Why Work-Life Balance is a Trap

Almost everyone you talk to is trying to lead a balanced life.

But what if that’s the wrong goal?

work life balance

Don’t get me wrong.

I don’t think everyone should work 80 hours a week.

But here’s my struggle.

I think in many circles in our culture, balance has become a synonym for mediocrity. Don’t work too hard. Don’t be intentional about your time. Just be balanced.

Here’s what I’ve seen.

Most of the people I know who have accomplished significant things are not balanced people.

They are passionate people. 

They are passionate about:

Their job.

Their family.

Their hobby.

In fact, they’re often even passionate about their nutrition and their rest.

They never see work as a job…they see it as a calling. As a quest. As a mission.

They can’t wait to get up in the morning and attack the day.

When they engage relationally, they’re fully present.

When they’re with their family, they’re with them.

They love what they do so much that they can’t help but work on it even when they’re not on the clock.

Could you call the Apostle Paul a balanced person?

Sure, he spent time with friends and churches and built solid relationships. But he was far more passionate than he was balanced.

So do a variety of things (work, play, family), but allocate your energy so you can do everything you do (including rest and relaxation) with passion.

I love what John Wesley said:

“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

I never want to lose my passion. In fact, I’m praying it intensifies as I grow older in everything I pursue.

Don’t let balance become a synonym for mediocrity.

Instead, throw yourself into whatever you do with passion and enthusiasm. At work. At home. For fun. When you rest.

I mean wouldn’t your family rather see you fully engaged? Wouldn’t the people you lead?

Great things are rarely accomplished by balanced people.

They are accomplished by passionate people, who attack almost everything they do with some zeal.

Maybe work-life balance is a trap. But work-life passion is not.

It’s a slight perspective shift that could make a big difference.

What are you learning about passion and balance?

18 Comments

  1. caren on March 13, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    this teaching is wow and faith building

  2. Doug on July 11, 2016 at 11:38 am

    This post has come to me as I am on a journey of being out of balance. I have spent way too much time investing into work, at the detriment of myself personally and my family. As I listen to others talking about living a balanced live, the imagery you discussed with balance often equating with mediocrity and laziness seems spot on to me. Living a life of passion makes much more sense with who I believe I am and how I am wired. Phil. 2:13 was a great reminder that it is God working in me to give me both the power and the will to do what pleases Him. I can’t see God giving me a passion, and not wanting me to work on it. My struggle is listening to His spirit to determine what are His passions for me, and not getting sidetracked with passions of my own making, or allowing mediocrity to take up space where passion should be.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 11, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Doug…encouraged to hear that this was helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. riko on December 20, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Love it. Totally agreed. You just read my mind…

  4. Alvin on October 22, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    From my context, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of balance being synonymous with mediocrity. Rather, I’ve approached it as ensuring nothing overextends beyond its proper place. e.g. person works way too long and hard to the neglect of their family, thus work is extending beyond its proper place. I agree with the overall conclusion of the blog, but wouldn’t start with that premise of balance = mediocrity.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 23, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      If balance isn’t mediocrity, I’m all for it. I’ve just heard it used as a crutch too many times. Glad to hear that Alvin.

  5. Manley Miller on October 17, 2013 at 9:36 am

    It is important to realize the English word Passion comes from the French “Patior” and means “a willingness to suffer.” Hence, The Passion Week of Christ. In the USA we’ve made passion and desire interchangeable words when they have different meanings. So, if by work-life passion you are referring to being a person who is willing to suffer and sacrifice in order to accomplish true priorities then I’m in complete agreement with you. Interestingly enough the French “PATIor” is also the root of “ComPATIble” – so in a marriage we don’t find compatibility – we make it – by being willing to suffer with or through someone else.

  6. Lawrence W. Wilson on October 17, 2013 at 9:02 am

    My learning on this, of late, is that a person with a huge strength in the area of “Focus” (Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths) has to take the idea of balance seriously–even if we’re talking about passion. Maybe balance isn’t the right word though. Perhaps shape would be a better descriptor. The shape of my life has to include all the things I’m passionate about–God, family, health–and not just the thing I’m hyper-focused on at the moment. Experience, the best teacher.

    Balance “work” with my life? Um, no. If my professional life amounted to work, I’d quit and do something else.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 17, 2013 at 9:05 am

      I think that’s the idea Lawrence. Nice fresh language around it. Thank you for that. It’s just the idea that whatever you do, do it with passion.

  7. Alan Youngblood on October 17, 2013 at 7:57 am

    You characterized what I’ve been trying to put my finger on for a long time. That is a 100% correct. You just can’t rest or be with your family fully engaged if you have left things undone. HR people are big about preaching work/life balance. They should be preaching work/life passion. Thanks Carey.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 17, 2013 at 9:05 am

      Hey thanks Alan. I almost wrote the post a little more harshly than it came out. I think balance can be a synonym for “I don’t care”…and it can be a sign of self-indulgence. I know that’s not what it’s supposed to be, but I’ve seen it play out that way too often.

  8. Rich Grof on October 17, 2013 at 7:55 am

    You got it Carey, balance doesn’t work too well. I think of it more as “harmony”. That means I’m driven by my passions and at time rest and recharge with family . It works.

  9. Jacqui on October 17, 2013 at 5:29 am

    Awesome stuff, just what my friend and I are discussing…’Zeal for your house has consumed me Oh Lord, let me never be put to shame.’

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 17, 2013 at 9:03 am

      Zeal is a great underused word in every day life. 🙂

  10. Chris Shumate on October 16, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    What? I think you may have commented on the wrong blog post.

  11. Roy Snow on October 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    Good post. The best advice I’ve ever received was from my Uncle Tony. He once told me that there are 2 things a man should never work for. Never work for a paycheck and never work for recognition. If that’s your focus in life you’ll die with nothing. He also told me that no one cares how much money you made or how many roads you’ve built when you die. If they do then they’re hanging around for the wrong reasons. The only thing that matters is the legacy you leave for future generations and the impact you’ve had on the present. Work to make yourself proud, and be content in everything you’ve accomplished.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 16, 2013 at 6:58 pm

      You got great advice from Uncle Tony Roy. Thanks!

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.