At the end of life, few people regret spending too much time with family and friends. On the other hand, workaholics lament missed opportunities to enjoy time with loved ones. Bill Gates recently revealed his own difficulties in making time for life outside of work during an interview with the BBC, reported in the Leadership section of Forbes. Gates admitted to his own early, self-professed ‘fanaticism’ about work, noting that he never took vacations, often worked throughout nights, and stayed at the office on most weekends. After meeting his wife, Gates slowed down considerably; yet by that time, his company had tripled in growth and was already generating unprecedented revenues and record productivity. The concept of “having it all” has been put under a microscope, examined, debated, and analyzed in the past decade, with an emerging consensus that this ideal is not attainable at any given time. In the ten years between 1986 and 1996, the media cited ‘work-life balance’ thirty-two times; in 2007 alone, the concept appeared 1,674 times. The Great Recession of 2008 prompted employees to work harder and to put in longer hours in an effort to prove their indispensability and value. The proliferation of electronic technology has increasingly allowed people to work from home and even from vacation venues—further obscuring the boundaries between work and home. A recent Pew survey indicated 45% of employed adults stating that the Internet, email, and cell phones have all resulted in more time working. A New York University sociologist termed the blurring of work and leisure time as “weisure time.” Compartmentalizing and reserving time for non-work pursuits seems to be rapidly vanishing.
Because work pervades each and every aspect of life, it has resulted in the number of stress-related disability claims by American employees doubling in the last decade, with seventy-five to ninety percent more stress-related physician visits. A study by Harvard and McGill University researchers found that the spillover of work problems into the home increases familial stress by 74%.
A successful work-life balance undoubtedly requires demanding decisions to prioritize all facets of life, along with the willpower to enforce boundaries that separate work, family, and leisure. While this is the ultimate ideal, few find it easy to realize and to achieve. Questions inevitably arise for individuals trying to maintain a healthy work/life balance: Is it possible? Can one be successful in a career without sacrificing family life? Is leisure time as important as building a career, or vice versa?
Central to this analysis is the concept of “having it all,” and whether the definition is constant. It is a notion that has different components for different people; moreover, it may change over time for a given person. Setting a specific barometer for success inevitably fuels feelings of inability and failure because there is always more time one could devote to work, leisure, or family. There are no concrete rules about what one should do. Perhaps having it all is not necessarily about the precise balance between career and family life, but rather an evolving, flexible approach depending on the set of circumstances at any given time. Understanding that balance is a practice, not an achievement, will result in the most successful equilibrium between a professional career—if desired—and a satisfying, meaningful personal life.