Daryl Jace

Teacher, Blogger, Poker player.

What is "The Good Life" and the work/life balance dilemma

"There is one thing all of us have in common - we all want to live a good life but most of us don’t spend much time, if any, figuring out how to do that." - Me (and prob 232435435 others before me)


The thing is life is like poker (well poker is like life) if you don’t spend a lot of time working on it you’ll probably suck at it and the thing is, most people spend very little time, if any working on it. I view life as a super complex game where even figuring out what it even means to be winning is a challenge.


When I was 14-22 years old I thought it was all about being the best at poker (lol), then after that it was all about being successful at work, a life of service to others (education to be specific) and being great at everything. It has certainly led to happiness but it also led to depression and the last 18 months have been some of the worst of my life. At the root of it was the work/life balance dilemma, I always felt like I was sacrificing one when I was doing the other and it took away from my happiness or my impact every in all areas of my life (more on that later). 


When life keeps kicking you in the dick you start to question things and so I did; namely what is a successful life and where did my ideas of success come from? I think most of “my” ideas of success (especially early on) were heavily influenced by others; like my parents, the media, movies, school, and even the government (their policies affect social norms).  You can’t play the game well if what your playing it for is based mostly on the aforementioned things rather than through reflection, conversation and reading some of the greatest thinkers in the world. 


From these reflections, readings and conversations I came to 2 important conclustions: 1) the main metric we should use to determine how well we’re doing (impact) is how much happiness I’m creating for myself/others because “It’s the only thing you want in and of itself” my buddy Colin put it simply. You don’t want clothes, money, fame etc. you want the feelings you think it would bring. 2) Time isn’t everything, in fact impact is more important because time spent without impact is useless. Time is also finite and therefore limiting, whereas our potential impact is probably infinite.


Two days ago though it became so much clearer, I stumbled upon Maria Popova’s blog (which is the best thing ever) the main theme of it is how to live the good life; in a post called David Whyte on How to Break the Tyranny of Work/Life Balance which is an annotation of his book, Whyte says work/life balance is a "phrase that often becomes a lash with which we punish ourselves” Then adds: 


“The current understanding of work-life balance is too simplistic. People find it hard to balance work with family, family with self, because it might not be a question of balance. Some other dynamic is in play, something to do with a very human attempt at happiness that does not quantify different parts of life and then set them against one another. We are collectively exhausted because of our inability to hold competing parts of ourselves together in a more integrated way.


These are the three marriages, of Work, Self and Other.


We can call these three separate commitments marriages because at their core they are usually lifelong commitments and … they involve vows made either consciously or unconsciously… To neglect any one of the three marriages is to impoverish them all, because they are not actually separate commitments but different expressions of the way each individual belongs to the world.


We should stop thinking in terms of work-life balance. Work-life balance is a concept that has us simply lashing ourselves on the back and working too hard in each of the three commitments. In the ensuing exhaustion we ultimately give up on one or more of them to gain an easier life."


I was a bit skeptical at first but when I looked back at my life I feel like I’ve experienced this same phenomenon. When I neglected my marriage for the sake of work (a common theme in my life) it helped in the short term but in the long term it helped lead to (if not directly caused it) the marriage falling apart and as a result my work suffered considerably and for a long time (I think any person who’s married or in a serious relationship can attest to this). On the positive side when things were going well my wife was my muse, my engine for personal growth,a source of calm and a reset button of sorts that enabled me to boost my impact/output. The same goes for my friends, they helped me grow and learn so much in all 3 areas of life, so much so that I don’t think I’d be anywhere without them (same goes for the wifey)


When I neglected work I couldn’t be present and happy in any situation, in the back of my mind was all the stuff I could be doing instead. Which affected my presence and thus my impact/output in all situations. It affected my mood and self esteem too, which obviously led to some bad results. When work went well these problems would go away, I’d actually feel great. 


When I improved upon myself it helped create new relationships and build existing ones. Perhaps surprisingly it helped with work as well. My mind is more clear for other tasks and I decreased the probability of burnout/depression. If you’re a human you know how disastrous this is to all areas of your life. I think a marriage of all 3 of these things is a great way to reduce the chances of this happening to you. It seems clear to me that Whyte was right about the interconnectedness when looking back on my life. So I’m done with the work/life balance dilemma because to quote David Whyte again:

” work and life are not separate things, they can’t be “balanced” against one another; instead, they are best treated as a “movable conversational frontier.” They should be “conversing with, questioning or emboldening the other two.”

I’m still not close to “solving” the game and I don’t know wtf a movable conversational frontier is but I think this is a big step in the right direction. I hope you found this helpful, thanks for reading. 


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