Forget Work-Life Balance, Look for Alignment Instead

There’s one theme that’s talked about a lot among leaders—founders and executives alike. That theme is life-work balance.

There are a few takes, and I wouldn’t say any are wrong. But you see, although human language is not always expected to accurately represent the reality we live in, the words we choose to talk about the important stuff influence how we approach the important stuff.

The word balance is not the right word.

It implies a dichotomy—a false dichotomy. It leads us to believe that if you put too much on one side of the scale, the other will necessarily have less. If you think about work and life that way, it feels like you have to balance the scales constantly.

What if we used the word alignment instead?

I have a client, let’s call her Tess, a high-achieving executive known for her relentless work ethic. Tess is constantly in motion, juggling professional responsibilities with her personal life, unsuccessfully trying to allocate equitable amounts of her time and energy to work and life.

During one of our sessions, Tess told me about her vacation plans—a rare break in her hectic schedule. She intended to travel, explore new places, and, most importantly, spend time writing a book.

As Tess told me about her plans, I could see she was apprehensive. So, I asked her about that.

She told me she felt guilty for not taking this time completely off, disconnecting from work, and enjoying the sights. She felt that her work was already occupying so much of her life that spending even a tiny portion of her vacation working was a mistake (the book was related to her work).

Through our conversation, it became clear that she felt strongly about the book’s topic. She was animated, and her face lit up as she described it. Working on her book seemed to provide a sense of fulfillment that travel alone couldn't offer.

This realization led to a shift in Tess's perspective. She’s still traveling, still visiting new places, almost done writing her book, and reports being happy and full of energy.

Perhaps you, too, have hustled on something intensely challenging at work, and as a result, it brought more meaning and satisfaction to your life. How do you square this paradox?

I think alignment resolves this paradox wonderfully.

Are all of your parts—work, life, art, family, health, friends, money, leisure, idle times—aligned with what you set out to accomplish? If yes, then there’s simply nothing to balance.

This shift in perspective, from balance to alignment, liberates you from the tug-of-war between work and life. It's not about weighing one against the other. It’s about ensuring each aspect resonates with your core values and aspirations.

When everything aligns, even imperfectly, you’re no longer a tightrope walker performing a precarious balancing act, worrying about falling or dropping balls with every wrong step. Instead, you’re plotting a course, correcting occasionally if life sends you on a detour, never worried about taking a wrong step. Because you don’t have to be in perfect alignment all the time. The sum of the steps just has to lead you roughly in the direction you want to go.

So, what if we stopped trying to find the imaginary balance? What if we focused on aligning our actions with our values and aspirations? In this alignment, we can find not only productivity but also joy and fulfillment—the true signs of living a good life. (Tess certainly thinks I’m onto something.)

Are you struggling to find a balance between work and life? What might be out of alignment? Do you know your values well enough to align your decisions with them?