Work-Life Balance Is An Elusive Idea

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Illustration via Don Campbell.
Illustration via Don Campbell.

At the core of the issue of a healthy work-life balance lies the question of what constitutes a valuable life.

Is it the life dedicated towards an endeavor, a goal an ambition and their realization or the one geared towards balancing ones ambitions with more spiritual aspirations, such as the pursuit of love, friendships and general human relationships? And is the former necessarily exclusive of the latter?

The answer to this question is, it depends. According to the Harvard Business Review, there is no such thing as a perfect work-life balance:

Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal and at worst a complete myth, today’s senior executives will tell you. But by making deliberate choices about which opportunities they’ll pursue and which they’ll decline, rather than simply reacting to emergencies, leaders can and do engage meaningfully with work, family, and community.

The key thing is to define what success means for you. In their research, HBR asked what people mean when they think about professional and personal success. And this what they discovered.


It seems that for a lot of people, there is value being placed on career achievement and rewarding relationships. The question always is whether this is achievable. In 2013, The New York Times published a long piece investigating how mothers in high-level positions in Wall Street are navigating this issue. And the answer they came up with was that, increasingly, their husbands are making the decision to stay at home and take of their children to allow their spouses to flourish in such demanding positions.

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From the story:

These marriages are Wall Street-specific experiments in money, work, family and power. In interviews, dozens of couples provided field notes on their findings.

Many discovered that even with babysitting and household help, the demands of working in finance made a two-career marriage impossible. The arrangement can be socially isolating, they said, leaving both partners out of a child-rearing world still full of “Mommy and Me” classes. The couples told of new questions of marital etiquette, like who makes the big financial decisions or buys the wife’s jewelry when she makes upward of a million dollars a year and the husband earns little or nothing.

Therefore, it seems, to have a successful career and achieve the kind of balance requires an element of sacrifice. And for some couples at least, it means one spouse, giving up their professional aspirations for the realisation of their partner’s. Which means that the idea of a perfect work-life balance is still an elusive idea, as it has always been. But that does not mean we should stop trying to aspire for one.

Reviewed by Vlad Odobescu

One Comment on “Work-Life Balance Is An Elusive Idea”

  1. Very interesting facts and figures! I’m kind of surprised that most people believe that professional success have individual achievements over making a difference in the world. I am happy to see that most people believe that personal success is having rewarding relationship, which means that people still value their time with family and friends.

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