Work Life What?

so you want to be happy. there’s an ongoing argument over work-life balance. recently some CEOs rebranded the concept to “work-life integration.”

this mod says when we enjoy or are fulfilled by our work, the occasional overtime isn’t that bad. it says when work is aligned with our life purpose, punching a clock is no longer necessary.

both approaches are crap.

the truth is, most of us never discover our life’s purpose. so i spent months thinking about it and found my own solution:

work-life Enablement.

here goes.

life is life

boozy brunch on Saturday. being in the room when your kid is born. celebrating your parents’ anniversary. what does any of this have to do with TPS Reports? nothing.

we containerize our personal life from our work life. we eat, sleep, run errands, experience tragedy, and have fun. our personal life is 0-24 hours per day until we die.

work is work

Monday morning meetings. bosses. email. office politics. training. what does our martial status have anything to do with this? nothing.

professionals, blue- and white-collar alike, show up to do The Work regardless of personal background noise. if we don’t, we’re fired, and rightfully so.

jobs comprise a smaller slice of our existence than our personal lives. from a daily perspective, 8-12 hours. in our lifespan, around 45 years of 70+.

life is work

we know life isn’t always fun. sometimes we’d rather be at work than wait 3 hours at the DMV for a piece of plastic with a different date printed on it.

personal lives compel another kind of work, called “responsibilities,” for which we don’t get paid. this includes child-rearing, volunteering, writing thank you cards, studying, and so on.

if we do the math, only a minority of our personal lives are spent having “fun,” which until this moment was the loose definition of Life in Work-Life “balance” and “integration” paradigms.

work is life

for many ambitious individuals, some of our greatest memories are actually spent with colleagues; commemorating a big deal, Happy Hour, listening to music together during a commute.

we lie to ourselves that work is a poison to be extracted. yet Americans count the days till their 65th birthday so they can do… what? most retired people get up earlier than you.

this attitude summarizes the increasingly popular work-life integration framework: “enjoy your work, and work hard in all things.

but the problem with today’s leading work-life strategies is they still bifurcate the hours in our day. balance and integration still suppose what we ought to do or feel about one location (office) vs another (home).

shortcomings in the open, you’re now ready for the new way.

work life enablement

in software there are Exceptions. this is a more specific way to discuss bugs. while a bug may be “can’t save my user settings,” the underlying exception might be unpermitted param: password.

a common exception class in workplace environments isĀ Family.

“i have to leave early to pick up my kids.” “i can’t come to Happy Hour because i need to watch my son play soccer.”

these are powerful exception classes because managers don’t know how to handle them. a child is not a preference, not something that can be squashed for a few more hours, not something that can be ignored.

(the only exception class even close to Family is Smoking. “i need to take a smoke break, and i am entitled to 5 mins every hour by law.“)

let’s skip whether the Family exception class is fair to the employer (it’s not) and jump straight into whether this is fair to the employee.

we start by acknowledging second+ order consequences.

  1. first-order consequence to not picking up a kid is them being stranded at school.
  2. second-order consequence is social services and possibly the parent in jail. theoretically this is an easy fix, however, with carpooling or public school buses.
  3. third-order consequence might be Never Getting A Promotion.

when a loving parent who is willing and able to do whatever they can to provide for their child does not get promoted, a few things happen:

  • unhealthy child <> parent dependence (too much == viral Dr. Phil episode)
  • fewer resources for the child (clothes, extracurriculars, tutoring, college fund)
  • lack of role model for working hard in school (kids notice if parents’ career is ascending/descending)

i want to focus on the last one because insane moms and dads reading this will never agree a child can be too dependent, or that they are not great providers.

the child metaphor for Life

as a kid, your only job is to do well in school. between the lines you learn people skills, make friends, and if you’re lucky, go on beach vacations and eat Chick-Fil-A. but your job is to perform in school.

your parents’ job is to equip you for the Real World, which in [huge] part means the ability to procure a job that pays enough to survive and thrive outside their basement.

growing up, when my dad came home from work he would dramatically turn off his cell phone and put it in a kitchen drawer.

i admired and still do admire this philosophy of work-life balance, but it undoubtedly limited his prospects for career advancement. the only question worth considering is whether those constraints, the hold-backs, were worth it.

fast forward 15-20 years and i am a hard-working young professional. i never turn off my cell phone, but i also don’t have a working phone number. so i guess this rubbed off on me in *just* the right way. but what if it hadn’t?

imagine that every human has a potential of 100. most people live up to 50% of their potential. your smart friends in high school, maybe 70. and let’s agree Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are hovering 90-95%.

when we consider second-order consequences, a parent who believes they are noble by practicing work-life balance might create a slippery legacy of increasingly less ambitious offspring.

to be a parent at the top of this spiral is to have incredible leverage. if my parents valued their careers a bit more, maybe i would be [even] better off.

or maybe i’d be a homeless crackhead, a hapless victim of insufficient love and attention. but probably not, because there is a technique called “balance” which we’ll talk about next.

theory into action

if you are not a parent, congrats. you have zero excuses to not work hard. if you are a parent, congrats. you have every reason to secure your family’s future and your personal legacy.

finding balance is the only remaining variable, so let’s explore another technology reference to unlock it.

when software companies evaluate new solutions, engineering leadership gets together and asks the age-old question: build or buy? this means, should we pay for the service or create our own version in-house?

a lot of great articles help answer the question, but the generally accepted approach is if the functionality will be core to your business, build it. if it will save time / optimize something / be temporary / is experimental, buy it.

the same goes for work-life enablement.

if a bit of work won’t enhance your career or get you fired, choose Life. but if a life sacrifice (e.g. picking up children) could be reasonably accomplished through other means (school bus), choose Work at least some of the time.

if your company has a Happy Hour every Friday, definitely skip. but if your boss “never drinks” and he’s invited everyone to discuss the future of the company at an optional team dinner… your kid’s soccer game might need to be recorded.[1]

once we accept that work powers lifestyle, then moderate our consumption of each, we findĀ the harder we work, the more life we live.

and although the lesson here is not geared towards any class of professional, i’ll end with this quote:

“entrepreneurship is doing what others won’t, to live like others can’t.”


1. this post is not about trading parenting for promotion; the child example is simply more visceral than Netflix, sleep, or other things we do with our personal time.