In my early days of full time employment I spent far too many hours trying to impress. This placed an ever increasing stress on my fledgling marriage to my supporting wife. Without any children at the time it was made all the clearer that time at work equated time away from her, a notion she took personally.
My boss, an astute and experienced man, noticed a weight on my mind. This is when I first came across the idea of a work-life balance. This expression alludes to a harmony where the time at work and the time at home comes to a comfortable point of stability, a point which may change over the years and varies from person to person.
The advantage of this thinking is that it brings to the fore the importance of each element. It makes us examine the role each plays and make any adjustments needed. The one big failing of this begins in the name: work-life balance. It alludes to a separation of work and life. I propose that there is only life.
Life is a precious gift that we give to others. Men fully alive, St. Irenaeus says, give glory to God. It is by how our life is lived that we will be judged (and we will be judged). This makes life far more important than any work we do, even the work of God. Work is ultimately finite, life is everlasting.
Work on the other hand is not an end in itself. When we treat work as an end it is insatiable in its need and prowling in its desire. Work has a hook on which money hangs and many have been reeled in. There are stories of men on their deathbeds wishing they had spent time with family and friends over time in the office. Perhaps this is what they mean by a work-life balance but I think the scales are heavily tipped to life. As the saying goes, we work to live not live to work. Work is a means used to support a life we choose to live.
I remember years ago hearing a story from a dear priest I knew. A fisherman was sitting on the beach relaxing after a days work catching fish, so the story goes. He had his boat moored, his nets cleaned and his fish sold. It was about mid-afternoon.
A young business oriented man walks past and sees the fisherman relaxing on the beach enjoying his fish over a fire. The young man approaches him and says ‘Sir, why are you sitting here? There is still hours in the day. You could be catching more fish.’ The fisherman replies, ‘And then what?’ ‘Well, you could sell those fish and make more money’ says the younger.
‘My family and I have enough. Why do we need more money?’ ‘You could buy a bigger boat’, the young man continues. ‘And then what?’ ‘Well then you can catch more fish and sell those for more money.’ ‘And then what?’ ‘Well, then you can get an even bigger boat, perhaps a fleet which would catch a lot more fish and make more money!’ ‘And then what?’
‘Well, when you have many other boats, other people working for you and more money coming in you can relax and take it easy.’ The fisherman replies, ‘What do you think I’m doing now?’