fallacy of work-life balance


Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. –Confucius

Perhaps not an understatement to write that this article changed my life. Or at least began a substantial shift in my perspective. It began circulating quietly enough on the one of the many ACEP listserves that I seem to have landed on. I bookmarked it for later reading. When I finally did get around to reading it, I suddenly felt as though my whole perspective on work-life balance had been tossed upside down.

I sent it to EVERYONE I knew.

The author, Andreas Schwingshackl, is a pediatric intensivist working at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center who writes persuasively for a call to a change in our mind-set regarding attitudes toward professional success and personal happiness. She argues that if one keeps a black-and-white perspective that work = bad and life = good, then it is impossible to achieve the mythical “work-life balance.” For example, if you crunch the numbers for an average resident who works 80 hours a week and sleeps a minimum of 6, that only leaves 46 hours of supposed leisure time each week–which doesn’t nearly approximate the hours spent in the hospital and doesn’t account for time spent reading and studying. She also raises a number of other questions worth considering such as at what point in our career we are supposed to achieve balance and how do we know that we’ve actually done it?

Instead, she points out, we must learn to think differently about our jobs. Each of us at some point in our lives decided that we wanted to become a doctor. We wanted to make a difference in the world by healing others. All humans intrinsically have a desire to leave a mark on others and search for contact with others to share our experiences, creations, and achievements. If we consider time at work as just that, “then suddenly life has taken over work, and the pursuit of work-life balance becomes an obsolete concept. Our happiness may in fact have nothing to do with finding balance, but much rather, as John Irving writes, with finding a way of life we love and having the courage to live it.”

Read Dr. Schwingshackl’s full article here, “The Fallacy of Chasing after Work-Life Balance.”

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