense, right?).  My beef is with another far more destructive idea – work life balance.

Bernays did not sell you the “work life balance” lie that you believe today, but he might as well have, because it was sold to you by people who study his methods.


The work-life concept originated in the 1800s but was used very differently then it is today.  The idea then was that achieving optimal happiness required as little segregation between work and play as possible.  It was not “balance,” it was union that was the goal.

For true happiness your work and play should be one and the same.

Today’s work life balance concept strays far from this idea.  The thought emerged in the UK and was popularized in the 70’s and 80’s, when there was a growing concern around stress and mental health issues amongst individuals that strongly associated their life with work.

“come join our company! We have a great work-life balance.” – Company X

Ever heard that one? This idea was definitely a step in the right direction in the 80’s, but still miles from the goal of work-play union.  It was a well crafted way to say, “hey, we still want you to give us your life, but unlike your parents we will let you have a little fun too.”

The work life balance may have been relevant for a generation without computers and the internet, but it simply does not apply in the modern world.


As much as I wish we lived in the 80’s, we don’t. Wham! isn’t pumping out of every car radio, no one asks “where’s the beef!?” and B.A. Baracus isn’t our favorite TV character anymore.

New technologies lead to culture shifts. We are moving into a culture that integrates work and everything else more fully – there is no such thing as separation of work and life any more.

This might not hold true for the few unskilled labor jobs that are still out there, like your Wal-Mart cashier, etc. These jobs will exist in their 1950’s, per hour format for a long time to come, but for a large majority of the middle class, the relationship between work and life needs to change.

There is one workforce that has figured this out already: the workforce that drives employment for the unskilled labor in the rest of the world.  This is the C-suite, management and consultant class.

These people are working from their vacation homes in the Bahamas, while they are on the gym treadmill, in spurts between yoga classes and picking up the kids from soccer. They are no longer asking the boss for the right to telecommute – telecommuting and remote productivity are now prerequisites for top jobs.

Above it all, this workforce has found roles to fill that they are passionate about: Work that they find life in.

Forget Balance – Think Unification!

The good folks above realize that their time is completely their own. They give it away to others at their choosing and hold themselves fully responsible for achieving their own level of success.  They know they only have one life and every moment spent off purpose is a moment wasted.  So even their work, must resonate with who they are and what they love to do.

These people work when they need to, while they live life, and fill the rest of the open moments with personably enjoyable activities. It’s hard to define that as work at all.  One of my mentors once told me:

“find the man that does what he loves, and you’ll find the man that’s never worked a day in his life.”

Why would you not join this class of people? Why are you stuck in the limited mindset that the mere notion of accepting a two dimensional balance gives you? Don’t balance work with life – reduce it. Then exchange meaningless activity with work that you are passionate about, and just live life.

Forget balance! Work play union is what you’re looking for.

Now What?

“okay, I get it.  I need to unify work and play. But, how do I even start to do that?”

That’s a great question.  You can start by really clarifying what you love to do and find out how to do more of it –  clarity, being the key idea in that statement.

A simple (but revealing) exercise that I suggest to every one of my clients is what I call an “anti-depression list.” It is a list of 20 things that you love to do.  For Example:

  1. I love to spend time with friends and family
  2. I love to read a good book
  3. I love to dance
  4. I love to drink good tequila (don’t judge me)

The list itself is not all that important, but once you get to 20 you will be able to go back through and decipher themes and commonalities.  Comb back through the list of 20 and for each answer then ask yourself “why do I love to do this?”

You will be surprised how deep this simple process can take you.

If you know anyone whose stuck in the mentality of finding “work life balance,” send them this article to shake them up a bit. And for more eye opening, real world, advice please head over to zanderfryer.com





Written by Zander Fryer

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