Are Success and Work-Life Balance Mutually Exclusive?


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Success. Work-Life Balance. Two terms that are bandied about and widely discussed. Are they mutually exclusive? Is it possible to be ‘successful’ and achieve work-life balance? It’s a real problem for far too much of the working population. And many will tell you it’s not possible in today’s 50 – 70 hour a week work environment, but I beg to differ.

Let’s begin by defining each of these terms, and they are not easy terms to define because they are highly personal, meaning different things to different people.

SUCCESS: What does success mean to you? There are the trappings of corporate success. A six-figure salary. The corner office. A big title. Then there are the more intrinsic measures of success. Happiness. A life full of meaning. A simple life full of family and community. Maya Angelou defined success as “liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it”. This definition resonates with me. ‘

WORK-LIFE BALANCE: This is another definition fraught with interpretation. There are people who indeed ARE their job. Their identity is WHAT they do. And, they are happy. Most definitions I found in researching this blog, referred only to the amount of time you spent working. They all focused on ‘work’. I prefer going back to the origin of the term ‘work-life balance’ from the mid 1801s, when Paul Krassner provided his definition of happiness as “to have as little separation as possible between your work and your play”.

There was a time in my life where I recognized my life had become my career, leaving little room for anything else. Yes, I had recognition. Yes, I had financial rewards. But I had little else, and I do not define myself by my work, so I wasn’t happy. I was exhausted, emotionally drained, empty. I made the choice to leave my job in tech and pursue work in non-profit. While I took a reduction in salary, I still made a comfortable enough income, and was able to pursue personal pursuits and live a life that was fuller. To me, this meant a more ‘successful’ life, a life that allowed me to be happy. I will admit, it’s a struggle to maintain a balanced life. As an entrepreneur, I do find myself at times, working far too many hours. But, I constantly work to keep it in check. ‘Play time” and my personal life nurture a very important side of me, one that keeps me happy, content and energized to continue doing my work.

In my coaching work, I run into people all the time who are either seeking a new job to find that balanced life, or work with me to seek ways to balance their personal pursuits with the job they have. In the end, I believe Krassner had it right. The less your work is separated from who you are, the happier you will be at work. And very likely, you’ll perform your work better, and most likely with more ease, allowing you to put in fewer hours so you can attend to your personal life. This is at the core of my work. I truly believe far too many people have not found that work that ‘is’ them, that work that comes so naturally that it doesn’t feel like work. I used to be an accountant. It was PAINFUL! I was a top student and performed well, but the nature of the work completely stripped my soul. As a result, I was miserable, underperforming and scared. Only when I discovered my true calling, educating and coaching, did my work become, and I hesitate to use the word, easy. Easy because what I do now is who I am. I can’t separate helping people find happiness from the person I am. As a result, I love my work and most days, it barely feels like work. As a result, I don’t end my day mentally and physically exhausted, unable to get off the couch. No, I am energized most days and eager to engage in personal pursuits. This is what I wish for everyone.

So, no magic bullets here. It takes effort, reflection and time to discover the answer that works for you. It may be the 60 hour work week. For many, that is their happiness. But life is short and you spend more time each day at work than doing anything else, so if you’re not happy, if your life is out of sorts, do the work to make a change and discover the life that you are meant to live….happily. And that is success!


Want to get your life in balance? Seeking a new job or career? Contact me know to find out how I can help. Schedule a complimentary 15 minute call with me.


About Andrea Cole

Four years ago, I followed my dreams and my heart by quitting my job, selling my home, and moving myself back to Seattle from Washington, DC. I didn't know how things would turn out, but I knew whatever life held in store for me, it was going to be in Seattle. And what a ride it has been! I now help others live their lives through rewarding career and meaningful retirement coaching. My website is Update: After 5 years of living in Seattle and experiencing the rapid growth and rapid degeneration of this city's charm, I made the decision to leave. I now reside in Orlando, Florida where I continue my work helping people find new jobs as well as active retirements.
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