The Great Myth of Balance


The decline of the great religions mean that there are fewer and fewer ‘universal truths’ in our world today, and what few pretenders there are lack the prestige and following of yesteryear’s great maxims.

But if there is a maxim today worthy of the ‘universal truth’ status, it surely must be the widely celebrated notion of ‘work-life balance’.

We are supposed to ‘do what we love’ and to prevent the burdens of the workplace from intruding into our ‘personal lives’. To leave work behind and not to carry it ‘home’. To nurture relationships that are meaningful and deep, which by definition must be external to our daily labours, and uncontaminated by the economic forces that rule our professional lives.


People complain of being ‘burnt out’, and workaholics are looked upon with a mixture of disdain and pity, consigned to statistics of psychiatric health and psychological well-being. Is this some form of modern conceit? After all, in those cultures where written records make it easy to trace the origin of names, we find that ‘what one did for a living’, ‘one’s place in life’ and ‘one’s purpose for living’ were often conflated and deliberately blurred. Hence such names as ‘Hunter’, ‘Baker’, ‘Falconer’, ‘Brewer/Brew’ etc.

And yet, it is curiously in Marxism, that most post-industrially modern of creeds, that we find the most sustained assault on the notion that ‘work’ can be separated from ‘life’. As Erich Fromm extracts from a summary of Marx’s work: “History is….nothing but the self-creation of man through the process of his work and his production.”


The ideals expressed in such maxims as: “dignity in labour”, and “essence through human production” etc. lies within the very bedrock of all the materialist philosophies that accept human centricity in their conception of the world. Labour maketh the man.


There are of course perversions, such as the Nazi taunt that “work makes free”. But the fundamental principle penetrates very deep into any logic that seeks to separate man from the other species.


Which is why even in the supernatural creeds, such as the great Monotheisms, we learn that God worked for six days and on the seventh day, ‘rested’. The proportion is very clear: work is pre-eminent. Man, made in the image of deities, must also respect this proportion, and must mark the Sabbath not in the glorification of ‘rest’, but to give full meaning to WORK. In fact, in the Christian tradition, the Christ appears to condone the extension of labour into the Sabbath itself, strenuously refusing to chastise the Apostles that performed a harvest of grain on the holy day of rest, in defiance of the teachers of the Law.


And when you extend the idea of labour into the broader concepts of ‘vocation’ and ‘duty’, one finds in the Christian eschatology that the Angels and other divine essences ‘worship forever’ before the throne of the Monotheistic Deity. Worship being their vocation, their “life’s work”, they are called upon to do it without ceasing, to work incessantly.


Perhaps, then, a case can be made for ‘fusing work into life’, in much the same way that family law in contemporary times appear to have done for ‘stay at home moms’ and in its reinterpretation of domestic chores. Nowadays, child-rearing, home-tending, and civic duty, have all benefited from such ‘reinterpretation’, notwithstanding the capitalist surge in the production of so-called ‘labour-saving’ devices and advanced democracy’s apathy-inducing side-effects.


Witness therefore not only the transformation of the home into a theater of labour-negotiation, but also, even more intriguingly, the emergence of full-time politicians and civic activists, some of whom now find sufficient means to live off entirely on what were once considered ‘mere passions’.


Which leads to the heart of my concern: the perverse, in my view, morality that the operation of passion works solely in one direction: you must turn into a vocation that which you love already. It seems manifest by the record of contemporary lives that, very often, the key to peace of mind is to COME TO LOVE THAT WHICH YOU MUST DO. That which is your duty and vocation. For your means of livelihood must become your “life’s work”.


To my mind, by no means the sharpest that has contended with this subject, falling in love with your duty is a performance. It requires skill. Skill that must be acquired, through daily practice and perseverance. But, above all, it requires a mind-shift. And that mindshift is the centralisation of work in one’s life. Work must define the being.


The artificial distinctions that have been erected by barefaced gurus have now come to a head in the religious vocations. Some people worry that other people earnestly work themselves into ‘religious ministry’ without a ‘calling’, wrongly construing the labour that attends the organisation of a religious mission as non-labour, and thus suffering unnecessary indignation when they discover that such activity is as much labour as any other form of work, to be harnessed by all who will to work.


That there are pastors and Imams, undercover journalists and spies, who hate their jobs as much as the next janitor or white-collar clerk is a notion unthinkable to those burdened with these delusions. To them, work is burdensome and a calling is sweet. I hate to break it to these timorous souls: here is the truth: all work is work, and there is no such thing as a distinction between vocations that are based on a calling and labour predominantly motivated, via cultural referents, by wage and service.


Understanding the preceding should open one’s eye to the harsh reality of the human condition: we must PRODUCE OUR ENVIRONMENT, and this production is the day to day NATURE OF OUR VERY BEING. From the time we wake up till we drop, we are engaged in a constant pushback to re-orient our environment. The returns we get are calibrated by the success of this endeavour, and where those returns are ‘wages’ it simply means that the struggle we are engaged with has been codified enough to be widely performed, and through the various efficiencies of aggregation to generate wealth, and thus transform the environment at a much greater scale.


One may retreat from this types of aggregation. But one cannot escape the incessant throbbing of work in search of some elusive notion of happiness, unbound from the pressure of the environment, which is one’s unending duty to produce. This is a grand delusion. Work stares into your soul, revealing your true worth.

The escape which you seek is the escape from the *MYTH of Work-Life Balance* into the universal truth of Work-Life Fusion.

Bright Simons is the Ghanaian social innovator, entrepreneur, writer and researcher affiliated with IMANI Centre for Policy and Education. He is the president of mpedigree networkAuthor Permission sought to publish this article which was originally posted on his facebook on 27th September, 2015

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