Work-Life BalanceOn August 10, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
This is the Audi R8; it’s a highly efficient and compelling car; its engine produces an astonishing 199 kW at 6,500 rpm, and a torque of 330 Nm at 4000 rpm. Now part of the reason that it’s so efficient, and part of what makes us human beings comparatively inefficient, is that this car has only one goal, and that goal is exceptionally clear: it has to go very fast down tarmac roads. As a general principle, no machine can be optimally efficient at more than one thing. A robot that has to both climb stairs, and make pancakes will be far less efficient than two distinct machines, each of which can focus exclusively on a single task. The more limited the goals, the higher once chances efficiency. Now, unlike the Audi sports car, our brains are not designed or evolved to be maximally efficient at any one thing. This amazing cognitive and emotional machine is a profound generalist it comes moderately well equipped for a huge range of possible activities: to write a novel, spearfish, bring up a child, drive very fast Fifth Avenue, sit in a high-rise office writing reports, lie in a hut in New Guinea, marry, plot an assassination, live in an ice cave, go into politics, stay single, or expand a small business into the Asia market. Now the price we pay for being generalists is that we’ll be less good at any one of the many activities we perform than someone who did only one thing their whole life long. We might not be the very best at inflating party balloons, the house will be a bit dirty, we might be a bit late for the meeting, we’ll not be perfect, patient, and interesting dinner companions, we’ll mess up the public presentation again, someone will probably be better and we are at helping a child to paint. This might be quite depressing moments, perhaps late at night as we look back across the day, but before we get too sad, we should realize that our less than completely optimal performance is down to one very understandable thing: that we’ve chosen and breadth and variety over total focus and narrow perfection, and that’s a very wise choice. Focusing on one thing to the exclusion all others has its costs as anyone who’s ever spoken to an athlete who trains 10 hours a day tends to find out. There’s a cost to being the human equivalent to the sports car. Unfortunately, our society has set up an absurd idea: that it will be possible to do many things and do them all completely well. That’s why we hear so much talk about an elusive thing called: “work-life balance”. Perfectly optimal career and a perfectly optimal home life. This is a mad idea! Work-life balance is impossible because everything worth fighting for unbalances your life. We’re not going to be a once the ideal domestic chef, child carer, and CEO. If we’re strung out across multiple roles, all will suffer, but that’s okay. That you’re doing too much and none of it without mistakes isn’t a sign that your life is gone wrong, it’s a sign of a very wise and understandable position: that you’ve opted for imperfect variety over flawless focus.